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A special school’s controversial plan for a £45m revamp has been given the green light by the government following a public inquiry.

The decision to allow the Seashell Trust to go ahead with the radical overhaul - part-funded by 325 green belt homes - overturns Stockport council’s 2018 refusal of the application.

Planning Inspector Michael Boniface heard evidence from the trust, the council and local campaigners the Heald Green Action Group during a six week hearing last year.

The trust told the inquiry the future of the school could be thrown into jeopardy should the proposals - which include a new school building, sports hall and swimming pool - were ultimately rejected.

But the council and local campaigners argued that a less costly scheme - which did not require building hundreds of homes on green belt land - could still meet students’ needs.

(Image: Stockport council)

However Mr Boniface - who decides on behalf of the secretary of state - has come down on the side of the trust, finding the benefits of redeveloping the school and providing new housing ‘clearly outweigh the harm to the green belt’.

In a decision notice he said the need for the development had been ‘robustly made out’ and the educational needs of those with ‘very complex special needs and disabilities’ could not be met elsewhere.

He added: “No evidence has been put forward to suggest that any element of the scheme would not provide benefit to Seashell Trust, its students or in some way contribute to the trust’s objectives, and that it cannot be said that the proposed development is more than the minimum necessary.”

Mr Boniface goes on to say that objectors failed ‘to demonstrate that a scheme on the scale proposed might be delivered without some residential development in the green belt to cross-fund the scheme’.

(Image: Stockport Council)

And while accepting the development would be harmful to the landscape, he found these effects would be ‘largely localised to views from the public right of way and from neighbouring properties with little impact on the wider landscape character areas’.

He also felt the development would only have a ‘moderate’ impact on grade II listed Griffin Farmhouse, while attaching ‘very limited weight’ to the loss of agricultural land and habitat and increased pressure for primary school places.

The Seashell Trust has declared itself ‘absolutely delighted’ at the decision.

A spokesman added: “All of our team at Seashell are currently working incredibly hard to manage the needs of our children and young people in the challenging circumstances created by the global pandemic and that will remain our focus for as long as is needed, but this decision paves the way for a new, positive direction for Seashell.

“We very much look forward to working closely with the local community and Stockport council as we move forward with the development of our new school and campus and a bright new future for Seashell.”

However, the announcement has been greeted with fury by opponents of the scheme, with Heald Green Action Group describing it as ‘devastating’ for the area.

A statement issued by the campaign group laments that ‘the green belt will simply disappear into developers’ pockets’.

It adds: “Before the appeal, the application had been rejected by Stockport MBC three times, but the Secretary of State has now decided that the reasons for refusal given by the council - along with the extensive factual evidence put forward by the action group during the last four years and presented to the public inquiry - were not enough to protect the green belt.

“This is obviously devastating news for Heald Green and the surrounding communities, who will not benefit from this scheme. The negative impact we have consistently warned against on our local environment, services and infrastructure is unfortunately going to become a reality.”

The campaigners believe the ruling will weaken protections for the green belt while emboldening the ‘highly expensive legal teams that property developers use to undermine those protections on what they see as ‘piddling amounts of green belt’.

Stockport council has the right to challenge the ruling by making an application to the High Court within six weeks of the decision.


Read full article on Stockport


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