THE student village saga has taken a fresh twist with unparalleled calls for every councillor to be allowed to vote whether the scheme should go ahead.
Bell Developments want to build the 2,300-bed village and Sir Steve Redgrave-backed sports institute on greenbelt land between Blacon and Mollington.
Planning chiefs threw out the £100m scheme in January but brothers Mike and Dave Bell vowed to battle on and resubmitted the application in May.
Supporters claim the economic benefits would be huge and the scheme would solve ‘studentification’ problems in the Garden Quarter.
Opponents say the village is not needed and would obliterate the city skyline.
Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) strategic planning committee members turned the plans down first time around and are due to consider the second application on September 19.
But the decision to remove Cllr Myles Hogg – who voted against the scheme – from his post as committee chair and replace him with Cllr Howard Greenwood, who voted in favour, has overshadowed the planning process.
Now five councillors have called for all 72 members to be allowed to decide if planning consent should be granted, something that’s never happened before in the lifetime of CWaC.
Backing the move are Cllr Hogg, his fellow Tory councillors Brian Crowe, Gareth Anderson and Neil Sullivan and Lib Dem councillor Bob Thompson.
Cllr Thompson, who represents Hoole, said the controversy over the application meant it was “right and proper” the full council should make the decision.
“A stench hangs over the city in relation to this particular application that’s not good for any of the parties,” he said.
“I’m getting an increasing number of comments from people in my ward of Hoole about the behaviour, as they perceive it, of this administration.
“The time’s come where there has been so much odour about this application that is must be decided in an open and transparent manner.”
Cllr Hogg feels the “extraordinary” scheme merits special treatment.
He said: “If approved, it would take up a very large chunk of the greenbelt on the outskirts of Chester. I just want a full and frank debate at full council where all councillors can have their say.”
CWaC spokesman Ian Callister said the call for every councillor to be given a say would be heard on September 10.
He said: “If the decision is made to change the constitution, another special council meeting would be required to consider the planning application.
“The date of the second special council meeting, should the answer be yes, would have to be set as soon as possible.
“If it was after September 19, the strategic planning committee could still make a recommendation but could not make a decision.”
Should the student village application eventually gain permission, it would still have go to the Secretary of State for final approval because of the special protection around the green belt.
Anti-student village campaigners gave a ‘cautious welcome’ to this latest twist.
Andy Scargill, chair of Friends of North Chester Greenbelt, said: “This demonstrates that issues as important as protecting our important and historic greenbelt transcend party politics.
“As always, we call upon the developers to step down and join the rest of Chester in aiding its regeneration by supporting the recommendations of the One City Plan.
“This advocates students living in the city, the value of the university and the need to utilise derelict brown field sites. We can now see this starting to happen.”