I have today been informed of the Planning Inspectorate decision regarding the Seashell Trust’s appeal in respect of a new school and campus on the site at Heald Green.
Following the school’s appeal last summer against Stockport Council’s planning refusal, the decision was taken to ‘call-in’ the application and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government have accepted the planning inspector’s recommendation to approve the proposed development.
In light of this decision I want to express my thoughts on the matter.
This decision to go ahead with the scheme follows more than two years of work and intense discussions with the school, local action groups and Government officials. The Trust applied for a £45m new school and campus transformation which would be funded, in part, by the sale of land with planning permission for 325 homes.
As you may be aware, a meeting of the Planning Committee in January last year voted to refuse planning permission for the scheme because the very special circumstances needed to justify development on Green Belt land had not been met and that the housing element of the scheme had not met the affordable homes threshold set by the Council.
However, following that decision last summer, the Trust submitted an appeal to the Planning Inspectorate and the Secretary of State has given his approval for the development to go ahead.
I would like to state from the outset that I am fully supportive of the Trust’s outstanding work which it undertakes to support vulnerable young children with complex special educational needs. The Trust know that I support their educational goals and the exceptional work they do.
Over the past few years I have seen their work first hand and have had the privilege to meet dedicated members of staff, trustees, students, and team led by their new dedicated Principal, Jolanta McCall. I know from our meetings how committed and passionate they all are about securing the schools future.
I have also had many discussions with representatives of local action groups to hear and consider all of the views.
Throughout this planning process I have been supportive of the Seashell Trust’s desire to improve the school and continue their outstanding work educating and caring for young people with the most challenging needs. However, I have consistently argued that the sale of this Green Belt with planning consent for hundreds of houses was a heavy price to pay.
I recognise the Trust’s aim to expand and modernise their facility and understand the school’s needs to fund these ambitious plans, however, I have been clear that the plan for 325 dwellings would cause significant loss of the green belt which I believed should continue to be protected. In addition I publicly made this case at the appeal last summer.
I have consistently made the case that the benefits of Green Belt help promote and enhance healthier lifestyles through open spaces and cleaner air and halt urban sprawl of our major cities – this was after all why the green belt was created.
As well as presenting a petition to Parliament signed by over 3,000 people against plans to build on green belt land across my constituency, I personally attended the Public Inquiry into this appeal, which took place last May, and made the case for the continued protection of this valuable Green Belt land.
It is clear from the Inspector’s decision that the ‘Emerging Plan’ for this site which the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, has already included in the draft Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) was considered by the Inspector.
Whilst I am disappointed with the Inspector’s decision to allow this appeal, I will continue to support the Seashell Trust in their outstanding work on behalf of their students, and will work with local residents and Stockport Council as this progresses.