CONTROVERSIAL plans for a student accommodation development in the centre of Chester have been given the go ahead.
Up to 549 University of Chester students will be housed in a new building to be erected on the current site of the Linenhall Car Park, off St Martin’s Way.
The application, submitted by Chester Racecourse and property developers Stephenson Group, was unanimously approved at a strategic planning meeting at Cheshire West and Chester’s HQ offices last night – much to the dismay of nearby residents.
The development, which will consist of 59 cluster flats and 143 single studio apartments, was criticised by members of the local resident action group, the 1761 Residents Association and Chester city ward councillor, Samantha Dixon. Concerns included the scale, impact on the look of the area, and the impact a student community could have on the locality.
John Walker, chairman of the action group, who was representing more than 300 residents from the neighbouring streets of Stanley Street, Kings Street, Watergate Street and St Martins Way, said: “This development is totally alien to its local context, scale and heritage. It will have an overpowering and dominating effect for years to come.
“There is no university backing or proven need of further student accommodation on this scale and future student numbers in Chester are uncertain. Students are transient and most do not form a lasting bond with the city.
“The city is in need of town, family and mixed houses, and this site provides a once in a generation opportunity to provide the type of housing in keeping with the special Georgian character of the location.
“Experience elsewhere in the city indicates high student numbers result in late night fast food outlets and bars. Is this what we want for such an historic quarter? It is not that we are against students, it is that having such an enormous number in such a confined location will cause major problems for people living in the vicinity.”
The planning committee was told students living in the accommodation would have to adhere to a ‘strict code of conduct’, with their behaviour monitored and managed.
Speaking on behalf of Stephenson Group and Chester Racecourse, Chris Claydon told the committee the development would see Stephenson Group invest ‘millions’ into the city’s economy and it would see new jobs created in the city centre.
Mr Claydon added: “It is in our interests to ensure that this development is high quality. We have consulted with the residential area appropriately.”
Speaking in opposition to the proposals, Cllr Dixon said: “This development is huge. It’s too big and it’s too dense. Student culture does not sit comfortably with local communities such as these.
“You will have two communities living side by side, whose lifestyles are very different.”
The site of the proposed development is currently a temporary car park, run by Chester Racecourse. There is a previous planning consent for a larger housing development.
Mr Walker added: “For those who say the precedent has already been set by existing consent of an even more monstrous development, a reminder – two wrongs don’t make a right.”
The application has been referred for review by Secretary of State Eric Pickles, with a final decision expected by late January