Wilmslow Garden Centre's neighbours are dismayed that a retrospective planning application to allow them to retain a ground level irrigation tank, along with various alterations to the external appearance of the building, has been passed.
Last week the Northern Planning Committee granted Klondyke Properties Ltd (owners of the garden centre) permission to retain variations to the original application (reference 11/4367M which was approved in February 2012). These include an above ground irrigation tank, which according to the approved plans should have been placed underground.
Four neighbours wrote to object to the amendments, amongst the issues they raised were the visual impact of the irrigation tank, noise from pumps, its industrial appearance being out of keeping, the state of the maintenance yard and the fact that the rear boundary fence is behind the original fence - creating an alleyway which presents a significant security risk and has not been maintained.
Julian Barlow, whose house backs on to Wilmslow Garden Centre attended the Northern Planning Meeting on Wednesday, 31st July, to point out his issues with the water tank and skips in the maintenance yard.
He contacted wilmslow.co.uk after the meeting to raise concerns that the decision was the result of "misinformation" presented by the planning officer who "fought fiercely on behalf of the garden centre", instead of just presenting the facts.
Julian Barlow told wilmslow.co.uk "When we committed to buying our house on Sefton Drive, the garden centre site was still in development and plans illustrated a service yard and underground water tank and we proceeded with the purchase on this basis. However, what the garden centre have actually built is an above ground water tank standing at nearly 3.5 meters, within 3 meters of our outside dining area, whilst the "service yard" has actually become a trade waste area with several enormous skips brimming with polythene. The polythene blows out of the skips and into our garden and trees frequently, creating a great deal of waste in our garden."
Members of the committee approved the retrospective plans by 7 votes to 5 but Mr Barlow and Cllr Barry Burkhill (a member of the committee) feel they did so as a result of "wrong" advise given by one of the officers.
Julian added "Most of the councillors were in agreement that the tank should be situated underground as per the approved plan. However, the planning officer wrongly advised the planning committee that if they refused the garden centre's above ground tank, Cheshire East Council could be put into "special measures" which means that they lose jurisdiction over all planning matters.
"With this in mind, the committee voted in favour of the garden centre, 7 to 5 and we now have to live with a hideous water tank and skip at the back of our house. The only concession is that the tank may be reduced slightly in height and then surrounded with an equally huge timber structure.
"Given that they are supposed to be in the garden improvement business, Klondykes don't appear to have any issues ruining gardens of their neighbours."
Cllr Burkhill commented "The committee wanted to support him (Julian Barlow) and refuse the application but we were led to believe by the planning officer that if we refused the application it would threaten our ability to determine planning applications because the authority could be placed into special measures. This naturally altered the view of the committee who then very reluctantly passed the application.
"I now discover, after looking into central government's edicts on special measures, that they only apply to major applications and not to decisions on smaller applications and amendments such as this. I believe that the planning officer gave us wrong advice and used the irrelevant special measures threat wrongly in this case and therefore could have swayed the committee into coming to a different decision.
"Planning officers should not be forceful advocates for their own recommendations to committee. I sometimes find that I am opposing both a developer and our planning officers when trying to uphold the interests of our residents."
The retrospective application was approved by the Northern Planning Committee because "the proposal complies with the relevant policies of the Development Plan and is considered to be acceptable."
As part of the conditions attached to this approval, the irrigation tank pumps can only be operated between 7am and 9pm and the tank will be reduced in height and enclosed within three months.
Additionally, a management plan for the service yard and maintenance strip adjacent to the boundary fence must be submitted and approved in writing by the local planning authority within 3 months, detailing how these areas shall be maintained, including the management of any site waste.
A council spokesman said: "Planning committees have quasi-judicial powers and all their decisions need to be taken in accordance with planning law and Council policy - and nothing else.
"It's the responsibility of planning officers explain this to Members of the committee in order to inform their approach, ensure that decisions are taken fairly and consistently and protect the council from costly appeals.
"Councils have a duty to determine any planning applications promptly and there is a right of appeal if Major Planning Application decisions are not made.
"In the case of this major application, there were no proper planning grounds to refuse permission and our planning team did their job professionally and in accordance with planning law. It was judged on its own merits and was approved by a majority of committee members in the usual way."
Mr Barlow now intends to take this matter to the local government ombudsman for them to determine whether this is a case of maladministration.
Photos: Irrigation tank and maintenance yard, taken from Mr Barlow's garden.