So what's been going on...
Tonight the Strategic Planning Committee voted to approve plans put forward by the Forestry Commission for Delamere Forest and recommended for approval by council officers to:
- reorganise the visitor centre arrangements - with a new visitor facility to be built, the existing centre to become the Commission's offices and the old offices to be demolished with enhanced car parking arrangements;
- the erection of 70 cabins for forest holidays.
The part of this application relating to the 70 cabins has been seen by some, but not all, as controversial. As an example 3 of the 4 parish councils whose areas cover the forest and its surroundings opposed the application - although the other one raised no objections to the proposals.
The cabins are set to be built in the northern part of the forest (Kingswood) which the planning application describes as the least used.
The Forestry Commission sought permission to make these changes to earn more money from their assets so as to make their operations more self sustaining and less dependent on government subsidies. They are estimating that each lodge will earn around £3,000 income for the forest each year. At the moment the forest has a shortfall of some £140,000 per year and has let go around 30% of its staff.
The application also suggests that the wider local economy will receive some £2.7m pounds of stimulus through their proposals and that some 88.5 FTE jobs will be created.
I can see this application from both sides. I recognise the disappointment that the forest will be, in part commercialised - however the public sector austerity does mean that the forest has to generate more income and be self sustaining. I welcome improved visitor and events access and car parking. The plans do show that the Kingswood area would have been cleared by the Forestry Commission over the next 10 years or so in any event and how the new development will given them the resources to enhance the forest cover. I do welcome the jobs and the beneficial effects of more spending locally.
Chester Student Village
Earlier this month I had a rare opportunity to vote on a planning application personally. I willingly address planning committees and seek to influence their decisions but I do not sit on either of CWaC's planning committees.
The Student Village application caused great controversy in Chester - so much so that the council voted as a whole for the whole council to determine the application rather than the Strategic Planning Committee. So, in common with most of the rest of the council I went through the compulsory training so I could be considered fit enough to weigh up the various aspects of the application.
The law in relation to planning applications is quite interesting. Each decision maker must act in a quasi-judicial fashion and weigh up all the various material planning considerations. Fortunately we all have the benefit of the professional officer reports who do their best to identify what is, or is not material - and then make a recommendation. It is then up to the decision makers to decide what weight should be applied to the various competing considerations.
So the student village - outline plans for c2,500 units of accommodation for the University students in the green belt between Blacon and the Mollington Banastre hotel.
The University was neutral - the plans were not their plans. The application was in outline only - with only the access arrangements in detail. As a outline application we were being asked to consider the principles - not the design issues. This meant that, if granted in outline, the applicant would have permitted the developer to come back and seek to build say ordinary houses - and in all likelihood it would have been passed.
The officers weighed up the pros and cons - and came to the strong recommendation that the application should be refused.
We had a named vote - not that one was really needed. 51 one of us supported the officers' recommendation to reject the application, 1 councillor was for it and 4 abstained. The other 19 councillors were absent for a range of reasons including illness and the fact they had prejudicial interests.