Anger over Cheshire planning committee changes

Published date: 30 May 2013 |
Published by: Jim Green 
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DISMAYED campaigners are seeking answers after the controversial removal of a planning committee chairman.

Scores of letters have been sent to Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) chief executive Steve Robinson after Cllr Myles Hogg was replaced as chairman of the strategic planning committee.

North Blacon Residents’ Association presented the Leader with a dossier of letters from disgruntled residents opposed to the Chester student village.

Cllr Hogg had the casting vote which resulted in the £100 million scheme being thrown out in January.

He was the only Conservative on the strategic planning committee who voted against the 2,300-bed village and Sir Steve Redgrave-backed sports institute.

Last week Cllr Howard Greenwood, who voted in favour of the scheme, replaced him as committee chairman.

Bell Developments also resubmitted the plans for the student village on greenbelt land between Blacon and Mollington.

Council leader Mike Jones moved quickly to dismiss speculation his decision to replace Cllr Hogg had anything to do with his vote against the student village.

But in letters from campaigners to the chief executive and copied to Chester MP Stephen Mosley, the change has been described as ‘convenient, wrong and the worst PR move possible’.

There are also calls for Mr Robinson to reinstate Cllr Hogg and for Cllr Jones to step down as council leader.

Cllr Hogg has been appointed chairman of the Cheshire Pension Fund, which Cllr Jones described as “one of the most important posts” on the council.

He pointed out Cllr Jill Houlbrook, who voted for the student village, had also been taken off the committee and replaced by Cllr Mark Williams,

However, she has become Lord Mayor of Chester and is expected to be politically-neutral during her year of civic office.

Cllr Jones said: “Any so-called ‘speculation’ is no more than that – pure speculation.

“It certainly ignores the fact that one councillor who supported the application is likewise coming off the committee and that it is widely understood planning committee members from all political parties are obliged to decide each case on its own merits – and according to their own conscience and without any party whip being applied.

“Myles is a former group leader on the former Ellesmere Port Borough Council and knows well it is common practise to reshuffle the pack to accommodate new demands, including the opportunity for new members to have the opportunity to take on some responsibility.”

Bell Developments first submitted plans for a 2,500-bed student village in February 2012, but the application was withdrawn three months later.

Revised plans for a 2,300-bed village incorporating the Redgrave Institute were submitted last August but were turned down four months ago.

Hundreds of people packed into Chester West and Chester Council (CWaC) HQ to see the plans rejected by the narrowest of margins – five votes to four.

Bell Developments claim the scheme could be worth hundreds of millions of pounds to the city and would provide world-class sporting facilities, as well as helping solve ‘studentification’ problems in the Garden Quarter.

But opponents argue the student village is not needed, would threaten the character of Chester and would destroy the green belt.

Council spokesman Ian Callister said: “The chief executive has today received 18 letters concerning Cllr Myles Hogg and will reply to all of them.”

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