There were disagreements between Halton councillors over the potential impact of a Widnes college campus renovation, with the proposals eventually being rubber-stamped by planning chiefs.

At a meeting of the development management committee at Runcorn Town Hall last night (Monday), one councillor was accused of ‘making a mountain out of a molehill’ as he raised fears over the impact on local parking and traffic of redevelopment plans by Riverside College.

The college wants to flatten changing rooms at its Cronton campus and build a two-storey extension with a music hub, practice room band rooms and classrooms. The scheme also includes construction of a new build teaching block providing three ICT classrooms, laboratory and six classrooms.

But local ward councillors had raised concerns regarding the impact on traffic and parking on nearby streets.

Adressing the meeting, Birchfield ward councillor Angela Ball, said: “It’s worth noting residents have already experienced considerable periods of disruption in recent construction on the college site.”

Cllr Bill Woolfall, who sits on the development management committee but is also a Birchfield ward councillor, called for the application to be deferred until a travel plan – a document which sets out how students would get to and from the college following completion of the scheme – was completed.

He said: “All three ward members are supportive of the college. What we are not supporting, is the fact that they submitted an application yet again, knowing the implications for parking in the area.”

But the counicl’s highways officer Iain Dignall told members a deferral would make no difference.

He added that building more car parking spaces would lead to more students driving. Instead, he said the college was putting together a travel plan – due by the end of next year – which could include things like travel passes for students and some sort of punishment measures for non-compliance. The plan would also require ongoing monitoring to ensure measures were working.

Cllr Woolfall insisted that the travel plan be put in place before the plans were approved. But fellow committee member Cllr Rob Polhill accused him of ‘making a mountain out of a molehill’.

Cllr Polhill added: "There were 126 letters sent out to residents, only four came back. One was in favour and the other three objected to student behaviour, not the actual planning application.”

Andrew Plant, the council’s top planning officer, suggested alternative wording to the application which would require the travel plan to be in place before the commencement of work, and that it was then reviewed annually. The amended wording was then approved unanimously by the committee.