More than 200 families must continue living in homes with no planning permission after Cheshire East’s environmental health officer revealed there were ‘inconsistencies’ in a developer’s information about land contamination.

Environmental health officer Niall Martin told the council’s strategic planning board on Wednesday (November 22), although there was no evidence of hazard to human health at the recently built Coppenhall Place in Crewe, a check of some gardens this week had revealed there was rubble of a type which should not be there.

Mr Martin said the gardens should only contain clean material and ‘we have validation reports from all plots provided by [developer] Countryside’s independent consultant which states this and shows this’.

But he said on Monday the council’s environmental officers uncovered brick, concrete, timber fragments, glass, nails and wire under the garden soil.

He told the meeting: “Two weeks ago I was satisfied with everything and this has only come to light in the last week…. Basically the information [from Countryside Partnerships] is inconsistent with what I’ve seen.”

Northwich Guardian: Cheshire East's Strategic Planning Board meetingCheshire East's Strategic Planning Board meeting (Image: LDRS)

Cheshire East originally granted planning permission for the 263-home estate on the site of the former Crewe Works off West Street in 2018. That permission was lost last year because developer Countryside Partnerships failed to deal with a condition relating to contaminated land.

In March, Countryside applied to the council for retrospective planning permission to regularise the development but, despite planning officers recommending approval, the strategic planning board deferred the application asking for a peer review to double check the potential contamination issues.

When the matter came back before councillors this week, planners had again recommended it be approved with conditions, but councillors again deferred it for further investigation into the gardens and for improvements to be made to public open space.

Resident Claire McLellan, speaking at the beginning of the meeting on behalf of the estate, said: “For nearly a year our lives have been overshadowed by broken promises and neglect, primarily from Countryside’s failings but made worse by what we perceive as a lack of timely action taken by the council.

“The actions of both Countryside and Cheshire East Council have not only affected our mental wellbeing but also raised significant questions about the value and safety of our homes.

"We have been disadvantaged in so many ways, including no building insurance, tied into expensive mortgage deals because we cannot move mortgages, and had to further suffer this in the middle of a cost of living crisis.”

She added: “We are not opposed to planning but cannot accept it because of the risk to our health, which is one of the reasons for the deferment in March and still remains unresolved.”

She had asked councillors to defer the application again, saying: “We ask you councillors to look at all the residents in the eye and tell them our site is safe. We ask you to stand with us and ensure our safety is not sacrificed for profit.”

Joe Turner, managing director of Countryside’s Manchester branch, told the meeting: “We made a mistake, we should have got that condition discharged, it’s simple as that and we apologise wholeheartedly for that.”

He said: “Over recent months our pure drive has been to do the right thing and make this matter right for everyone involved.”

To the surprise of everyone, while Mr Turner was answering questions, Cllr Steve Edgar produced a cooked potato, which he said might or might not have been grown on the estate, and asked Mr Turner if he was confident enough to eat it. He did.

But while most councillors seemed satisfied there didn’t appear to be anything on site which was harmful to health, they still weren’t happy.

Cllr Laura Crane said: “The more I’ve pondered this, the more I keep coming back to that trust element…

“I don’t trust that these measures [conditioned] will be delivered. We’ve already seen that pre-works were not instigated and assurances that have been made repeatedly - our evidence isn’t backing up the actions that are already supposed to have taken place.”

Cllr Stewart Gardiner said: “Mr Martin was quite clear. He does not believe he can, with hand on heart, sign that off as being adequately dealt with…

"I would feel uncomfortable voting to approve the scheme today based on a requirement for work to take place in the future [on the gardens]."

He added: “I do share Cllr Crane’s concerns about the relationship this council has with Countryside and an inevitable failure of trust. It’s not just the fact they failed to comply with the pre-condition, they were also laissez-faire in their approach towards the boundary wall [West Street wall] and the fact it was a heritage asset.”

He seconded the deferral saying that, for all the managing director’s verbal remorse, ‘actions speak louder than words’.

Eight councillors voted for the application to be deferred, one voted against and one abstained.