UPDATE: The Countess of Chester Hospital's boss has released the following statement after plans for its new neonatal unit were rejected by CWaC's planning committee yesterday evening.

Acting Chief Executive Dr Susan Gilby said: “We are disappointed that the plans were not approved and we take on board the points raised by the elected members. We are mindful of our responsibilities to our community and our neighbours and we will now work with the council to consider our options going forward. The need for the new unit remains and after receiving such strong support for our Babygrow Appeal we remain committed to delivering a new neonatal facility that meets the needs of the people of West Cheshire.”

LONG-AWAITED plans for a new £2.4 million neonatal unit at the Countess of Chester Hospital have been derailed by a single resident’s objection.

Ann-Marie Jones, of Bache Hall Estate, told the council’s planning committee that the facility at the rear of the current women’s and children’s building would block sunlight to her back garden.

This would turn it into an “overshadowed, dank space” where she and her dogs “would not be able to enjoy the heat of the sun”, she said.

This prompted a passionate debate among councillors on the committee which ended in a tied vote yesterday evening (Tuesday, October 9).

However, chairman Gill Watson (Labour) then used her casting vote to reject the plans, leaving the hospital’s project team to ponder their next move.

The Standard understands it is their intention to appeal against the decision, which went against the recommendation of Cheshire West and Chester Council’s planning experts.

(A full list of how each councillor voted can be found at the end of this article).

Chester and District Standard:

Bache Hall Estate - the rear of the current maternity unit can be seen behind the tree on the left.

A celebratory sod-cutting ceremony was due to take place at the site of the new unit today (Wednesday) but has had to be cancelled.

The plans were the product of more than three years of dedicated fundraising by the Countess’s Babygrow Appeal.

Leila Bibby, the appeal’s chairman, said: "I am extremely disappointed that the planning committee has declined planning permission for the new Babygrow unit which has had overwhelming support from the community for four years and has been greatly anticipated.

“It seems the committee did not take into consideration the wish of the people they represent."

Given three minutes to address the committee, Mrs Jones pulled no punches in making her case for the application to be refused outlining the “catastrophic impact” it would have on her property and garden.

“By blighting our property through this proposed construction not only would it have a negative impact on its market value but we will be deprived of direct natural sunlight,” she said.

“Furthermore, we will be completely overlooked by staff, patients and visitors not only from the existing maternity unit but also from the proposed neonatal unit resulting in a complete loss of privacy.

“I can’t imagine what looking at 11ft of block wall running the entire length of our garden will do, being overlooked by countless members of staff, patients and visitors and having our lovely, sunny garden turned into an overshadowed, dank space where we or our dogs would not be able to enjoy the heat of the sun.”

Chester and District Standard:

The Babygrow Appeal Committee on the proposed site of the new neonatal unit, plans for which were rejected by the council's planning committee.

She was backed by Cllr Jill Houlbrook (Conservative), who said residents of Bache Hall Estate would have to endure even more disruption if the neonatal unit was built.

“Local residents already have issues with parking in that area and litter and noise and disruption, not only from visitors but also from members of staff at the hospital who very often aren’t careful about what they do with their lunch wrappers,” she said. “This is just going to be another disruption.

“We need to be very careful to put our emotions aside and look at what is best for our residents.”

Cllr Watson agreed, saying that a site visit had revealed how close the new unit would be to Mrs Jones’s property.

She said: “I can really envisage how dominating it will be for these properties. I just feel that this particular site is not necessarily the right site. I’m very concerned about the residents.”

Cllr Chris Whitehurst (Con), who eventually proposed the motion to reject the plans, said: “This just feels that it’s financially motivated. It doesn’t feel right to me, when there’s other alternatives if it’s going to cost a bit more money, to impose this on an individual resident.”

Linda Fellowes, project director for women’s and children’s services at the Countess, stressed the need for the new state-of-the-art baby unit – and also the need for it to be located next to the current maternity building.

She told the committee: “There were three sites considered but none of these sites complied with the proximity for these very sick babies to be able to go from the delivery suite into neonatal care as required to support them.”

Chester and District Standard:

The long-awaited plans for the new neonatal unit, which would be located next to the current maternity unit to allow very sick babies to receive immediate, unhindered care.

Cllr David Armstrong (Lab) suggested the location of the garden and nature of the sun’s movement would mean natural light would only be blocked during the evening.

He also said that given the pressures on the NHS, the application represented an “ideal use for this piece of land”.

Council officers also confirmed that Mrs Jones’s property would not be overlooked by any windows on the new baby unit.

Cllr Peter Rooney (Lab) implored fellow committee members not to make a “silly move” by rejecting the plans.

He said: “We are talking about a hospital unit for the entire community versus the loss of amenity of a back garden.

“This is a unit for very sick children. The loss of amenity of a garden has got to be looked at with the gain that will be given to countless sick children who would get a much better fighting chance at life.”

The existing neonatal unit was built in 1974 and its design has become out-dated.

The planned new building will not only be packed with life-saving technology, it would also focus on providing space, privacy and as much comfort as possible for tots and their families.

It is also said to be the first unit in the country to be designed with “family integrated care”.

The following councillors voted to reject the plans:

Gill Watson (Newton, Lab) – also had casting vote as chairman

Jill Houlbrook (Upton, Con)

Carol Gahan (Blacon, Lab)

Chris Whitehurst (Malpas, Con)

Keith Board (Great Boughton, Con)

The following councillors voted against rejecting the plans:

Cllr David Armstrong (Winsford, Swanlow and Dene, Lab)

Peter Rooney (Ledsham and Manor, Lab)

Norman Wright (Marbury, Con)

Tom Blackmore (Winsford Over and Verdin, Lab)

Don Beckett (Winsford Over and Verdin, Lab)