CONTROVERSIAL plans to build up to 225 homes in Knutsford and destroy part of a recently designated Local Wildlife Site have been refused.

Cheshire East’s strategic planning board was unanimous in turning down the application from Dewscope Ltd to build on the ‘treasured nature reserve’ on land east of Longridge.

Objector Jonathan Smith told councillors at Wednesday’s meeting: “Today you have an enviable chance to do more for the environment than many of us could possibly dream about."

And Knutsford councillor Peter Coan, speaking as a visiting member, listed the destructive impact the development would have on the ecology and wildlife, saying: “Approving this would make us morally bankrupt.”

The council removed most of the application site from the green belt in 2017 as part of the Cheshire East Local Plan.

But a covenant prevents building on a strip of land needed for access, which means access could only be obtained by intruding into the green belt.

On top of that, since the site was allocated in the local plan, Cheshire Wildlife Trust has designated it a Local Wildlife Site (LWS).

All these factors were raised at today’s meeting.

Debbie Jamison, of campaign group KROW (Knutsford Residents Over Ward) said the covenant was never publicly declared in the local plan process and it has made a difference to the application outline.

“The land to the south west it wants to snatch is triple-designated protected - it’s public open space, it’s green belt, it’s local green space,” she said. “It should be untouchable.”

Knutsford Guardian: Cllr Stewart GardinerCllr Stewart Gardiner (Image: Cheshire East Council)Planning board member Stewart Gardiner (Knutsford, Con) said he had originally been in favour of the site being developed but that was when he thought it would benefit the people living on the existing Longridge Estate, which is ‘one of the most deprived in the whole North West’.

Cllr Gardiner said the town council had thought the development would ‘facilitate a regeneration and a more inclusive development that would bring Longridge into the fold of Knutsford’.

But he said this application didn’t do that.

“Basically, you've created another estate, the other side of Longridge, you have not integrated Longridge with the new housing scheme,” Cllr Gardiner told the applicant’s agent.

With regard to the site being in the local plan, he said: “We’ve allocated this piece of land on a premise that a fixed area of land would be developed, that vehicular access to that site would be directly off Longridge and we allocated it with limited knowledge of the ecology and the nature conservation that existed at the time of its allocation.”

He added: “If the [local plan] inspector knew that you could not get access to this site at the time it was put forward, he would not have allocated this site.”

Knutsford Guardian: Cllr Hannah MossCllr Hannah Moss (Image: Cheshire East Council)Mobberley councillor Hannah Moss (Con) said: “The access for me is a big concern… I also agree with the comments that the integration into that society is not there.”

She proposed the application, which officers had recommended for approval, be refused.

Knutsford Guardian: Cllr Mary BrooksCllr Mary Brooks (Image: Cheshire East Council)Macclesfield councillor Mary Brooks (Lab) seconded the refusal saying: “In terms of the allocation in the local plan, the entire site wasn't in the local plan - there's been an additional piece of land that’s part of this application.”

Cllr Steve Edgar (Haslington, Con) said in his nine years on a planning committee ‘this is the worst application I’ve ever seen for the environmental damage it’s likely to cause’.

The application was refused on the grounds it would be inappropriate development in the green belt and it would have adverse impact on ecology and the LWS.

Councillors also said the constraints on the site do not enable an effective well-accessible integrated design solution to come forward.