LATEST UPDATE – 13 Feb
We have just been informed by the Department of the Secretary of State that the decision on the planning appeal will not be made today. It states that they will endeavour to minimise the delay as much as possible.
Most readers will be aware that in February 2016 the Seashell Trust submitted a planning application for the redevelopment of their existing facilities, off Stanley Road and for the construction of 325 dwellings on the Greenbelt land to the North of their current buildings.
The Seashell Trust sought to justify building on the Greenbelt by stating that the cost of revamping their site will be £45M. This includes £24M for the school alone, which is about four times the cost of building similar schools.
The Planning Committee were very supportive of the Trust, the excellent work they do with some of the most profoundly disabled children and were most keen that it should continue. However, they were not persuaded that the construction of 325 houses on the Greenbelt was necessary to fund the required reconstruction and that other approaches could achieve the necessary rebuild. The Committee decided to refuse planning permission by 7 votes to 5.
The Trust could have used alternative approaches for their rebuild. However, they lodged an appeal against the decision to refuse. The appeal took the form of Public Inquiry, lasting from 8 May until 25 June.
Ratepayers and the Action Group joined forces and jointly registered at the Inquiry as what is technically known as a “Rule 6 Group”. This gave us full access to play a full part in the Inquiry. The Rule 6 Group attended every day of the Inquiry and presented evidence, including hiring an experienced Town Planner, which Ratepayers paid for.
The final day of the Inquiry was on 25 June, when the Rule 6 Group, the Council and Seashell all made their final submissions. To read our final submission click here.
All three Ratepayers’ Councillors gave evidence to the Inquiry, as follows:
COUNCILLOR ANNA CHARLES-JONES appeared at the Inquiry and read out the following statement:
“My name is Anna Charles-Jones and I am a local ward councillor for the Heald Green Ward of Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council, I have lived in Heald Green since 2006 and was first elected in May 2016 at around the same time as the Seashell Trust’s hybrid planning application was first submitted.
I do not represent a political party but am a nominee of the Heald Green and Long Lane Ratepayers’ Association, a residents’ association for people living in Heald Green and which has supplied all local councillors for the Heald Green ward since 1929.
I am self-employed as a freelance assessor conducting assessments for disabled people applying for Disabled Students’ Allowances. This is a grant available to disabled people with a wide range of impairments to fund the support necessary for them to successfully complete both undergraduate and postgraduate courses in Higher Education.
To clarify, the postal address of The Seashell Trust is Cheadle Hulme but all of their campus and the land that has given rise to this Public Inquiry is within the Heald Green Ward.
The views I express are my own but also overwhelmingly the views of the Heald Green community which comprises approximately 14,000 people. My views have been moulded by interactions over several years with many Heald Green residents in a range of settings including public meetings, councillor surgeries and individual discussions.
I am very supportive of the work of the Trust and keen to see its work continue and I feel it is important to note that I have not encountered a single person whose views differ from this position. However, I know that to build a large housing estate in the Green Belt requires the demonstration of very special circumstances and I have significant concerns regarding the construction of such on our precious Green Belt. This land provides an important green lung separating Heald Green from Cheadle Hulme and clearly meets at least three of the five purposes of green belt as set out in the NPPF.
At a Public Meeting in Heald Green in December 2015, the then CEO of the Trust stated that if their planning application was refused the Trust would close within 5 years and that there was no Plan B, this was stated as being the basis of the very special circumstances.
At the Bramhall Area Committee in December 2017, the Trust’s Director of Finance stated that if the application was refused they would continue their rebuild but phase it over a longer period. Given that nearly four years have elapsed since that original statement and the Charities Commission have not been informed of any financial issues with the Trust, I am more inclined to believe the Trust’s Director of Finance. Once our greenbelt has gone, it has gone forever, however according to the Trust’s own Director of Finance, refusal of this application would simply mean that The Trust has to phase development over a longer period of time, not close.
I was present as a member of the Cheadle Area Committee in December 2017 that considered the application but the committee had no decision making powers and could only comment on the application. Unfortunately I do not feel that the issues that I raised during that meeting were adequately addressed then, nor in the time that has elapsed since:
• I asked why it was not possible to achieve the council’s own policy of 50% affordable homes on the site, a flat green field.
• As I stated during the meeting, The National Planning Policy Framework states “Good design is a key aspect of sustainable development, is indivisible from good planning, and should contribute positively to making places better for people”. However this proposal does not appear to make Heald Green better for its existing residents, only worse.
o Mention has been made of the new on-campus sporting facilities that would be open to the public however, the existing facilities are already open to the public and there are numerous gyms and other public and privately operated facilities in the immediate locality.
o At the time of the Cheadle Area Committee in December 2017 the A555 had not fully opened however, residents have commented since its opening in October 2018 that there has been an increase in traffic on Wilmslow Rd. The proposed development, at least initially would be a cul-de sac development accessed solely via Wilmslow Rd and would therefore exacerbate the traffic problems which have blighted the area for many years.
• I also expressed my surprise that a shared surface scheme was proposed on the new campus when this is known to be inaccessible to people with sensory impairments.
As a disabled person, I am more aware than most of the additional space requirements necessary to educate young people such as those at the Seashell Trust and I accept that the original buildings on the site were not constructed for this purpose. However, despite the need for additional space and specialist equipment, I have always struggled to see the need for such a vast and expensive transformation with such high specification materials in parts of the building that will not directly affect the education of the children. This is something which has always sat uncomfortably with me as a disabled person during the consideration of this application, as has the emphasis on the Trust being a “very special special school” something which is non-material but feels, certainly to me, as though it has been used very intentionally to garner support. I feel that all children are special and deserve the best we can reasonably provide regardless of what type of school they attend, and as I am sure you are already aware, the Seashell Trust is rated as ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted.
Despite considering all of the evidence available to me, I concluded that the sale of Green Belt land to finance the rebuild to a good standard is not necessary and, hence that very special circumstances have not been demonstrated and this is a view shared by many people living in Heald Green that I have discussed this issue with.
Thank you Sir, for this opportunity to address the Inquiry.”
COUNCILLOR CAROLE McCANN, elected for the first time on 2 May, sent the following statement to the Inspector:
My name is Carole McCann and I am a Ward Councillor for the Heald Green Ward of Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council. I was first elected last month, May 2019, although I have lived in Heald Green for over forty years.
I am not a political party councillor but a nominee of the Heald Green & Long Lane Ratepayers’ Association, which is a residents’ association for people living in Heald Green.
In December 2018, the Association distributed their magazine to all 5,200 homes in Heald Green. The following is an extract from the magazine.
As you are aware, the Seashell Trust applied to remodel their site and sell off Greenbelt land for housebuilding to fund it. The application was refused by the Council. We opposed the application because they do not need the money gained from selling the land in order to revamp their site. The Seashell Trust have now appealed against the Council decision. The appeal will go to a Public Inquiry next May. Ratepayers and the Action Group have formed a Joint Group to play a full part in the Public Inquiry.
The Association’s view of the Seashell Trust appeal was thus made absolutely clear to all Heald Green residents.
During my recent election campaign, the Seashell Trust planning appeal was about to commence and was obviously a hot topic. My election leaflets were distributed to all 5,200 homes in Heald Green. I quote an extract from one of my leaflets:
SEASHELL TRUST PLANNING APPLICATION
The Seashell Trust’s planning application to rebuild their school at enormous expense and pay for it by selling off Green Belt land for the construction of 325 houses was refused by the Council. Seashell have appealed and there will be a Public Inquiry in May. We think that the rebuild can be accomplished at much reduced cost so that they do not have to build on the Green belt. We have come together with the Action Group to present a united group to oppose the appeal at the Inquiry.
This stated my views clearly.
Furthermore, the Ratepayers’ Team called at all 5,200 homes in Heald Green, not seeking to canvass their voting intention but to ascertain their opinions on issues within Heald Green. We detected no opposition to our clear view on the Seashell Trust appeal.
In my subsequent election, I was elected for the first time, with the biggest vote of any candidate in Stockport.
In addition, I work in the retail centre of the Village and meet hundreds of people a week in my job.
From the above, it is clearly demonstrated that opposition to the Trust’s proposals is not merely mine but is also the views of the overwhelming majority of the residents of the ward.
COUNCILLOR ADRIAN NOTTINGHAM lodged the following statement with the Inspector
I have represented the people of Heald Green as an elected member of Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council since May 2010.
Sadly, the unfortunate way that this hybrid planning application was presented, pitched two valuable entities against each other; both of significant importance to myself and many Heald Green residents who have personally spoken to me, mainly the care and education of some of the most disadvantaged children in society, and, the care of our precious environment; specifically in this case, our treasured greenbelt.
Not a single person has had anything but praise for the excellent and vital work that the staff of SeaShell trust do to give the children in their care the best possible chance to overcome the often huge barriers they face to realising some quality of life. Without exception we want these children to have access to the best amenities and for staff to have the kind of environment and level of facilities to work with that will enhance the efforts they all make. Clearly, to that end all are supportive of the plans to develop the existing college campus and would endorse the plans to build a superb facility that would offer the best chance for these children to thrive. If the
first part of the hybrid application had been submitted on its own, then I am sure we would all have backed it and been able to countenance the further development on this existing greenbelt site; believing that the test for ‘very special circumstances’ had been met.
However, the SeaShell business case suggested that the costs of this campus development could only be met by selling of adjacent greenbelt land with outline planning permission to build 325 dwellings; and indeed if this couldn’t be achieved SeaShell Trust would have to move or close within 5 years. The business case stated that the sacrifice of a significant amount of our precious greenbelt was necessary and that there was no other option.
Heald Green neighbours a growing international airport and an ambitiously growing city region, which means that the existing environment is critical to maintaining air quality and life quality for Heald Green residence. With this in mind the second part of this hybrid application required open and transparent scrutiny to ensure that very special circumstances could be justified and as a consequence; due to the nature of the hybrid application, the whole application; I had to ask myself ‘was I convinced that the campus development could only be accomplished by the selling off this greenbelt land and did the business case prove this to be the case?’
My conclusion on examining the projected costs for the campus development were that they were significantly above anything comparable, they were extravagant beyond the point of being necessary to achieve the desired outcomes for the children, and that they did not offer value for money.
This conclusion led me to believe that the case presented by SeaShell for the hybrid application as a whole was not credible enough to pass the very special circumstances test for the release of greenbelt and that therefore I could only support the Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council decision to not grant this planning application.
I am strongly persuaded that SeaShell Trust can achieve the very best support and development of the children it cares for, by using its current resources; and those it can reasonably expect to raise over the next years, without the need to sell off its designated greenbelt land.
I therefore support the original decision not to grant and hope that the appeal against that decision is not successful.
Thank you for taking the time to read this submission.