Charity-led proposals for a school and 325 homes on Green Belt land have been approved by the Secretary of State following a five-week inquiry and prior refusal by Stockport Council.
The £45m scheme at Stanley Road in Heald Green was allowed despite the secretary of state’s recognition that the proposed residential development would cause harm to the Green Belt, as noted in a previous inspector’s report.
But the secretary of state concluded that the local need for the scheme outweighs the harm it could cause.
Seashell Trust provides specialist care to children and young people with autism, deafness, blindness, and other physical and learning disabilities.
Its hybrid application, submitted to 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 has a 120-capacity school and college at the site but is aiming to redevelop the area to provide a new facility to enable it to increase student capacity and upgrade facilities for pupils and college learners.
To enable the development, the trust aimed to sell around 37 acres of agricultural land bordering the Handforth Bypass for a residential scheme of up to 325 homes.
However, Stockport Council refused the plans in January 2018 arguing the trust had not proved the “very special circumstances” needed to develop on Green Belt land, and that the scheme conflicted with the local plan.
The council’s report at the time said the development would have “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.”
Seashell Trust appealed the decision, sparking a five-week inquiry that concluded on 25 June 2019.
The secretary of state has now considered the inspector’s report following the inquiry and resolved to grant planning permission to the scheme.
“Overall, the secretary of state agrees with the inspector that the need for the proposed development has been robustly made out,” his statement on Wednesday said.
“He considers that the improved provision for special needs education, specifically for those with very complex special educational needs and disabilities that cannot be met elsewhere, in both quantitative and qualitative terms, carries substantial weight.”
The trust’s overall masterplan includes the new school with therapy suite and swimming pool, plus an extension of the existing college, family assessment units, family support services, sports hall and pavilion, new main entrance drive, reception and car parking. Planning permission has already been granted for a 3G sports pitch.
Jolanta McCall, chief executive of Seashell Trust and principal of the school, said in a statement: “We are absolutely delighted with today’s decision published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, which sees the Planning Inspectorate allowing our appeal and granting planning.
“All of our team at Seashell are working incredibly hard to manage the needs of our children and young people in the challenging circumstances created by the global pandemic and that will remain our focus for as long as is needed, but this decision paves the way for a new, positive direction for Seashell.
“We very much look forward to working closely with the local community and Stockport Council as we move forward with the development of our new school and campus and a bright new future for Seashell.”
NJL Consulting advised Seashell Trust on the planning.