Government minister Michael Gove is now to decide whether a controversial plan to build a ‘Tebay-style’ motorway service station for the M56 on green belt land can go ahead.

The plan is to build a service area, similar to the revered Tebay stopping point on the M6 in Cumbria, between junctions 7 and 8 on the M56 next to Tatton Park.

And Cheshire East council’s strategic planning board voted to give its consent to the proposals. It came in the face of opposition from Trafford council, whose border is only 100 metres from the site, and 150 objectors including residents and local groups.

Planning law stipulates that because the development is on green belt land Mr Gove, who is secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities, will get the final say on whether it is approved. He will adjudicate on whether the case is a sufficient ‘special circumstance’ to waive the land’s green belt status.

The bid to build ‘Tatton Services’, with an emphasis on farm produce and locally produced goodies like home-produced pies, has been hatched by the family-owned Westmorland group alongside Tatton Park-based businessman Henry Brooks under the guise of Tatton Services Limited.

Westmorland owns the renowned Tebay stopping point near Penrith in Cumbria and similar ones in Gloucester and at Cairn Lodge in Scotland.

Chair of Westmorland group Sarah Dunning – a fourth generation member of the family – spoke to the board in favour of the application, citing its 50-year reputation as a business. She said it would ‘build on the model’ of Tebay to ‘transform a derelict farming business into a vibrant service area’, creating 130 permanent local jobs and 325 temporary jobs while the build is taking place.

She also spoke of a ‘Bridging the Gap’ programme, which had been undertaken at Gloucester services, where marginalised members of the society such as disabled people or those with a criminal conviction would be given employment.

However, much of the debate raged around whether such a service station was actually needed on the 33-mile long motorway which links Chester and Manchester.

Coun Hannah Moss said the plan would ‘provide significant improvement’ to the derelict farm buildings currently on the site. 

“I’m particularly interested after hearing about the ‘Bridging the Gap’ scheme for people who are struggling to gain employment. It is on the border with Trafford, so there are other areas outside Cheshire East whose people may benefit from it.”

Her colleague Coun Steve Edgar said he spoke as a representative of a rural area.

“I have a particular interest in preserving green space,” he said. “But having had the privilege of being on-site on my own, the site being designated green belt seems incongruous when it’s surrounded by motorways and sliproads. 

“Normally I would be very much against building anything on green belt, but to my mind this isn’t really green belt anyway. Its substantial benefits outweigh any negatives.”

But Coun Andrew Kolker disagreed: “I think almost by definition is defined as green belt because it is surrounded by a built-up area. 

“It’s open countryside that should be protected. There has to be a really exceptional need for there to be building on it.”

He said the assessment of council officers that the service station was needed to fill gaps in [service station] provision in the local motorway network was flawed.

He described the M56 as a commuter motorway and said there was really only one significant gap between the eastern end of the M56 at Chester and the eastern end of the M67, pointing to a truck stop a Lymm and Knutsford as adequate.

“I don’t think there is a real strategic need for a motorway service area at Junction 7 and 8 of the M56, demonstrated by the lack of cars I have seen parked at the Lymm stop,” he said.

He was backed up by Coun Ken Edwards, who said: “Most of us have been to Gloucester service station and appreciate its considerable benefits.

“But we are considering a very large invasion of a very significant facility which will result in an enormous amount of traffic from fuel stops. 

“And I don’t think I’ve been convinced by the service station ‘gap’ analysis. The gaps are just not gaps. It does not convince me that there are any special circumstances which mean we should approve this.”

Coun Heather Seddon argued that ‘normally’ she was very protective of green belt land, but in this case is for ‘drivers’ safety’ on the road it ‘trumps’ the green belt argument. 

She said: “There’s been a substantial amount of work [in putting the plan and the report to the board together] by all parties. I think this is a really good for those travelling on the M56.”

Acting chair of the board Coun Stewart Gardiner said that when he started reading the proposal he was against it.

“I found it difficult to find a special circumstance that has been referred to,” he said. “ But when I got to the end of the report and saw the chart at the of the report stating the gaps between the services stations, I changed my mind.”

He said he had served as a town planning officer in Surrey for 25 years before moving to the Cheshire.

“Most of Surrey is green belt land and I regularly had to deal with special circumstances,” he added.

The Cheshire East authority voted to give its consent to the plan by a vote of 7-3 in favour.