Inspection of the Local Plan was suspended last December and Cheshire East was asked to address shortcomings in the supporting evidence for economic growth and projections of housing need.
Cheshire East has since held two workshops with 'stakeholders' (mostly developers) to try to ensure that the proposals they put forward should not meet with too many objections. The workshop on 19th May addressed the Housing and Economic Strategy and Housing Need assessment and that on 20th May the Greenbelt Assessment and the method for deriving the Spatial Strategy (the distribution of housing between the various towns in Cheshire East).
The economic growth now proposed is 0.7% per year (up from 0.4%) and the number of homes required in the borough is as a result increased by 7,000 to 36,000 homes.
The Greenbelt Assessment divided the greenbelt around Wilmslow into smaller plots than previously and assigned each to one of three categories as making a contribution, a significant contribution or a major contribution to the purpose of the greenbelt. A significant number of greenbelt parcels around Wilmslow are assigned as making only a contribution.
Our Cheshire East Councillors and Michael Jones in particular have been going public in the local newspapers to say that it is very likely that many of these or even the majority will be proposed for development. The designation of each area of greenbelt is shown on the map produced by Cheshire East, see CEC - Mapped Results of Arup Green Belt Assessments.
The key areas around Wilmslow that look vulnerable are: Upcast Lane; Royal London (both sides of the Alderley Road); two areas at Prestbury Road; four in the vicinity of Adlington Road and areas in the Bollin Valley and near Manchester Road. These views are being voiced somewhat prematurely before the final proposals to go before the Inspector are finalised and before the Inspector has had the opportunity to examine them: but clearly this is what our Councillors have in mind.
Before the 19th/20th May workshops the Inspector wrote to Cheshire East cautioning them that if modifications to the Plan resulted in a fundamentally different spatial strategy or involve significant alterations to the Plan withdrawal of the present Plan may be the most appropriate course of action. This advice was not made public until after the workshops had finished nor seen by participants at the workshop.
What then are we as Wilmslow citizens to make of this? Will the Inspector agree his concerns for the shortcomings of the flawed Plan he sent back in December last year have been addressed, the Plan Michael Jones spent a huge sum of money on and declared it was robust, or will he decide that enough is enough and fail it completely?
It does appear from the latest email from the Inspector that with so little time left to the July resubmission deadline there are still issues to be resolved and work to be done. Our Councillors are driving us towards a new Local Plan that proposes so many sites for immediate development (those in red on the map) and where further land is likely to be 'safeguarded' for development at a future date (those in amber on the map). Such a Plan leaves little hope for those of us who value the countryside and see it as being as vital to protect us from sprawling development. Perhaps the statement we should keep repeating to anyone who will listen is that put out by David Cameron recently – Growth targets being set by local authorities may well not ever be reached because of restraints such as the protection given to Green Belt land. As RoW has always said it is brownfield first and there is a lot of this in and around Wilmslow.
This Opinion piece is a guest post by David Lewis from Residents of Wilmslow.
The views and opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of wilmslow.co.uk.