CHESTER'S MP has spoken of his anger at a government planning inspector’s decision to allow a huge eight-storey student accommodation block to be built in Chester.
Chris Matheson told The Standard that local democracy had once again been undermined by a national planning and housing policy that put developers first and communities second.
Members of Cheshire West and Chester Council’s (CWaC) planning committee unanimously rejected PJ Properties (Chester) Ltd’s application for the 376-bed block on Hoole Way in April last year.
But it emerged last week that the company’s appeal to The Planning Inspectorate against the council’s decision has been successful.
It is likely the council – and therefore taxpayers – will now have to foot the bill for all costs associated with the appeal.
Mr Matheson said: “This is another example of where local democracy has been undermined by the national planning process.
“What this particular decision tells us is that the Government’s housing policy is based more on the needs of developers than it is on the needs of local people and local communities.
“There is no more that the council could have done to oppose this decision - that's why I cannot find the words to describe how angry I am with the planning inspector."
Council leader Samantha Dixon responded with shock on Twitter, saying: “I am staggered and dismayed by the inspector's decision. Does democracy mean nothing?”
And Reg Barritt, who has campaigned against the 'studentification' of Chester for many years, was similarly appalled.
Mr Barritt, the general secretary of campaign group Chester Community Voice UK, said local democracy meant nothing in the face of current national planning policies.
“The people that are the community of Chester are very much side-lined while predatory development interests overrun the place in which we live,” he said. “Our councillors seem powerless to do much about it.”
This newspaper reported in April that plans had been rejected for PJ Properties' £30 million student block on land near Black Diamond Street and Hoole Way, near the Royal Mail centre and railway bridge.
Having visited the site and heard residents' concerns, locally-elected councillors on the planning committee queued up to slam the proposals.
Ben Roberts, representing the applicant, tried in vain to convince members that the development represented a “high quality building” fit for a gateway into the city.
But his words failed to hit their mark and the application was rejected on the grounds of design, scale and impact on public amenity.
However, the developer lodged an appeal and nine months later planning inspector Andrew McGlone announced his decision.
He wrote: “In my judgement, even though the proposed building would be next to low-rise residential properties, it would be in keeping with the character and appearance of the area which has a blend of different scaled development, due to its design, height, mass and scale.
“I do not consider that the building would be incongruous and dominant.”