Despite a series of changes, Muller’s New Cross Square development in Sandbach looks set to be refused again with Cheshire East planners reiterating their opposition to the mixed-use housing and retail project.
Muller’s hybrid application for the site south of the town centre, which is historically known as Fields Farm, features a 21,000 sq ft food store, 9,000 sq ft of offices, a petrol filling station, two drive-thru units, a farm shop, and two retail units of around 1,400 sq ft each.
The retail element is being brought forward for full consent and covers a seven-acre portion of the site to the north.
Muller is also looking to secure outline consent for the remaining 10 acres, including a 78-bed care home along with 85 houses, 30% of which are to be designated as affordable.
Muller’s original hybrid application for the site was refused by the council in February this year; Muller had asked for the application to be deferred but Cheshire East’s planning committee were strongly against the scheme with councillors backing a motion to refuse by 11 votes.
The council’s original concerns focussed around its impact on Sanbach town centre; Cheshire East’s advisor WYG said that while local residents would have increased choice of where to shop, “the significant adverse trade impact on Sandbach town centre significantly outweighs the small improvement in consumer choice that the application scheme would deliver”.
Officers also said that the scheme fails to provide sufficient open space and fails in design terms to improve the quality of the area; the project was also refused with the committee arguing the development would be “car dependent” with “insufficient information” provided by Muller to show how the site would be served by public transport.
Advised by planner Knights, Muller put forward a fresh application earlier this year and has provided a point-by-point response to the council’s concerns.
A revised retail impact assessment has been provided which Muller said shows there will not be “any significant adverse impacts on Sanbach town centre’s vitality and viability”, while “significant modifications” have been made to the proposals’ layout.
These changes include improved public realm across the site, elevational alterations to the retail units, a “green spine” through the commercial part of the plot, and a linear park and green buffer alongside the western boundary of the site.
Road improvements are also proposed along Brookhouse Road to address the council’s concerns over the scheme’s perceived car dependency. Public rights of way are also to be protected to the east and west of the site.
Despite these alterations, Cheshire East planners have not been won over and have recommended the project for refusal when the council’s strategic planning board meets next week.
While accepting there are no sequentially available sites to build another food store in the area, planners have reiterated their argument that there would be a “significant adverse impact” on Sandbach town centre.
Planners also criticised the commercial element, arguing it “fails to take the opportunities available for improving the character and quality of the area”. There are also concerns raised about the development’s impact on bat species, and said the site’s “challenging topography” would require large retaining structures and little landscape mitigation, putting it in opposition to existing planning policy.
The site has a long and chequered history with Cheshire East; in 2012, Muller put forward plans for a supermarket, but these were refused. The developer then brought forward a housing scheme, and although it fell into a dispute with the council over access in 2017, plans were granted for 200 homes. This permission remains in place.
A decision will be made on the project on 28 August. Along with Knights, the professional team includes landscape architect PGLA, architect Dixon Dawson, and eScape Urbanists.