In its third hearing at a Cheshire East planning committee, proposals for a £1.6m watersports adventure park in Chelford have been rejected, overturning consent granted in August after an application process marred by council errors.
Cheshire Lakes Community Interest Company plans to convert the 55-acre former Hanson Quarry into a facility for wakeboarding, swimming, canoeing and paddle boarding. The centre would make use of two existing lakes, created as part of the quarry’s restoration plan following its closure.
The scheme has already experienced a back-and-forth of refusals and consents.
In July, it was recommended for refusal at the planning committee meeting, due to its perceived negative impact on biodiversity, despite backing from the council’s rural investment team. A decision on the scheme was supposed to be delayed to allow for the submission of further information, however the project mistakenly remained on the committee agenda and was rejected by five votes to four, with no opportunity for the applicant to make a representation.
Following the error, the refusal was quashed “to ensure a fair democratic process”, and the scheme was put on August’s planning agenda, again with recommendation to refuse. However, one of the main objectors, Manchester Airport, withdrew its submission prior to the meeting. The airport had outlined fears that the watersports centre would attract more geese to the area and increase the chance of bird hazards.
Planning permission was then granted at the meeting, with five votes to six, subject to section 106 agreements being signed.
In late October, Cheshire East received a letter from a member of the public in advance of starting judicial review proceedings, alerting the council that the previous committee report had incorrectly referenced a paragraph from the habitat regulations, meaning that the approval decision could be challenged.
In response, the Council decided to bring the scheme back to its planning committee which took place last week, to “ask members to confirm that due regard had been given in arriving at its previous decision”.
According to a report ahead of the meeting, planning officers stressed that in August the project had been “discussed and debated at length… and the committee concluded that on balance the harm to biodiversity was outweighed by the benefits of the scheme”.
However, rather than solely discussing the administrative point, the committee reconsidered the scheme in its entirety, and rejected it by a margin of seven votes to five.
The committee contained several new members who had not considered the scheme previously, or visited the site. All five previous supporters voted again for approval.
Cheshire Lakes is understood to be in talks with the council in regards to resubmitting the scheme, and is also set to appeal the decision.
Tim Woodhead, managing director of Cheshire Lakes, said: “Our planning application was seen for a third time and rejected. It had to be seen for a third time due to yet another error from the Cheshire East planning department. We don’t want to say too much right now, because we need to take more legal advice on how we will appeal and what we do next.
“There has been amazing public support for our proposals and we feel, along with our professional team of lawyers and planning consultants, that errors by the council planning department have not given us a fair hearing. We can assure you, we will be appealing and fighting and will absolutely never give up.”
Walsingham Planning was lead consultant, working alongside AECOM, Campbell Reith, FOB Design UK and Urban Green.
A spokesman from Cheshire East Council said: “This application had to be referred back to the strategic planning board after further matters concerning Regulation 9a of the Conservation of Habitats & Species (Amendment) Regulations 2012 arose.
“The planning board had to consider the potential for legal challenge if it had not given full regard to its duties under the Act.
“After further consideration, the board resolved to refuse the application.”