PLANNING | Green belt houses and £45m school on Stockport agenda

Proposals to build 325 houses and a £45m school on green belt land in Heald Green and Redrow’s plans for 107 more homes in Woodford are due to be discussed by Stockport’s planning committee this week, with both schemes recommended for approval.

The largest of these proposals is from charity The Seashell Trust, which provides specialist care to children and young people with autism, deafness, blindness, and those with physical and learning disabilities.

The Trust’s hybrid planning application 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.

The Trust said the existing buildings on the site are at their “structural and functional limits” and no longer meet its operational needs, with the preferred option to demolish the 1950s buildings and replace them with a new facility.

Overall, the project is expected to cost £45m, which includes £27m towards the school and college; £5m towards a new community centre and office for the trust; £5m for sports facilities; and £2m towards staff facilities.

Around £3m of funding could be met through the Trust’s cash reserves, with a further £3m from commercial loan funding and £9m from an extended capital appeal. This would leave the Trust with a funding shortfall of around £30m.

As a result, the Trust is proposing to dispose of part of its land to the north of the campus for housing development, for which it has submitted an outline planning application. The land is designated as green belt.

The charity plans to sell around 37 acres of agricultural land, bordering the Handforth Bypass, for a residential development of up to 325 houses. Access to the homes would be via Wilmslow Road at its junction with Queensway.

Around 30% of the homes on the site will be designated as affordable, split between social rent and intermediate housing.

The site had been marketed to national and local housebuilders, and the Trust approached 13 parties to develop the land. This was whittled down to eight potential housebuilders based on the Trust’s scoring criteria, and three bids for the land were submitted, but the highest bidder withdrew from the process last year.

The Trust said it was “confident that the remarketing of the site in early 2018 will generate the required capital”.

Stockport’s planning officers said the proposed development was “in conflict with relevant green belt policies” in the area’s local development plan, and said that under the plan, planning permission would ordinarily be refused “unless material considerations exist that warrant a decision other than in accordance with the development plan”.

However, planners have recommended the scheme for approval, and said the Trust had demonstrated “very special circumstances” that should allow the project to proceed.

These include the safeguarding of the Seashell Trust which would have “clear public benefits”, and that alternative, less harmful ways of deliver the school had been “fairly and reasonably discounted”.

Planners said the scheme would have “a detrimental impact” on the openness of the green belt and would result in “encroachment into the countryside”. The development would also cause “significant extra demand” for local school places which “could not be readily absorbed by existing schools in the borough”.

The planners’ reported concluded: “Decision makers [should] weigh cumulative harm against the cumulative benefits of the proposals in planning policy terms, and if the benefits clearly outweigh the harm caused then planning permission should be granted”.

Seashell Trust chief executive and school principal Mark Geraghty said: “We are very pleased that after rigorous scrutiny the planning experts at Stockport Council have taken the decision to recommend the scheme is approved.

“It has been a long road to get to this point and we believe we have proved how important this scheme is to our children and to Seashell’s future as a leading light in the care of children with extraordinary needs.

“We understand that using some of our land for housing to help pay for the scheme is a difficult decision but we have exhausted every other option and we are in a desperate need of a new building for our very special children.”

The professional team includes architect Worthington Ashworth Jackson Walker and NJL Consulting as planner. Carillion carried out a viability assessment for the project.

Also on the planning committee’s agenda are two reserved matters proposals by housebuilder Redrow for a total of 107 homes at its Woodford Airfield site.

The area has outline planning permission for up to 775 homes, an extra care unit, commercial space, retail, a school, and a pub, granted in 2015.

Redrow was given full planning permission the same year for 145 houses on the site.

The latest planning applications cover around 15 acres and adjoin Phase 2A of the scheme, which is currently under construction.

Phase 2B, including 45 houses, and Phase 2C, made up of 62 houses, have both been recommended for approval by Stockport’s planning officers.

Stockport’s planning committee is due to meet on 11 January.

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