A Middlewich resident questioned councillors over a pledge they signed in 2019 and asked what was being done to ensure the town doesn’t lose out on £241k of funding.
Anne Price, who earlier had been protesting with Fight For Middlewich campaigners outside Monday’s town council meeting, was referring to a pledge signed by councillors which included involving residents in the decision-making process.
The £241k related to funding received from British Salt for a biodiversity project, after Cheshire East approved a planning application at the beginning of February for a warehouse.
Mrs Price told the town council she only learned of the funding through the press.
She had contacted the planning officer at Cheshire East who, she said, had told her that, in terms of biodiversity net gain, Cheshire East Council does not control any suitable land in Middlewich and Cheshire Wildlife Trust had also been unable to find a site in the town.
Mrs Price said she had been told ‘if the contributions are not spent within an agreed time-frame, they would be given back to British Salt’.
“That would be an absolute travesty,” she told councillors on Monday night.
And she asked what actions had been taken to source a suitable project site in Middlewich and where was the involvement of residents in the decision-making process.
She added: “This is just one example where residents are getting batted between Cheshire East Council and Middlewich Town Council, and therefore not getting answers, time’s being wasted and the money could well be returned to British Salt.
“This lack of effective communication is driving the high levels of mistrust within the community, the impact of which is the behaviours you are experiencing from local residents.”
The 30 or so residents in the public gallery applauded.
Cllr Carol Bulman said she had only found out about the funding when she attended the planning meeting to speak about traffic matters relating to the British Salt application.
“While we were there the chief planning officer, David Malcolm, mentioned that there was £240k of biodiversity, habitat, re-wilding available but there was nowhere in Middlewich for it. I was horrified, that was the first I heard of it,” she said.
“There was £50k that had been mentioned to me by Cheshire East just before the pandemic and I thought maybe the lime beds. I’m sorry to say that probably isn’t going to happen.”
She told the public gallery: “We’ve got to find somewhere – 12.5 biodiversity units – and that is going to come down to at least 10 hectares. If we’ve got a quarter of a million nearly, plus the money from that £50k – we’ve got a really good pot of money.”
The Middlewich councillor asked residents to contact the clerk with any ideas for a site ‘but we do have to conform very closely to the technical details’, she said.
At the strategic planning meeting in early February, Mr Malcolm had mentioned there was a suitable site in Holmes Chapel.
Cllr Bulman told the Middlewich residents: “If we’re not quick they could swipe our money.”