CAMPAIGNERS fighting the controversial Chester student village scheme cheered with delight as their two-year battle ended in victory.
Bell Developments’ proposed £100 million village – linked to a Sir Steve Redgrave-backed sports institute – has provoked strong feelings across the city.
Supporters claimed the 2,300-bed village would end the ‘studentification’ causing problems in some areas, meet growing demand and pump millions into the economy.
But opponents said the massive development was not needed and would destroy the green belt and threaten Chester’s unique character.
About 300 people packed into Cheshire West and Chester Council’s HQ offices last night where the strategic planning committee voted against the scheme by five votes to four.
Campaigners from the Friends of the North Chester Green Belt and North Blacon Residents Association celebrated loudly when the decision was announced.
Committee member Cllr Angela Claydon compared the plans to a “housing estate” and said existing sites could provide sufficient student accommodation.
“I believe this is inappropriate development within the green belt,” she said.
“Once we have given that bit of the green belt away we will never get it back. We don’t need to give away the green belt for this.”
Cllr Jill Houlbrook said the development was an “amazing opportunity” and she would be voting in favour.
“I think as a committee we have to make a decision and we have to make a brave decision,” she said.
Addressing the public gallery at the start of the meeting, chairman Cllr Myles Hogg said the committee had been “fully briefed” on the application.
He said both Conservatives and Labour had agreed there would be no party whips involved and members were free to vote as they wished.
Before the vote was taken Cllr Hogg reminded the committee the application would still need the green light from secretary of state Eric Pickles.
Those who spoke against the scheme included Blacon councillors Reggie Jones, Carolyn Graham and Marie Nelson with Cllr Nelson saying it would be “disastrous” for the estate.
Cllr Brian Crowe, who represents Saughall and Mollington, called the development “plain daft” and said the applicants had “bombarded” residents with propaganda.
Andrew Pannell from Chester Civic Trust urged councillors to turn down the proposals as they would “irreversibly damage” the green belt surrounding Chester.
Garden Quarter resident Gordon Emery and planning consultant Philip Barton, speaking on behalf of North Blacon Residents’ Association, also called for the plans to be thrown out.
But Chester Business Club chairman Julie Mogan and Mark Thacker, of Chester and Cheshire Hoteliers Association, spoke in support and said the scheme would provide the economy with a much-needed boost.
Blacon resident Sandra Hewitt said there was “apathy” on the estate and the development would be hugely positive for the area.
Michael Breen from the Redgrave Institute said no suitable alternative sites had been found for the facility.
“The Redgrave Institute must be delivered as part of the student village in Chester or not at all,” he said.
David Robinson, speaking on behalf of Bell Developments, said the development was the “only solution” to meeting student demand in Chester.
“It is unique, it does not set a precedent and it is not a Trojan horse,” he said.
Planning officer Mark Lynch had said the plans should be turned down and his recommendation was carried by a one vote margin. He said Bell Developments had failed to demonstrate the “very special circumstances” needed to justify building in the green belt.