Local plan examination delayed as inspector finds "serious shortcomings"

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.

Cheshire East Council, Local Plan


Here's what readers have had to say so far. Why not add your thoughts below.

Graham Jackson
Wednesday 12th November 2014 at 2:15 pm
A number of "serious shortcomings" and "significant flaws" and "process and evidence relating to the proposed Green Belt amendments is flawed"

Is there any thing left in the Councils plan that is good?
David Lewis
Wednesday 12th November 2014 at 6:50 pm
The Inspector has offered Cheshire East three options:

A to continue the examination on the basis of current evidence

B to allow Cheshire East 6 months to complete additional work and then proceed with the examination

C to withdraw the Plan and in effect start again

Cllr Brown's remarks suggest that they have already chosen option B. Is this the best choice or have they put themselves between a rock and a hard place?
Dave Cash
Thursday 13th November 2014 at 12:19 am
Most current CEC Cllrs were elected a year before Cheshire CC was abolished, to 'shadow CCC and ensure seamless transfer of on-going projects (eg local plan), so whatever choice is made, there will be no local plan in place before the next major CEC election in May 2015, much to the delight of developers, but not the electorate.
Manuel Golding
Thursday 13th November 2014 at 12:17 pm
True to form, as RoW has told the CEC hierarchy many times, and our M.P., its LP is badly flawed and just would not pass muster. So it has come to pass!
The only real option, reading between the Inspector's lines, is to go for Option C and start again. Cllr Brown's bluster will just not wash - he maintains that 6 months to rejig the plan will be more than adequate (for another flawed effort) to put into place the Inspector's concerns.
The council has to hire or appoint new staff, that takes a few weeks, to draw up a "new" plan, that will take very many weeks, to go to borough wide public consultation will take, at best, three months, to asses these consultations and to then write up the plan. Unless of course, CE adopts its original "consultation" strategy - pre-write up its requirements irrespective of the public's views.
If Cllr Brown persists in sticking his head in the sand by opting for B, we will be on the road to further disaster. However, his choice of B could be a political expedient with a general election in just 6 months time.
Most politicians just love to leave a "legacy" after they have departed the scene. Cllrs Brown's and Jones' legacy will be for future generations to ask "Tell us who destroyed our towns and villages?" Of course, they will have been aided and abetted, and we must not forget who they are for history's sake, by lemming like Conservative Party councillors who voted enmasse to adopt the leadership's Local Plan, rather than take the option of Amendment 1 (to take all the Green Belt sites out of the Plan). Not one stood up and opened his/her eyes and say "The emperor has no clothes!"
And that is why today, the voters of Wilmslow East Ward must stop to think just who has the best interests of Wilmslow. The Conservative candidate who voted for Green Belt development in the town but who had the chance to vote"No" at the council meeting, or RoWs Independent (of thought) candidate who will put Wilmslow first before any political party, David Jefferay.
Terry Roeves
Thursday 13th November 2014 at 12:46 pm
The CEC economic strategy on which so much is predicated ignores the constant gains in operational effectiveness of businesses. Sales per employee increase, 'high tech jobs' supported by automation in all sectors reduce costs and more gets done with fewer people.
Consider at the basic level an automated warehouse, running 24/7, minimal heating, lighting and goods being picked by machinery. Vastly more work with far fewer employees. And so it goes on. The constant business demands for ever faster and more efficient processes to increase shareholder value, was and continues to occupy minds.
Reducing time to market, or inventing block busters doesn't require CEC to increase housing at all. Mr Pratt hasn't yet appreciated this, perhaps CEC have it in their growth model - more GDP without neccessarily an increase in population. So, CEC have an opportunity to explain this and why for example, Wilmslow doesn't need its green fields built on and that hereabouts, operational effectiveness and creativity is very much alive and well.
Our world is changing. Think Crewe and HS2.......
Graham Jackson
Friday 14th November 2014 at 3:50 pm
Withering conclusions from fellows residents, effectively CEC have done a poor job, otherwise the inspector would not have called a halt to proceedings. Effectively the plan is dead in the water for the time being. As a fellow contributor has mentioned this elected body was supposed to shadow the out going, Cheshire County Council, a year before its demise, and ensure a continuity of service and legal requirements.

It appears they have been excellent in setting up semi-quango companies in health, waste and funerals etc, effectively ruling out private tender contracts that may be advantageous to council tax payers i.e. ring fencing their own jobs on the same T & C's as council employees (TUPE regs.), however should they fail, we pick up the bill for any outstanding bills/contracts and the employees just convert back to council employees.

So they can manage this, yet haven't been able, for the last few years to be able to put to put forward a coherent plan that reflects the wishes of the local electorate or conforms to the requirements of the inspector.

We have now been landed with a situation where speculative development can still be submitted, and because of the lack of a local plan, may be approved. This may also hold true with traveller applications, again because of a lack of a local and approved plan.

It appears the CEC are happy to throw money at projects like Alderley Park, where surely private investment should hold sway, yet are lax in their statuary requirements to the local electorate with regards to major planning matters.

We have already had one major investigation into the handling of such matters i.e. Lyme Green, this inability to produce/plan and conform to statutory deadlines is a running issue within CEC.
Roger Bagguley
Sunday 16th November 2014 at 5:12 pm
This is a sorry mess.

On the doorstep last week on behalf of David Jefferay, the new Wilmslow East Town Councillor, Wilmslow people were angry at their Green Belt being left further exposed to even further destruction. It is not as though CEC has not been warned time after time that their Local Plan is seriously flawed. No matter, our leader, Michael Jones, supported by George Osborne, has told us on many occasions his Plan is robust. His five year supply of housing is secure - but appeal after appeal has gone in favour of the developers on this very point. To guarantee the Plan a very experienced retired Government Housing Inspector was appointed. How much has all of this cost the rate payers of Cheshire East and how much is it all going to cost? Michael always appoints top consultants to advise his team then barristers to defend the indefensible. All this, and we are as good as back to square one.

In choosing option B it is going to be another 12 months of painful debate and discussion with further public consultations. I hope Michael and CEC will now rethink their policies on use of brown curtilage in the Green Belt and start promoting brownfield sites for development. Otherwise, we are in very great danger of having to stand by and watch our Green Belt being destroyed much more quickly than was intended. There are sufficient brown sites in Wilmslow to accommodate many more than 400 houses. There are sufficient empty offices to accommodate the required commercial growth (Remember Waters is already to be counted in during this plan period 2010 - 2030). Existing hotels are rarely full. Michael, George, CEC, listen to the people and call in Residents of Wilmslow (RoW). They have the most accurate and up to date housing figures that you really do need to take note of.
Peter Davenport
Thursday 20th November 2014 at 8:00 pm
Well, it amazes me that CE will loan a vast amount of money to Bewilderwood at Tatton, buy land opposite Astra Zeneca at Alderley Park, and also buy land for travvelers, and yet, Wilmslow's old telephone exchange is empty, with land for sale next to it, surely a compulsory purchase order could be organised, so the the 2 sites thn can be sold for single unit flats, or rented out economically, to answer the great need (time could prove this illusionary as already I have seen elsewhere on a site, a lot of empty new houses) for starter units? The great problem in CE, is that no one seems to be able to think out of boxes.