contaminated land planning Countryside Bombardier

Residents on a South Cheshire housing estate are living in unsaleable homes with no planning permission on potentially contaminated land because a developer “appears to have put profit first”, councillors claimed.

Countryside Partnerships was given permission to build the 263-home Coppenhall Place development on the former Bombardier site in 2018 – but because it failed to deal with a condition relating to contaminated land the estate has no planning permission.

On Thursday, Countryside asked Cheshire East’s strategic planning board (SPB) to approve the new application it had submitted to regularise the development.

The developer said it had worked with council officers “and they are satisfied the site does not pose a risk to human health”.

But councillors were furious with the developer.

Cllr David Marren called for the application to be refused “because this developer, it could be argued, has put profit before compliance and assurance”.

Another slated the “contempt” demonstrated by the developer.

Eventually councillors opted to defer the application for further investigation into possible contamination, arguing they weren’t prepared to risk the health of families already living there by signing it off without being sure.

This leaves a nightmare scenario for residents, with councillors saying it is unlikely they will be able to sell their homes or re-mortgage until the situation is resolved.

Cllr Stewart Gardiner (Con) said: “They (Countryside) knew full well that they were required to undertake work relating to the discharge of that [contaminated land] condition before one brick was laid and yet they chose not to do it.

“That’s not overlooking, that’s not forgetfulness, that is active breach.”

He also didn’t appear impressed with the way the council’s planners had dealt with the matter.

“They should have been served with a breach notice at that time,” said Cllr Gardiner.

“We, as a council, have failed the people who live in this location; we, as a council, have failed the people who have purchased those houses.

“There is no way that they (Countryside) should be able to just carry on regardless.”

The council’s planning officers had recommended councillors approve the new application on Thursday, subject to conditions.

Planning officer Adrian Crowther told the meeting: “This is an issue about human health and the planning issue is, is this site safe to live on?

“That’s basically what we’re looking at and they [the council’s environment protection team] are of the opinion that is the case.”

But Rebecca Norbury, from the environment protection team, explained they would be happier if further assessment was done regarding the possible contamination of the site.

“The applicant’s consultant produced some work, we weren’t entirely happy with it and, in order to demonstrate to ourselves that this site didn’t pose a risk to human health from volatiles, we undertook some work ourselves,” she told councillors.

She added: “We only had time to review the work pertaining to volatile contaminants, the other remedial works are yet to be reviewed but they can be suitably conditioned.”

When asked by Nantwich councillor Peter Groves (Con) if environmental protection was happy with the work they had done or whether they wanted a peer review – for their own work to assessed by an independent expert – she replied: “In an ideal world we would want that to be peer reviewed, as is standard practice in our industry.”

Implications for residents

Crewe councillor Steve Hogben (Lab), a councillor for more than 40 years, said he had never come across a situation like this before and asked about the implication for residents living on the site.

“Do we not have a duty of care to residents who now live on this estate?” he asked.

“I do not wish to vote for something that, in future years, someone says you didn’t consider the residents, because all the discussion so far has been about the developer and the process, it has not been about the real issue which is the people who now live on this site.”

Mr Crowther said the duty of care would be through environmental health – and the peer review was an option if councillors weren’t happy.

He later added that Thursday’s special meeting had been called to look at this application as a matter of urgency because “it’s to do with the people living in these properties”.

“They have mortgages, they have lives, and at the moment they have this uncertainty hanging above them, so that is the urgency…There are people’s lives affected by this,” said Mr Crowther.

Crewe councillor Anthony Critchley (Lab), who is the ward councillor, asked: “What’s the legal position of these houses now?

“Have they been sold legally? Are those residents able to insure their houses legally?”

Mr Crowther replied: “I don’t know the answer to that question.

“All I know is they have been made aware they don’t have the benefit of planning permission… that could have legal implications. What they are? Sorry I can’t advise you on that.”

Congleton councillor Suzie Akers Smith (Ind) said: “I would imagine that people will be wanting to sell their property and if there’s an issue with planning permission they might be struggling to do that.”

Cllr Gardiner agreed, saying: “Any solicitor worth their salt would not let the purchaser buy them because it would now be perfectly evident, in that we are having a meeting in public, that these properties don’t benefit from planning permission.”

He said they wouldn’t get a mortgage.

Cllr Steve Edgar (Haslington, Con) said without a peer review nobody would know if the land was contaminated.

“And if it is contaminated how are they going to sell their houses?”

The developer

Earlier in the meeting Isla Brady, from Countryside Partnerships, said the developer had worked closely with the council’s environmental officers to provide the necessary information and undertake additional site investigation ‘and they are satisfied the site does not pose a risk to human health’.

She said with no planning permission they were unable to legally complete on the final plots and “as such we have 18 plots empty and families waiting to move in”.

“The situation we find ourselves in is unfortunate and these families have been impacted by the delays and we are keen to regularise this position,” she told the SPB.

code of conduct - Cllr David Marren, Shavington, Independent (1)
Cllr David Marren

But at the beginning of the meeting, Shavington councillor David Marren (Ind), speaking as a visiting councillor, had called on the SPB to refuse the application saying the developer “it could be argued, has put profit before compliance and assurance”.

He said Countryside had not dealt with the contaminated land condition, which would have saved the company money; had knocked down the historic factory wall instead of retaining part of it as required, which would help increase the profit margin; contributed very little in terms of education funding and given no contribution towards the NHS – which all helped the scheme make a profit.

When Ms Brady was asked by SPB members if Countryside would now make some contributions in terms of education and the NHS, she said the developer had paid £100,000 in contributions following the 2018 permission as had been agreed following a viability assessment.

When she was asked why the developer had also ignored a condition to retain part of the historic wall, she said when the workmen lowered the wall it fell down.

Deferral decision

Councillors made it clear at the meeting they were angry with the way the developer had dealt with the application.

Cllr Critchley said: “The contaminated land issue is clearly the issue why we’re here today and we haven’t really got an answer to that.”

He said he thought planning officers had done the right thing bringing this forward.

“In terms of the contempt that’s been shown by the applicant, a wall doesn’t just fall down. I was expecting her to say Humpty Dumpty was sitting on it,” he said.

And he said the important thing was getting it right for the residents.

“If there’s a contribution to be paid they (Countryside) should bloody well pay it,” said Cllr Critchley.

He proposed the application be deferred for a peer review regarding the contaminated land issue and for an open book viability financial assessment to see whether it was appropriate to ask the developer for further contributions.

Cllr Gardiner said: “I do not think it is reasonable for us, as a board, to let them off the hook.

“I think that it is in the interests of the people who live on this site that we should go through the process of forensically investigating the situation with regard to contamination so we are told, without any doubt, that there is a minimal, if any, risk of contamination on this site and that all works necessary have been undertaken.”

SPB chair Mike Hunter said: “It is absolutely crazy that people are living on an estate that now has no planning permission. We need to assess it as a new application, we need to ensure the safety of the people that are living in the houses and the way forward has to be, when we get to the end of this process, those people can go to sleep at night and think to themselves everything’s ok.

“We’re not here because of Cheshire East Council, we are here because the developer didn’t do the simplest of things which was a pre-development condition. I would have thought that would have been the first tick-box exercise that went on.”

The committee voted unanimously to defer the application.

One Comment

  1. If I remember correctly, the land where Phoenix leisure park and the surrounding area is, lay dormant covered in sand for years because it was ‘Contaminated,’ Crewe works land.
    Just saying.

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