Charity launches appeal after ‘flawed’ planning decision on £45m school

The Seashell Trust has confirmed it will appeal a decision by Stockport Council’s planning committee to reject proposals for a £45m school and 325 homes on green belt land near Cheadle Hulme, criticising the council’s decision as “flawed” and “against their own officers’ professional advice”.

In January, Stockport’s planning committee voted seven to five to reject plans by the charity for a 60,000 sq ft school and 325 homes on the site, despite the scheme being recommended for approval by planning officers.

The charity provides specialist care to children and young people with autism, deafness, blindness, and those with physical and learning disabilities, and had lodged a hybrid application for the school at the site off Wilmslow Road, which would provide teaching space, a swimming pool and associated infrastructure, to replace its existing 120-capacity school at the site.

Stockport planners had recommended the scheme for approval, despite the fact the proposals were “in conflict with relevant green belt policies” in the area’s local development plan, and added the scheme would have “a detrimental impact” on the openness of the green belt and would result in “encroachment into the countryside”.

The development would also cause “significant extra demand” for local school places which “could not be readily absorbed by existing schools in the borough”.

Despite this, officers said the Trust had demonstrated “very special circumstances” to allow the project to proceed and had shown it would have “clear public benefits” and that alternative ways of delivering the school had been “fairly and reasonably discounted”.

However, the planning committee went on to reject the proposals against the officers’ recommendation, prompting an angry response from the Seashell Trust, which has now vowed to appeal the decision following advice from its legal and planning team.

Chief executive and school principal Mark Geraghty said: “We were obviously incredibly disappointed with the planning committee’s decision particularly as they went against their own officers’ professional advice and recommendation to then refuse the application.

“We have been working incredibly hard for more than two years now to answer every question asked of us by the planners and we firmly believe we have proved beyond doubt the need for a new school and campus transformation of this nature and the very special circumstances that allow for the application to be approved.”

“We have taken our time to consider carefully our options and the board of trustees strongly feels that the decision made by the planning committee was flawed and that we should be pressing ahead with plans for the new school.

“We look after some of the most vulnerable and challenged young people in society and it is our duty to fight for what it best for them. We will now launch an appeal against the council’s decision and fully expect to win consent for our application.”

As part of its planning application, the charity argued its current 1950s buildings were “at their structural and functional limits” and “no longer meet operational needs”. Willmott Dixon had been on site demolishing these buildings, and it is understood the contractor was lined up to build the school facilities.

Overall, the school was expected to cost £45m, including £27m towards the school and college; £5m towards a new community centre and office for the trust; £5m for sports facilities; and £2m towards staff facilities.

To pay for the school, the Trust proposed to dispose of part of its land to the north of the campus for housing development, and submitted an outline planning application for this alongside the school. The 37-acre site is designated as green belt.

The outline application included 325 homes, around 30% of which were designated as affordable.

The professional team includes architect Worthington Ashworth Jackson Walker and NJL Consulting as planner. Carillion carried out a viability assessment for the project.

A Stockport Council spokesperson said: “We’re aware of an appeal from the Seashell Trust regarding a recent planning decision. This will now be heard through the appropriate appeals process.”

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