UNIVERSITY chiefs have expressed their delight that flats to house more students in Chester city centre can be built.
Controversial plans for 85 new student apartments in a run-down former school and careers and training centre have been approved – on appeal to a government inspector.
Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) planning committee, against the advice of its officers, had rejected scaled down proposals for the flats in George Street. The original proposal was for 92 flats at the former county council-owned building which over the years has been a haven for vagrants and which has also been subject to arson attacks.
But the applicant, George Street Projects Ltd, appealed to the Planning Inspectorate and an inspector, Andrew Wharton, has now overturned the CWaC refusal and the property can be converted and extended to create the apartments.
A University of Chester spokesman said: “The university was delighted to see planning had been approved for the George Street development.
“The university was surprised that given a strong recommendation from planners it had been turned down when initially considered.
“The university is not associated with the plans but hopes the facility will be available to students in 2013.
“The location is excellent for access to both the city centre and the university’s main campus and will redevelop an unsightly vandalised building and put it to more appropriate use.”
Cllr Samantha Dixon, who represents the city centre, had opposed the scheme. She was representing people living nearby as well as opponents from the King Street Residents’ Association.
She cited potential problems with noise and disruption for neighbouring housholders but Mr Wharton, in allowing the appeal, said the council had failed to fully consider disturbance issues.
Cllr Adrian Warmsley’s proposal to refuse the application had been accepted by the committee.
Some residents had written to CWaC planning officers in support of the bid.
They included David Carson, of Shelley Road, Blacon, who said: “I support the use of this former school in George Street as a student residence. It is a derelict site and is ideal for this sort of development.
“It is close to the city centre and transport networks. There should not be much extra noise because of the location.
“Building on such a site will take the pressure off the greenbelt on which developers are casting their greedy eyes.”
It will have an adverse impact
CONCERNS have been raised that the George Street development will encourage a ‘pepper potting’ of students across various locations in the city.
While many University of Chester students are based on the university’s own campus and in the Garden Quarter area, an increasing number are now housed in other city suburbs.
Reg Barritt, Handbridge Residents’ council general secretary, said: “No doubt the George Street scheme decision does come as a seriously damaging blow to our inner city community.
“The scheme, added to all the other potential pepper potting inner city student accommodation schemes, can still only cater for a fraction of the overall medium to long term need for students in Chester.
“This sort of development, if allowed, will have a serious adverse impact on other commercial regeneration needs in the city. Surely our planners and the government will be too wise to let that happen?”
Garden Quarter resident Avril Coady, of Cambrian View, said: “I have said before pepper potting would destroy residential areas and it has done.
“I live in the area and I understand what it is like to live with an over subscription of one age group. It does have an impact on the quality of life for people.
“All the efforts being made to try and tackle the problems are having no real effect.”
Both Mr Barritt and Mrs Coady back the controversial Bell Developments proposals for a student village on the outskirts of Chester, between Blacon and Mollington, allied to the Sir Steve Redgrave proposal for a sporting centre of excellence.
Mrs Coady said: “I believe the student village is the way forward. It will enable the city and the university to co-exist.
“If the student village does go ahead, houses in this area can become family homes again helping to address the housing shortages in Chester.”
The university, while backing the concept of the Redgrave element of the plan, has a neutral stance on the Bell Developments scheme and has proposals for more student accommodation on its own land.