Controversial plans for two major housing developments in Wrexham have been rejected by councillors.
The applications for 74 new homes in Rhosnesni and 112 in New Broughton had been recommended for approval by the chief planning officer at the council.
Both applications had been submitted by Wrexham Glyndwr University to help with the £60 million Campus 2025 plans, with applications for the redevelopment of the Mold Road campus, new student accommodation and up to 410 residential apartments all approved by the committee during Monday’s meeting.
But it was the plans for the two housing developments that had been met with strong objections by local councillors and members of the community – many of which waited more than four hours to hear the committee’s decision on both sets of plans in a hot Guildhall chamber.
Speaking against the plans for Dean Road in Rhosnesni, local resident Trevor Coxon argued that the application is “not acceptable in planning terms”. Mr Coxon was a familiar face on the other side of the chamber until recently, as the former head of legal for the council.
He added: “I would ask you please on its planning merits to reject this. It is unacceptable in this location and its sorely needed to continue as a recreational open space.”
However Andrew Smith, acting on behalf of the university, said that whilst Glyndwr is aware that the “scheme is contentious” there are no public rights to the land. Instead its use in the community and by local football clubs has become an “informal arrangement that has happened over time”.
Mr Smith also noted that the land is “surplus to the university’s requirements” and “therefore in time will need to be sold.”
Cllr Mike Davies, who represents the Rhosnesni ward, said he had real concerns over the planning application and that he couldn’t understand how the site isn’t categorised as a sports pitch.
He also questioned why the land could not be returned to Wrexham Council and why a site that had failed at the first stage of the Local Development Plan, was now being recommended for approval.
The application also received objections from Sports Wales over the loss of a playing field.
But planning officer, David Williams, said that each application needs to be considered on its own merits – adding that the principle of the application would be “supported by your policies which direct new residential development within the settlement.”
He continued: “It would form quite a significant contribution as a windfall site upon which we are relying on to fulfil our housing needs.
“As far as the situation is concerned now as far as the situation back in 2012 is there is a difference between the housing land requirements. We are clearly short of housing land within the county borough.”
Similar challenges to the planing department and committee were made during the debate on the proposals for 112 houses on land on Gatewen Road.
The university was also accused of using the development in New Broughton as a “cash cow” by local resident Brian Cunningham – who also argued that traffic and highways were the “major issues” with the development.
In a passionate speech, New Broughton councillor Alan Edwards, said that the council’s highways report and a report carried out on behalf of the local community had been “dismissed” in favour of the university’s audit.
He added that the survey he was involved in counted over 1500 vehicles in one hour, with queues sometimes backing up to Caego.
Adjoining ward member, Gwenfro councillor Nigel Williams, pointed out that New Broughton has grown by 800-1000 new properties in the last 20 years.
He also challenged comments made by Cllr Phil Wynn, about “needing to made sacrifices for the next generation” as an “insult to the 700+ residents who have taken the time to object.”
Cllr Williams added: “It is very concerning that the damning highways report carried out by our own officers has been overridden by Mr Isted in favour of a report commissioned by Glyndwr.”
But Mr Williams defended the process by the planning department and said that he was “disappointed that his professional integrity and that of officers had been questioned”.
He added that “no officer has been placed under any undue pressure to make a decision which would be contrary to their professional opinion.”
Arguing in favour of the development, Mr Smith said the site is in a “suitable and sustainable location” and called on the committee to approve the application.
Mr Smith said: “We are aware there remains concern about highways and Wrexham’s highways response on the 7th February raises concerns on highways grounds and capacity grounds.
“In terms of highways safety we were disappointed that Wrexham Highways sought to propose reasons for refusal on safety rather than properly assess safety.
“Therefore Glyndwr commissioned themselves an independent road safety audit specifically to look at this issue. Crucially this audit does not support the idea that access is unacceptable and not safe.
“Instead it demonstrates that a safe access can be achieved. It provides real evidence on highways safety and doesn’t support Wrexham Highways stance.”
A continuous theme throughout the meeting was objections by the council’s highways department to both housing applications (and plans for flats at the campus – more here) and why these had seemingly not been taken into account by the planning department.
However Peter Douthwaite, highways officer said there was nothing in the university’s transport assessment to mitigate traffic levels at the Berse Road junction being pushed “over capacity.”
In terms of exacerbating issues at the B&Q Roundabout, Mr Douthwaite added: “The planning officer has once again questioned the comments made by the highways department, saying they were anecdotal.
“We believe the figures quoted by the developer show an average of less than one vehicle queuing at the Rhyd Broughton Lane approach to Berse Road Roundabout, to be fundamentally flawed.
“At peak hours they’re telling us there is less than one vehicle queuing, on average per hour. I have to question that as I don’t believe it is correct.
“We haven’t done our own transport assessment on this but then we don’t normally have to justify our comments to our own planning officers.
“People who live and work in Wrexham are fully aware of the issues at Croesnewydd Road, Rhyd Broughton Lane and Berse Road. They are seriously congested at peak hours, all we’re going to be doing by adding another 112 houses is making things worse.”
Mr Williams reiterated his earlier comments about a lack of housing land supply being in Wrexham and argued that the site – which features in the LDP – is an acceptable proposal.
He added: “It will increase a level of queueing and the amount of queuing at those points.
“But is that in itself a justification to refuse planning permission for a site allocated in the LDP and which highways raised no objections to in highways process through the LDP process.” (Mr Douthwaite, later read out an email sent it to the policy department in 2012 saying there are existing traffic congestion issues in the vicinity of the site and the department is concerned that the “increased traffic generated by a large development is likely to exacerbate the existing traffic problems”)
The elephant in the room question was asked by Cllr Paul Jones, Maesydre ward, who queried whether the “highways issues are significant or are they minimal disruption.”
Mr Williams said the new “development will add to the existing problem but it won’t cause it.”
A majority of councillors voted in favour of rejecting both of the planning applications – with concerns over the loss of public space (Rhosnesni) and highways issues (both applications).
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