Last week, I went for a pint at The Centurion pub in Vicar’s Cross, with local Conservative councillors Keith Board and Pamela Hall.
It wasn’t just a chance to catch up with Keith and Pam for a gossip about local politics.
We were there together to support The Centurion, which is under threat of closure.
The Centurion sits behind the precinct on Green Lane. To be fair, it doesn’t offer much architecturally, but alongside the shops, the school and the United Reform Church it is very much a part of that central area of Vicar’s Cross around which the whole community lives and thrives.
Now a private developer wants to knock it down and build a care home. Not because the local community needs one, but because the property developer reckons it can make money doing so.
There is a great community campaign to save the Centurion which Pam, Keith and I are supporting. But in the end the decision will be taken by the local planning committee, and their hands will be tied by national planning law.
It isn’t enough to say that local people don’t want the development. If the committee reject the application solely because we locals don’t want it, that may contradict national planning policy. The property developer can then appeal the decision, and if they win then they can charge the costs to the council.
And with more than £47 million of government cuts just announced to the council’s budget, they can’t afford to waste a single penny.
It’s the same with student accommodation. I like that we are a university town and I like that Chester University is growing in academic reputation.
But private developers see us as a chance to make a quick buck by building private student accommodation, outside the plans worked out by the council and the university to manage student numbers. So Linenhall car park is gone, there’s an application in for a student block in Hunter Street, and work is starting at Tower Wharf in the Garden Quarter.
We don’t have enough affordable family homes in Chester, nor sufficient one-bedroom homes for single adults.
But developers can make more money quickly by building these student blocks – and it’s the university and council that take the blame when in fact it’s not their fault.
I’d like national planning laws to take more account of community wishes, such as those in Vicar’s Cross at the moment. Sure, we need development, but it should be development for the benefit of the community and our city, not for the financial benefit of property developers.