Following the adjournment of the Local Plan hearing sessions on 3rd October, the Inspector has now published his Interim Views on the legal compliance and soundness of the submitted Cheshire East Local Plan Strategy (LPS).
In his report, published today, Inspector Stephen Pratt warns that in its current format he would probably conclude that the submitted Plan is unsound due to shortcomings in the proposed strategy and evidence base.
He outlines a number of "serious shortcomings" and "significant flaws" that need further consideration and clarification before the Local Plan examination can continue.
Whilst the Inspector is of the opinion that the Council has met the minimum legal requirements of the Duty to Co-operate, he has criticised the economic strategy for being "unduly pessimistic".
He has also expressed concern that the proposed level of housing is inadequate to meet future need and the process and evidence relating to the proposed Green Belt amendments is flawed.
The plan proposes a minimum of 27,000 new homes between 2010 and 2030 and 13,900 new jobs within the plan period. It also proposes to release 16 sites, mainly in the north of the district, from the Green Belt, as well as establishing a new area of Green Belt around Crewe.
In his interim report the Planning Inspector said "There is a serious mismatch between the economic strategy and the housing strategy of the submitted plan, particularly in the constrained relationship between the proposed level of jobs and the amount of new housing.
"There are shortcomings in the Council's objective assessment of housing needs, both in terms of establishing an appropriate baseline figure and failing to specifically take into account and quantify all relevant economic and housing factors, including market signals and the need for affordable housing."
He continues "The proposed level of future housing provision seems inadequate to ensure the success of the overall economic, employment and housing strategy."
The Inspector has also called for further work to justify the spatial distribution of development, including addressing the development needs of settlements in the north of the district.
The Council has agreed to pause the examination to allow further work to be undertaken to address the Inspector's concerns, which could take up to six months.
Adrian Fisher, head of planning at the Council, said: "We must now do further work to ensure that our housing requirements match up with the economic requirement. We need to integrate our overall assessment of housing needs with our economic strategy."
Councillor David Brown, Deputy Leader of Cheshire East Council and Cabinet member in charge of the Local Plan, said: "It is regrettable that there will now be a delay in getting this finalised. However, we must justify our decisions with work on our objectively-assessed need and economic evidence.
"Our aim is to deliver the best housing, jobs and infrastructure for the people of Cheshire East and our future generations.
"Getting the Local Plan right is an absolute priority and we undertake to do this over the next six months."
Councillor Michael Jones, Leader of Cheshire East Council, said: "This is a regrettable situation but my focus will now be on protecting the open countryside and our greenbelt from unplanned development.
"This means more neighbourhood plans and some interim policies put in place, as well as communications with the Government, which have already begun, to ensure that Cheshire East Council's Local Plan is brought to fruition as soon as possible."
George Osborne, MP for Tatton, said: "I very much regret that there will be a delay to the long-awaited Local Plan.
"I know Cheshire East Council have worked hard to put this in place and I've spoken to them about it.
"The key thing is that more work is now done over the next few months to get it absolutely right and I'm glad Michael Jones and Cheshire East Council are going to do that."
Click here to read the Planning Inspector's interim report.