Housing for Lowerhouse
land to the left of the road to the recycling centre (picture right),
beyond the bottom end of Albert Road, and up to the river Dean (I will
call it the west site) has been the subject of a planning application
for a change of zoning from industrial to housing and for the construction
of 33 units of domestic housing, and this has now been approved (7
January 2015) despite a gallant and well founded opposition from the
community of Lowerhouse, Bollington Town Council, Bollington Civic
Society, Cllr Bill Livesley, and Cllr Michael Jones, leader of Cheshire
A bit of history
To the right of the recycling centre road there is another piece of land (I will
call it the east site) the history of which is an important factor
in the whole sorry saga of both sites. In about 1990 there was a strongly
contested application to change the zoning of the east site from green
belt to industrial and after a public enquiry permission was granted
for the construction of industrial buildings. Bollington Town Council
reluctantly supported this application because the owners of Lowerhouse
mill indicated that they needed additional land to enable their business
to expand. However, once the re-zoning application had been passed
the mill owners no longer found a need for this land. Unfortunately
it was/is not possible to return the land to green belt.
After various changes of ownership an application was submitted for
the construction of industrial units on the east site and permission
was granted some years ago after an inspector's enquiry. This was quickly
followed by an application to build a number of smaller industrial
units on the west site. This was also approved. Every application was
hotly opposed by the community. The financial down turn then intervened
and the demand for industrial units reduced to the point that prevented
either development from progressing, and after five years the two permissions
lapsed. Unfortunately work had begun on the east site to raise the
ground level in order to reduce the risk of flooding. This has resulted
in the messed up field that we see today (picture below).
The planning environment
The old Macclesfield Borough Council (MBC)
had a housing plan which was valid until 2011. This was supported by
the Bollington Supplementary Planning Guidance added in 2006. Bollington
Town Council provided a Town Plan which was endorsed by MBC in 2008.
CEC took over in 2011 and were required to provide a new planning document
containing a Housing Plan to be valid until 2030. Cheshire East still
has not consulted Bollington about our local land allocation under
the new plan. And as we know the new plan has been sent back by the
government's Planning Inspector for reconsideration, so it will be
a minimum of a year and maybe much longer before we have any protection
at all! We continue to be at risk of unwanted development.
So, from 2011 until whenever the new plan is accepted by the Planning
Inspector CEC has no plans against which any planning application can
be judged. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which is
the top level government sponsored planning document, has a strong presumption
in favour of development, particularly where there is no local plan.
That apparently overrides all previous planning decisions as to land allocation.
All the previous local planning documents appear to be considered null
A change from industrial to housing
In 2014 Rowlinson Construction of Poynton proposed to submit an application
to i) change the zoning of the west site from industrial to housing,
and ii) to develop an estate of 33 houses and apartments on the site.
As part of their obligation to consult with the local community they
gave a presentation to Bollington Town Council Planning Executive Committee
on Tuesday 4th February 2014 at which many residents from the Lowerhouse
community were also present.
There was, of course, very significant opposition to this proposal from
both councillors and public. The main concerns were flooding and traffic,
but over-development of the Lowerhouse community was also important.
The application, 14/3844M was
submitted later in the year for "Change
of use from industrial to residential. Development of 34 new dwellings
including 8 apartments, improvements to land levels, amenity, infrastructure
and landscaping to suit." As is often the case, this highly controversial
application was submitted during the August holiday season, when they
think we are not watching, in order to reduce the negative response.
Bollington Town Council (BTC) Planning
Committee met on Tuesday 16 September 2014 at Bollington Cross School
and were attended by c.50 members of the community. Several spoke
on their objection to the proposal covering all the expected subjects
including heritage, community, traffic and flooding. The meeting
was also attended by Cllr Michael Jones, Leader of Cheshire East Council
(CEC). He was already familiar with the objection to development
on this site as a result of an earlier meeting with BTC. He recognised
that CEC officers would need to look again at certain aspects of
this proposal and put in train the necessary actions. One of those
was to extend the public consultation period, which they subsequently
The case was considered by the CEC Northern Area Planning Committee on
Wednesday 7th January 2015 and almost 40 Bollington residents and councillors
attended. Our case was excellently put by Cllr Ken Edwards (who is
also a CEC councillor but not a member of the Planning Committee),
and the Lowerhouse community was represented by Dr Elaine Stokes. Each
was given three minutes to speak - a very short time in which to convey
the number of challenge points that this case brings to the table.
Considerable time was taken by the Planning Officer, Nick Turpin, who
described the application and his reasons why the committee should
approve it. One point he made was that housing produces less traffic
After almost 90 minutes of discussion and questions
the application was approved by 9 votes to 5 against. A number of committee
members voted to approve because they could see that refusal would
result in the applicant calling an Inspector's Planning Enquiry which
would almost certainly be lost by CEC, and at the expense of CEC. The
committee considered a risk of such expenditure to be unjustified.
Needless to say, there is no right of appeal for the community.
Questions arising from the Planning Committee meeting
There are strict rules and procedures set down in law for the conduct
of a planning committee meeting. Some of us who attended the meeting
are questioning whether or not there have been infringements of these
- Environment Agency and the risk of flooding: A principle
objection of ours is the fact that this development is on the
River Dean, Zone 3*, flood plain. The Environment Agency is a statutory
consultee for such an application. No evidence was provided to show
that a necessary 'sequential test' was carried out in relation to
the Zone 3 flood plain where it is clearly stated in the guidance
documentation that the precautionary principle suggests strongly
that only employment allocations should be considered for such sites.
Committee member Cllr Louise Brown put the point very strongly and
was not adequately answered.
- Supplementary Planning Guidance: Nick Turpin, Planning
Officer, made no mention of the Bollington Supplementary Planning Guidance
which was carefully developed by BTC and agreed with the then Planning
authority, Macclesfield Borough Council, in 2006 and confirmed by their
endorsement of our Town Plan of 2008.
- Highway access: Nick Turpin, Planning
Officer, failed to advise the committee that the only access to the
west site was from a private road owned by CEC (the road to the recycling
centre). We would have expected some indication as to whether negotiations
to allow this had taken place and whether any agreement had been reached,
and for what benefit to CEC.
* Zone 3 flood plain - There are three flood zones, 1, 2 and 3, where
3 is the most serious.
Housing development on the east site
We have always feared that if development were approved for the west
site, the owners of the east site would apply to do the same. After
the planning meeting discussed above it became apparent that the
west site has been under discussion with the planning officers for
some time and the owners were just waiting for the west site to set
a useful precedent. They will now be submitting their application
very shortly for 44 units on the east site.
It is very unlikely that the community will be able to successfully
challenge this application, so we will have a huge estate of at least
77 units straddling the road to the recycling centre. Lowerhouse
has no facilities for such a community, it has poor road access,
and no school places for their children. It's going to be a great place
to live! Oh, and pray for dry weather! There are plenty of witnesses
to flooding at Lowerhouse who are certain that these houses, even
on their slightly built up land, will get wet feet before many years
Our further fear is that once all this development has taken place
there will be pressure to extend the east site development further
up the valley, between the river and the mill pond.
The flooding issue
east site field is presently part of the river Dean flood plain and
the plan is to raise the level of the land to a safe height above
any theoretical possible flooding. This requirement is specified
in planning law and Environment Agency (EA) regulations. An EA map
was displayed at the BTC presentation purporting to show the layout
of the river Dean together with the areas that flood. This showed
only about one third of the field as being in the flood area (the
field to the left in the picture right). Those who live at Lowerhouse
and know the area well know this map to be completely wrong.
Harold Skelhorn, who has lived at Lowerhouse for
most of his life, gave a spirited reasoning as to why the plan was
flawed. I have used his points as well as personal observation to
note the following:
- Within the past year or so (2012/13) the river has been straightened
just upstream of the bridge (along the road to the recycling
centre). A large loop, and later a smaller loop, was eliminated
from the course of the river. This has resulted in the water
flowing much faster to the bridge and beyond and this is causing
greater scouring in the following bends in the river around
the proposed development. The water is now also deeper downstream
of the bridge, alongside the proposed development site (picture
- The fields on both sides of the bridge regularly flood. Decades ago
the wet season in this part of the world was in the summer, usually
July. Now-a-days we seem to have two wet seasons with the wettest
being in the winter, eg. January and February 2014! There has been
a history of regular flooding; it usually comes up quick after heavy
rain and drains away in the days following the cessation of the rain.
A serious flood, which is not unusual, will cover the fields and
the road, which is higher than the surrounding land, right up to
the mill on the one side and close to the garden hedges of the houses
in Woodlea Drive.
- The proposal is to raise the land level so that the houses would
be standing on a low island in the field. If this were done the
intention would be for flood water to pass only along the river
course. However, in practice, when the upstream field floods it
would flood the road, and the bridge, but would no longer be able
to flow into the developed field. It would therefore look for a
way round between the development and the houses in Woodlea Drive.
The possibility is that the residents of Woodlea Drive may start
to find their gardens awash.
- There is presently a culvert under the field which was built 200
years ago to return water from the mill waterwheel to the river.
While it has been relieved of that duty for probably 140 years
or more, it still provides drainage for water that passes from
the mill pond past the mill and thence to the river. The exact
scope and quantity of this needs to be surveyed. It was recognised
in 2013 that this culvert was not draining the water properly
and attempts were made to dig up the culvert to identify the
location of any blockage. Development regulations require sub-surface
artifacts such as this to be dug up and either removed or replaced
by modern materials. From the drawing shown it appears that this
culvert will pass beneath one or more of the new houses. [01/2015:
The planning consent requires work to be carried out to remove
any risk from this culvert.]
- The proposed ponds built around the riverside boundary of the
site are said to be designed to accommodate an amount of water
equivalent to that which floods the field at present. If the
EA drawings show only a third of the field as being subject to
flooding it would seem probable that these ponds will not hold
the amount of water that is known to actually fill the field.
- It is unclear how the flood ponds will be emptied after the flooding
river recedes. If they are connected directly to the river by
pipes the water level will go up and down with the river level.
If they are reliant on natural drainage into the ground emptying
will be an uncertain matter depending on the porosity of the lining
and the subsoil. No doubt there will also be natural hydraulic pressure
from the river itself tending to keep water in the ponds. If the
ponds are sufficiently deep to accommodate all the water that we
know the field can carry in flood, then the ponds may never completely
empty. Any solution that leaves water in the ponds implies that
the capacity of the ponds will be effectively reduced by the amount
Comment to Planning application
The webmaster submitted his personal comments on this case to
the Planning Officer in September 2014. The
full text of this comment follows:
I comment in a private capacity and not as a representative of any
group or body. I am not a resident at Lowerhouse.
I strongly oppose the application to develop this area of
unspoiled open green space. While the site was some years ago
changed from green belt to industrial no development has taken
place and it remains open green space. I support the community
in requesting this land (as well as that on the other side
of the road) be returned to green belt.
I strongly support the many comments of others regarding heritage,
traffic and community. I will comment in detail only on flooding.
Despite our protestations, the Environment Agency (EA) have approved
the proposal. They carried out a desk study which resulted in approval
with standard conditions. They say the application complies with
the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) as detailed in the
Flood Risk Assessment submitted by the applicant. NPPF considers
the proposed residential development as a ‘more vulnerable’ development
in respect of flood risk. The latest data used was dated 2010.
EA's flood plan shows a smaller area subject to flooding than
the local community has regularly experienced on the ground.
Several changes have been made to the river course through
Bollington in recent years. These include the lengths either
side of Lord Street bridge and through the Tullis Russell
site in the middle of Bollington to speed up the river and
prevent flooding of the Tullis Russell factory, and more
recently (2014) significant narrowing of the flood channel
behind the Waterhouse development site. This latter will
result in deeper flood water and therefore higher discharge
speeds in that area and with unidentified implications for
flooding below Garden Street bridge and on down to Lowerhouse.
There is no evidence that EA have re-assessed the flooding
potential of the lengths below central Bollington as a result
of these works.
Each of these changes and the housing developments have
been approved by EA but seemingly on a piecemeal basis.
Further changes have been made to both the river and flood plain
at Lowerhouse, on the east side of the road. The river has been altered
by removing a large loop and a smaller loop and as a result the water
speed has increased significantly, particularly in times of flood.
The flood plain has been considerably reduced by raising the land
level over several acres, supposedly in preparation for building
industrial premises, but which have never materialised.
The changes in water speed are already affecting the river where
it passes under the bridge on the road to the CEC recycling centre
and increasing the erosion of the river banks downstream of the bridge
immediately in front of the proposed development site.
In times of flood the very short low bridge cannot, of course, cope
with the volume of water. The bank on which the road is built acts
as a dam which results in raised levels and flooding on the east
side. This water then overflows the road over a significant length,
as far up as the mill in the worst floods. In the past this water
has simply flowed across the road and drained into the field opposite,
which is the proposed development site, and then away with the river.
If this development is completed as proposed, the water on the road
will be able to drain into the estate. The individual houses may
be protected because the floor levels will have been raised 60cm
or so above the EA assessed flood level (which is lower than local
observations) but they may still be surrounded by flowing water.
There is no evidence that EA have taken the more recent changes
into their plans or assessments. Further their data is based
on modeling rather than observed reality. As a result I
believe that the applicant has made their Flood Risk Assessment
based on out of date plans and data. EA have judged this
against their own inadequate data and unsurprisingly found
it adequate. Local experience has more than once in recent
years observed flooding to a higher level than the EA's 1 in
100 year max. We can have no confidence in any assessment based
on EA data.
The present bridge is very narrow, of short span over the river
providing limited capacity and, by modern standards, of very poor
quality. Therefore, in the unfortunate case that this development
gets approval, CEC should grasp the opportunity and apply a condition
requiring the bridge to be re-built with greater road width, height
and span across a widened river at the entire expense of the developer,
an expense that CEC are unlikely ever to justify on their own account.
16 September 2014
From a reading of the Flood Risk Assessment it is clear that EA calculate
the flood areas using computer models. It seems that no account
is taken of on the ground evidence at the times of flooding. Indeed,
they actually state that flooding is not an issue here because
there have never been any reports of flooding here! Who calls the
EA to tell them that a field is flooded? We must do so in future.
As with every development proposal for Albert Road and Lowerhouse,
there are major concerns regarding the increase in
traffic to this already clogged area. There are two primary schools,
two infant nurseries, the fire station, a factory and the mill,
as well as large numbers of houses. David Roberts, Rowlinson Construction,
held that traffic capacity had already been proven at the public
enquiry for the previously authorised development.
Sandra Edwards, Bollington Civic Society, has said that this land
must now be returned to the green belt. However,
at the planning committee meeting the planning officer said there
were no plans even to review the possibility of reverting this land
to green belt.
mentioned in my comments to the planners (above) the need for a better
bridge over the river. This is needed because the present bridge
is of questionable strength - it was never built for the size and weight
of trucks that use it today, and particularly because it does not
provide adequate water capacity when the river is in flood.
As a result the roadway, which is built up above the surrounding
fields, acts as a dam and causes a build up of flood water on the
upstream or east side. A bigger bridge with a greater span across
the river would reduce the flooding potential on the east side and
thereby reduce the present tendency of the flood water to cross the
road into the field on the west side.
In the week after approving the application to build houses on the
west site it became known that CEC have prepared a tender request
for a new bridge! It is expected to be built later in 2015 during
which time the recycling centre will be closed for approximately
six weeks. The budget for this work is £600,000. The developer of the west
site has not been asked to contribute to this, although they will
be contributing £66,000 to other community purposes (what used to
be called the 106 agreement).
17 January 2015
I acknowledge with thanks the assistance of Cllr Ken Edwards in the
preparation of this page.