COUNCIL leader Mike Jones believes Chester will “regret” turning down the controversial student village scheme and insists he has no plans to resign.
There had been calls for him to step down, with Andrew Miller, Labour MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston, telling BBC TV show Sunday Politics North West he believed Cllr Jones should quit as council leader.
Cllr Jones backed Bell Developments’ bid to build the 2,300-bed village and Sir Steve Redgrave-backed sports institute on greenbelt land between Blacon and Mollington.
But councillors were near-unanimous in rejecting the application in a special full Cheshire West and Chester Council meeting at Chester Town Hall on Thursday night.
Cllr Jones avoided the crunch planning vote because of his friendship with the Bell family and instead attended a High Sheriff of Cheshire fundraiser at Chester Racecourse.
Planning officers recommended the scheme should be refused with 51 councillors backing that advice.
Cllr Stuart Parker, who sits on the executive alongside Cllr Jones, was the only one who voted against – with three Tories abstaining.
Despite the landslide defeat, Cllr Jones remains resolute in his support for the scheme and admitted he was “surprised” at the margin.
“I’m disappointed. I have said now for eight years that we need a proper student village-type complex in Chester,” he told radio station Dee 106.3.
Asked whether he would be stepping down as council leader following the vote, Cllr Jones said he had no intention of resigning.
“I’m not sure it affects my leadership in anyway,” he said.
Cllr Jones said he respected the “democratic decision” but said he believed it could prove to the wrong one.
He said: “I think it’s a decision that potentially – in 10 to 15 years time – the city may regret.”
Cllr Jones said some communities in Chester are being ‘damaged’ by high numbers of students and it was important to find the right balance.
He said: “If we have too many, they start to damage the city and they start to damage the shopping experience that we have.”
There has been an ongoing debate about whether students should be housed in the city centre or on dedicated developments like the student village.
Cllr Jones praised the University of Chester but said the council also had to protect communities from so-called ‘pepper-potting’.
He said: “We have streets in the Garden Lane area where there are no families.”
He said building student accommodation on brownfield sites meant those sites could not be used for housing.
Cllr Jones said: “We have a situation where we have a large level of unmet demand.
“We have a university that is growing and I think we will see the problems of that over the coming years.”
Rowing legend Sir Steve Redgrave urged councillors to back the student village and sports institute plan during the planning meeting.
He said no other suitable sites had been identified and insisted the student village and his institute were inexorably linked.
Cllr Jones said he believed Chester had now “probably lost” the Redgrave Institute to another city.
He added he had “no idea” whether Bell Developments would appeal to Secretary of State Eric Pickles but said he believed the city had not heard the last of the student village.
He said: “I suspect not – and I suspect the issue of student accommodation in Chester is going to rumble on for many years.”