CHESHIRE East has narrowly approved plans to convert a Macclesfield office block into flats – despite several councillors expressing serious concerns about fire safety and escape routes from two ‘inner’ bedrooms.

The application to convert Marburae House on Athey Street into four apartments was approved by six votes to five at yesterday’s (Wednesday) meeting of the northern planning committee.

Several councillors expressed concern that future tenants in the flats with ‘inner bedrooms’ – who would have to go through other rooms to escape in the event of a fire – would be at risk.

But planning officer Paul Wakefield told them: “The fire safety aspect is covered by building regulations, so it shouldn’t really concern members at this particular stage. It’s the planning issues that we’re obviously concerned with.”

Several councillors couldn’t support the scheme.

Knutsford Guardian: Cllr Fiona WilsonCllr Fiona Wilson (Image: Cheshire East Council)Macclesfield councillor Fiona Wilson (Lab), said: “I find myself very surprised that we're agreeing a planning application but we can't put in arrangements for the fire safety of the people living there, so I will not be supporting this application.”

Macclesfield councillor Nick Mannion (Lab), who is a member of Cheshire Fire Authority, said Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service (CFRS) had made their concerns very clear in the report to the committee.

The report from CFRS states: “Observe that bedrooms to flats one and two are inner rooms where emergency egress is through another room. An inner room is not permitted for bedrooms.”

Knutsford Guardian: Cllr Nick MannionCllr Nick Mannion (Image: Cheshire East Council)Cllr Mannion said: “I have major concerns regarding the use of those inner rooms. They’re store rooms, basically…  and Mr Wakefield said that can be dealt with under building control.

“We have a duty to whoever lives in those properties and sleeps in those properties, has the best chance of getting out of them in the, hopefully very remote, chance of a fire breaking out.”

The matter had also been highlighted by ward councillor Liz Braithwaite (Lab) who addressed the committee as a visiting member.

Knutsford Guardian: Cllr Liz BraithwaiteCllr Liz Braithwaite (Image: Cheshire East Council)

She said: “Regarding the floor plans, CFRS clearly state that inner rooms are not permitted for bedrooms.”

She added: “What is the point of an application coming into this committee when the plans in front of you cannot possibly be adhered to?”

Cllr Braithwaite also raised the issue of parking in the area, which she said was already so bad ‘three times this year an emergency ambulance has been unable to turn into [nearby] Crown Street West due to parked cars’.

The application considered yesterday came after a previous scheme to convert the building into six flats by the same applicants, Mr & Mr Harry and Vinny Edwards and Taylor, was refused just six months ago.

This was on the grounds it would result in a substandard level of amenity for future occupiers and an over-development of the site.

The applicant’s agent, Ian Pleasant, told councillors yesterday the new scheme provided spacious apartments.

He added: “Any fire safety issues would need to be dealt with at building regulations stage. However, we can confirm that the current proposals would be fully compliant with the building regulations for fire escape, with the inclusion of a fire suppression system.”

Committee chair David Jefferay (Wilmslow, Ind) said he felt the council couldn’t defend an appeal if it refused the application because of fire safety concerns.

He said parking wasn’t raised as a reason for refusal when the previous scheme for six apartments was refused so that couldn’t be used now either.

Cllr Jefferay proposed the application be approved and this was seconded Cllr Michael Beanland.