Cheshire council leader Cllr Mike Jones received a stunning blow to his leadership last night when controversial plans for a large student village he backed on the outskirts of Chester were rejected by 51 votes to one at full council.
An extraordinary meeting of all councillors at Cheshire West & Chester Council members were asked to vote again on Bell Developments' plans to accommodate 2,300 students on 67 acres of green belt land near Blacon. The identical application was rejected in January. The full council sat last night as a strategic planning committee for the first time. There were three abstentions. Cllr Stuart Parker, executive member for regeneration, was the only one to vote in favour.
Jones was not present and did not vote, having previously declared a prejudicial interest owing to his friendship with the Bell brothers who control Bell Developments.
Planning officers recommended rejection, arguing that the application failed to demonstrate the special circumstances crucial to permitting development in the green belt.
Planners ruled the scheme would obstruct views of historic buildings on the city's skyline, describing it as "a major incursion into the open countryside which would adversely affect the rural character of the area".
The scheme generated thousands of objections including two petitions of 2,670 and 120 names respectively, and 400 letters. Only 25 letters were received in support.
Objectors included Chester MP Stephen Mosley, Mollington and Saughall parish councils, Chester Civic Trust, Chester Archaeological Society and the Council for the Protection of Rural England.
The scheme would have included a football pitch, four mini sports pitches, recreation space and a centrepiece building combining a student hub and the Sir Steve Redgrave Institute with a fitness suite open to the community.
Councillors cited research that found no certainty that student numbers at the University of Chester were likely to increase in the medium term. Other university-led and private accommodation schemes currently in development are forecast to provide an extra 1,800 student beds in and around the city centre.
AEW Architects designed the proposed development.