Cheshire East Council Strategic Planning Board has considered proposals from Alderley Edge based company Orbit Developments to regenerate old warehousing and an area of land which has been vacant since a Public Planning enquiry 18 years ago. The site adjacent to the Handforth Dean Shopping Centre which includes M & S, Tesco and Outfit.
New retail units would be a continuation of the existing shopping frontage from BHS to Pets at Home offices and compliment the retail offer already in the area with the new NEXT store under construction opposite the proposed buildings.
Up to 200 new jobs would be created by the new stores many of which local, as well as construction jobs and the wider investment in the area. There are previously approved plans to demolish the old warehousing and to construct offices, however despite 10 years of marketing and the speculative construction of an office building on nearby Epsom Avenue (which has remained empty for the last 8 years) there has been little interest and no occupiers.
A planning application was therefore submitted to enable the site to be brought into beneficial and productive employment use, supported by Handforth Parish Council.
Despite these circumstances, Cheshire East Council has refused the application solely based upon the Council Officers recommendation regarding 'Employment Land Policy' which seeks to retain the land for what might be described as more traditional uses of office, industrial, storage and warehousing.
This fails to recognise that in these diverse times jobs come in many forms. The policy protects a site where there is both a proven unrealistic prospect of these types of future jobs in buildings which would also be incompatible with the present and future retail surroundings. Policy is guidance and not mandatory, jobs are jobs and delivering real jobs the priority.
There are 7 people currently employed on the site who could either relocate or be provided with alternative job opportunities by the Emerson Group on adjacent areas of Earl Road, as well the new proposed retail scheme providing up to 200 new jobs, thereby protecting existing employees.
This is a modest retail scheme with limited loss of designated land and is located in a new retail environment. Section 106 contributions to training and investment in employment over and above those jobs created by proposed development, together with payments for local highways/footpath/lighting improvements, recreation, open green spaces and community projects in excess of £600,000 were also offered and declined.
It seems incomprehensible that a Policy designed for the economic benefit and growth in the area should restrict investment and the creation of jobs. Orbit are currently considering options for an appropriate way forward.
Mark Royle, Director, Orbit Developments.