Stockport’s planning committee has refused an application by charity Seashell Trust to build a £45m school and 325 homes on a green belt site bordering the Handforth Bypass.
At a meeting last night, the committee voted seven to five to reject a hybrid planning application 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 Seashell Trust had lodged plans 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.
The charity provides specialist care to children and young people with autism, deafness, blindness, and those with physical and learning disabilities, and said its current 1950s buildings were “at their structural and functional limits” and “no longer meet operational needs”.
Willmott Dixon is currently 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. It is understood the charity was confident of agreeing a deal with a housebuilder in the coming months to bring forward 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”.
Mark Geraghty, chief executive of Seashell Trust, said: “We are obviously very disappointed and somewhat surprised by the committee’s decision to go against the planning officers’ recommendation and refuse our application for the new school and campus at Seashell Trust.
“We have been working incredibly hard for more than two years now to answer questions asked of us by the planning team and we firmly believe we have proved beyond doubt the need for a new school and campus of this nature and the very special circumstances that allow the committee to approve the application.
“We are now going to discuss our options and decide on next steps”.
The professional team includes architect Worthington Ashworth Jackson Walker and NJL Consulting as planner. Carillion carried out a viability assessment for the project.