CONTROVERSIAL plans for a huge student village in the green belt should be thrown out because they would destroy Chester’s historic skyline.
That is the view of planning officers who have labelled the £100 million scheme “unacceptable” and recommended the plans be turned down.
Campaigners have spent almost two years fighting the proposed development on land between Blacon and Mollington.
Developer Bell Developments claims the 2,300-bed village and Sir Steve Redgrave-backed sports institute could be worth £270 million to the city.
But opponents called the scheme pointless and said the village was not needed and threatened Chester’s unique character.
About 2,700 people signed petitions against the scheme and more than 500 letters of objection were lodged with planning officers.
Councillors in Blacon, Mollington and Saughall and Chester MP Stephen Mosley all called for the plans to be thrown out.
Blacon resident Yvonne Jones, who spearheaded the campaign, said she was delighted her concerns had been heard but said campaigners were preparing for further battles.
She said: “There are so many people who are against this but we are not celebrating yet.
“I would urge planning committee members to listen to officers and throw the application out but are fully expecting Bell Developments to appeal.
“It has been a lot of hard work but we have always been prepared to fight this all the way.
“Student numbers are going down and there is no need to go into the green belt.”
Bell Developments first submitted plans for a 2,500-bed student village last February but the application was withdrawn three months later following talks with senior planning officers.
Developers Mike and Dave Bell were told they would need to prove “very special circumstances” to gain permission to build in the green belt.
Revised plans for a 2,300-bed village incorporating Olympic legend Sir Steve’s proposed sports institute were submitted in August.
Campaigner Andy Scargill, who lives in Parkgate Road, said: “We felt all along that it was going to be rejected because the developers have not been able to put forward any evidence to justify building in the green belt and the student figures just did not stack up.”
Should the application be refused, Bell Developments could appeal to Eric Pickles, the secretary of state for communities and local government.
Mr Mosley said: “It was obvious early on the developers were not able to demonstrate the ‘very special circumstances’ needed to build in the green belt.
“We have got planning laws and if the application cannot comply with these laws then it should not be approved.
“I am pleased to see that the council planning officers have come to the same conclusion.
“The developers are perfectly at liberty to appeal in which case we will continue to lobby the secretary of state.”
Planning officer Mark Lynch has produced a 98-page report detailing his reasons for recommending the plans be refused.
He said that no “very special circumstances” had been demonstrated to allow development in the green belt.
Mr Lynch also believes the scheme would “impede and obstruct” important views of historic buildings in Chester and be detrimental to the skyline.
He also said the development would be a “major incursion” into the countryside surrounding the city and have an adverse impact on the city’s rural character and people living in Blacon.
Cheshire West and Chester Council’s strategic planning committee will meet next Thursday to decide whether to reject or approve the application.
Cllr Reggie Jones, who represents Blacon, said: “This is the right decision. The need for the student village has not been founded and there is sufficient capacity already in Chester. I think this is a victory for common sense.”