Muller’s New Cross Square in Sandbach has been refused yet again by Cheshire East with the council’s planning board voting unanimously against the mixed-use scheme.
The hybrid application was refused in February this year but the developer put forward a revised application in the hope it would sway councillors to back the retail, office, and housing scheme.
Muller’s application includes full consent for 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 company was 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.
In refusing the application in February, Cheshire East’s planning committee said the scheme failed to provide sufficient open space and failed in design terms to improve the quality of the area. Councillors also criticised the proposals for being “car dependent” and argued there would be a “significant” impact on Sandbach town centre if the scheme went ahead.
Despite Muller proposing a series of changes in an attempt to placate the council – including changes to the layout, the inclusion of a “green spine”, protection of public rights of way, and commissioning a fresh retail impact assessment – its strategic planning board was not won over, with councillors voting unanimously for refusal, in line with officer recommendation.
The design of the scheme again came in for criticism with committee vice-chair Cllr Stewart Gardiner arguing Muller had “made no real attempt to create designs that reflect the character of Sandbach,” adding the “off-the-shelf” designs were “actually quite generic”.
Planning officers had criticised the commercial element, arguing it “fails to take the opportunities available for improving the character and quality of the area”; representatives from Muller said an attempt had been made to reflect nearby residential properties by using a red-brick façade and tiled roof, but this argument did not win over the committee.
The committee also accepted that while there were no sequentially available sites to build another food store in the area, they agreed that there would be a “significant adverse impact” on Sandbach town centre.
Ultimately, councillors decided to endorse six of the seven reasons for refusal put forward by planning officers: the impact on Sandbach town centre; the “generic” design of the commercial buildings; the “car dependent” nature of the scheme; the impact on public rights of way; the inclusion of retaining walls along the sites western and eastern boundaries; and the impact on Sandbach Wildlife Corridor.
The only reason for refusal put forward by officers and not endorsed by the committee was the impact on a bat roost on the site, with the council’s ecologist satisfied effective mitigation could be put in place.
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.