The examination of the Cheshire East Local Plan Strategy, which was suspended in December 2014, will resume next month.
Following the hearings which took place in September and October last year, the examination was suspended so the Council could address the Inspector's concerns set out in his Interim Views published last November.
During the suspension of the examination, the Council has undertaken several work streams, including reassessing the housing need and the economic, employment and housing strategy, updating the Green Belt Assessment, reviewing the amount of Safeguarded Land and the need for a new Green Belt in the south of the borough, and amending the Spatial Distribution of Development.
In July, the Cabinet resolved to endorse the additional evidence and suggested revisions to the submitted plan which include increasing the overall housing requirement figure from 27,000 to 36,000 dwellings, the economic growth rate from 0.4% to 0.7%, the number of jobs from 13,000 to 31,400, and the amount of employment land from 351 to 380ha.
The Council then formally requested the Inspector to resume the examination, which he confirmed last month that he is prepared to do.
The Inspector now wishes to review and assess the additional work undertaken by the Council and consider its implications for the submitted Local Plan Strategy, before deciding on whether to proceed to examine the remaining aspects of the Plan, including the strategic site allocations and other suggested changes to the Plan.
In order to make further progress with the examination, the Inspector is holding a Procedural Meeting on Tuesday 6th October at Macclesfield Town Hall, commencing at 11.00am. The purpose of this meeting is to summarise the current position of the examination, outline the additional work undertaken by the Council during the suspension of the examination and explain the arrangements for resuming the hearing sessions.
The merits and content of the additional evidence, and its implications for the submitted Local Plan Strategy, will not be discussed at this meeting as it will only deal with procedural and administrative matters.
The Inspector envisages resuming the hearing sessions of the examination on Wednesday 21st October at Macclesfield Town Hall, starting at 10.00am. The detailed programme for the resumed hearings will be issued later, but they are provisionally scheduled to take place between 21st and 23rd October and 27th and 29th October.
The purpose of these hearing sessions is to review the additional evidence produced by the Council during the suspension period, assess its implications for the submitted Local Plan Strategy and consider whether it fully addresses the concerns set out in the Inspector's Interim Views.
In order to seek the views of stakeholders and those with an interest in the Local Plan Strategy, the Inspector is now inviting brief responses on the main matters and issues raised by this additional evidence. Participants who were involved in the original hearings or made representations on the Planning for Growth section of the submitted Plan (Policies PG1-PG6) are invited to respond to specific matters and issues in a statement limited to 3000 words.
Cheshire East Council is continuing to work on the site-selection process, with a report due for 17th September 2015. The Council intends to carry out a public consultation on new, amended or deleted strategic site allocations after decisions have been made on the future progress of the examination following the first round of resumed hearings.
Commenting on the plans for a public consultation Inspector Stephen Pratt said "This suggests that the consideration of any suggested changes to the submitted Plan, including representations arising from public consultation, should await the results of any such public consultation".
He continued "I am also aware of concerns from some parties about the apparent lack of public consultation about the additional evidence produced during the suspension of the examination and the nature and implications of this additional evidence for the submitted Plan. The recent round of workshops and meetings were held after the additional evidence was endorsed by the Council in July 2015, so I will need to know whether the Council will be suggesting any further changes to the Plan or its underlying strategy as a result of these meetings.
"The Council will need to give serious consideration to how this matter is to be addressed, in order to ensure that no-one is prejudiced and that proper consultation on any amendments to the submitted Plan takes place, particularly in the light of the recent High Court judgement1. This matter will undoubtedly be raised at the forthcoming Procedural Meeting, and I will be looking to the Council to provide a robust and legally sound way of dealing with the issue of public consultation.
"In saying this, I realise that any amendments to the submitted Plan needed to ensure that it is sound and legally compliant will need to be subject to full public consultation and sustainability appraisal as part of the Main Modifications procedure. However, in order to ensure that fundamental new issues are not raised at a late stage in the examination process, possibly requiring the hearings to be resumed, it is in everyone's interest that the views of all those involved and having an interest in the Local Plan Strategy are made known at an earlier stage in the examination process."