CHESHIRE East Council cabinet members have voted to press ahead with the sale of open space at Higher Downs off Longridge, while at the same time exploring an option to break a covenant.

The council will now advertise to dispose of the space in order to build an access road to a proposed 225-home development, which is in the local plan.

Original plans for the development, which near-mirrors the Longridge estate from the bend in the north to the junction for St John’s school in the south, showed four access point off Longridge, on the western edge of the development.

These, however, have since been found to be subject to a covenant, which town councillor and ward member Tony Dean told cabinet members had been identified as belonging to Manchester City Council, Great Places Housing Association, and between 40 and 50 stakeholders.

Cllr Dean, along with fellow ward member Cllr Stewart Gardiner, town mayor Cllr Neil Forbes, Knutsford Town Council and Knutsford Residents of Over Ward (KROW) residents’ group members Debbie Jamison and Jeff Gazzard, successfully argued that attempts should be made to break the covenant.

Cabinet members decided that, with the decision ‘one step of many’ in the planning process, pressing ahead with advertising the disposal of the land was prudent.

Cllr Don Stockton, CEC cabinet member for regeneration, said: “To run concurrently will be a report written about the possibility of crossing the covenant land, and advertisement of the disposal of [playing field and covenant] land.”

Cllr Dean had asked for a complete deferral of the decision until investigations into breaking the covenant had advanced, but was assured that the decision to advertise the disposal of the land is not a final decision to build the access road.

Cllr Dean said: “I, on behalf of KTC, offered some weeks ago to help get the necessary releases of the covenant and that offer still stands.

“Deferral of a few weeks or months would allow the relevant parties to overturn this covenant and revert to the original access plan. There is absolutely no rush to develop the site."

KROW again said that, while not opposing new housing, they fear the precedent of selling off public open space so soon after adopting the local plan, which will shape development in the borough through to 2030.

Mrs Jamison presented the council with a petition, signed by 230 members of the public, calling for no sale of public land.  She cited ‘overwhelming public opinion’ from councillors, MPs and residents opposed to the sale, calling the conduct of the council in the issue ‘outrageous’.

With the decision to continue consulting and exploring the covenant made after a 15-minute adjournment at Tuesday’s cabinet meeting, KROW members were left unimpressed by the handling of the decision.

Mr Gazzard added: “We went along and presented our views as to why this sale should be held up for two or three months in a very compressed, and hardly adequate, few minutes at the start of the meeting.

"We need to be able to explain the details of our concerns to the decision-makers in depth – this wasn’t anything other than superficial and derisory.

“More than two hours later, the sale eventually came up on the agenda with poorly-briefed councillors, portfolio holders and officers scrambling to find a form of words that appeared to both advertise the land for sale in the next two weeks and widen a so-called consultation effort.

“We have no idea what was actually agreed as we have to wait for the minutes. All in all we are no further forward in trying to prevent this land sale. 

“We will step up efforts with our MP and elsewhere to get to the bottom of this increasingly murky process.”