BATTLE lines have been drawn ahead of a crucial hearing to decide on the future of Chester’s green belt.
Cheshire West and Chester Council (CwaC) is proposing to build 1,300 new homes on green fields off Wrexham Road, claiming it is the “logical” site to use.
But environmental groups claim the green belt should remain untouched as it protects the city’s rural setting and prevents “urban sprawl”.
The 65-hectare site is the only green belt land named in CWaC’s draft Local Plan, a document designed to shape future development and planning decisions until 2030.
An independent planning inspector will decide on whether the plan is “sound” during a three week hearing, due to take place at Chester Town Hall from Tuesday, June 17.
Besides Chester, the plan also covers Ellesmere Port, Neston, Northwich and Winsford.
Ann Jones, of the Chester branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), urged as many people as possible to attend on Thursday, June 19 and Friday, June 20, when the Chester-related aspects of the plan will be discussed.
“All those concerned about the future of Chester’s green belt should attend,” she said. “The council has targeted Chester alone for strategic green belt release and given Chester the highest housing figures.
“The CPRE has consistently argued the case for the maintenance of the existing green belt boundaries around Chester and believes the green belt has protected the rural setting of the historic city and the rural villages around the city by preventing urban sprawl and coalescence.”
The Local Plan proposes building 5,200 new homes in Chester over the next 16 years, of which 1,300 would be on the green belt land.
It would also see 4,800 built in Ellesmere Port, 4,300 in Northwich, 3,500 in Winsford and 4,200 in rural areas.
The Conservative-led council has previously described the Wrexham Road site as “a logical extension to the city with good access to public transport and major employment areas”.
This riled Labour councillors, who slammed the plans as “unnecessary and overambitious”.
Mrs Jones added: “Since its adoption in 1983 the green belt around Chester has been subjected to unrelenting development pressure.
“CPRE believes the case for keeping the existing green belt boundaries is a strong one and will press the argument for a more balanced distribution of development throughout the borough, promoting redevelopment of previously developed land and buildings where regeneration and renewal is urgently needed.”
Besides the green belt and housing development, the Local Plan covers also covers issues such as employment, the economy, transport, heritage, landscape and health.
The document will set out the overall vision for the council, strategic objectives and planning policies to guide development in the borough.
For details on the Local Plan examination hearing, visit www.cheshirewest andchester.gov.uk
See full story in the Chester Leader