The charity’s proposals to develop a school and 325 homes on Green Belt land in Handforth, refused by Stockport Council last year, will be decided by the Secretary of State after a planning inquiry drew to a close.
A five-week inquiry into the Trust’s appeal against Stockport Council’s decision closed on 25 June and follows a long-running planning process.
The Seashell Trust provides specialist care to children and young people with autism, deafness, blindness, and those with physical and learning disabilities.
Its hybrid application, which went before Stockport Council last year, includes detailed plans for a 60,000 sq ft school, including a swimming pool and associated infrastructure, at a site off the Handforth Bypass and Wilmslow Road.
The charity currently has a 120-capacity school and college at the site, but is aiming to redevelop the area to provide a new school facility to allow it to increase student capacity and provide up-to-date facilities for pupils and college learners.
To enable the development, the Trust had aimed to sell around 37 acres of agricultural land, bordering the Handforth Bypass, for a residential development of up to 325 houses.
This land is designated as Green Belt, and proved to be the main bone of contention for Stockport Council, which went against officer recommendation to reject the application in January last year.
Stockport’s planning committee voted seven to five to refuse the plans, arguing the Trust had not proved the “very special circumstances” needed to develop on Green Belt land. Planning officers had admitted the scheme was “in conflict with relevant Green Belt policies” with the council’s Local Plan, but argued the criteria for “very special circumstances” had been met.
However, the scheme was refused by committee which argued the proposals would cause “a permanent detrimental impact on the openness of the Green Belt and campus land and a resultant encroachment into the countryside; a failure to comply with the Council’s standard for affordable housing; and that the proposed development would result in an adverse impact on the setting of the historic grade two-listed building”.
An appeal followed in June last year, with the inquiry now drawing to a close. In a closing statement, the Trust’s QC Giles Cannock said: “This is a proposal conceived after a painstaking masterplan process by a charitable trust which performs outstanding work with the most complex and vulnerable cohort of children in the country.
“It is agreed that the school is not fit for purpose and that a replacement building is required. However, funding is required, in the absence of any state funding. The only source of funding is providing housing on the Trust’s land. The provision of such housing will deliver much needed market and affordable housing.
“It is genuinely difficult to conceive of a more powerful set of very special circumstances.”
Seashell chief executive Jolanta McCall added: “The appeal has been a thorough and transparent examination of all the evidence in this complicated case and I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to everyone on the Seashell team who has worked so hard in the run up to, and during this inquiry. We believe we have presented all the evidence to support our case.
“Our current school is desperately outdated and no longer fit for purpose and we are struggling to meet the challenging needs of our pupils because of the constraints of the building. We need a new school and campus but have to sell some of our land to help fund this redevelopment.
“We have made that case through the appeal process and now we have to await the final decision which we very much hope will be in our favour.”
The planning inspector will now write a report and make a recommendation to the Secretary of State, who will make the final decision on the application.