CAMPAIGNERS fighting plans to build nearly 1,000 homes on peat-land in Macclesfield have asked councillors how they can justify destroying an irreplaceable habitat for a short-term financial gain.

A top environmental professor, a Cheshire Wildlife Trust representative and a member of the Save Danes Moss campaign group, all spoke at Tuesday’s meeting of the economy and growth committee in Sandbach to oppose plans to build on the Danes Moss site.

And they presented a petition signed by more than 6,000 residents opposing the housing plans for the site, which is part-owned by Cheshire East Council.

The petition urged the council to refuse all reserved matters planning applications associated with the South Macclesfield Development Area.

It also called for the site be withdrawn from the local plan.

The meeting took place at the council's Westfields offices in SandbachThe meeting took place at the council's Westfields offices in Sandbach (Image: Cheshire East Council)

James Melling, campaigns manager for Cheshire Wildlife Trust, said: “Cheshire Wildlife Trust has warned the council about the Danes Moss development for more than 10 years.”

He said the scheme had been an environmental failure from the start.

“The environmental statement contained a number of inaccuracies and there was a failure to do the correct surveys,” said Mr Melling.

“We told the strategic planning board (SPB) in 2017 this is the most environmentally damaging scheme ever proposed in Cheshire East.

“We told you the destruction of biodiversity and stored carbon at this scale is unprecedented in recent decades…

“When you start to look at the chain of failures side by side, the council must acknowledge that this scheme was never done properly.”

He added: “I’m sure you’re also aware of the damaging implications of building on peat for the climate.

“I understand there are financial pressures on the council to accept the development but, let’s be honest, this is not going to fix the funding crisis facing local government.

“Can we really justify destroying an irreplaceable habitat for such a short-term financial gain?”

Simon Caporn, a professor in ecology and environmental science at Manchester Metropolitan University, has spent the past 30 years teaching and researching on peat-lands.

Professor Caporn. told the committee: “As a scientist I believe any plans for building on and around Danes Moss are very ill-conceived and at odds with policy direction from local and national government towards zero carbon and towards nature recovery.

“Development would bring destruction to the peat-land, its deep carbon store and rich wildlife habitat.

“It would also threaten the SSSI nature reserve adjoining.”

He said there is an alternative to housing plans which would benefit conservation of the carbon reserves, the wetland habitat and people’s wellbeing.

Save Danes Moss campaigner Simon Brown said: “It’s irreplaceable habitat of a very large area that can’t just be mitigated against by relocating what’s on the site.

"There’s a lot of very special wildlife there – more than 1,000 species have now been recorded and more than 60 that are protected, so it has a huge environmental benefit.”

He said the proposed houses were not needed as Macclesfield was meeting its target.

“We believe the site should be removed from the local plan and the development stopped," said Mr Brown.

Campaigners also handed councillors a leaflet outlining an alternative vision for restoration of the site.

Committee chair Nick Mannion (Macclesfield, Lab) accepted the petition.

Peter Skates, the council’s acting executive director of place, said the campaigners would also have their chance to make their representations again to the strategic planning board.