Wilmslow residents have made it clear that they would very much welcome a redesign of the town centre which has been criticised for lacking a heart.
As part of the process to create a Wilmslow Neighbourhood Plan, which will influence the future development of the town, 12000 questionnaires were sent out to local residents inviting them to have their say on what Wilmslow will look like in 15 years time.
Residents, businesses, employees and community groups were asked to express their views on the things they thought are most important to the town including housing, employment, transport, the town centre, leisure, health, education and the natural environment.
They were also invited to tell the Neighbourhood Planning Group what they like about Wilmslow, what they dislike and what they think needs improving.
12,000 questionnaires were distributed to the houses in the Wilmslow and 1200 responses were received, generating 8000 lines of comments which have been analysed by the group and split into 8 categories.
Some of the key findings from the feedback gathered is that people would love to see a reshape of the centre of Wilmslow which has been criticised for not having a heart, being divided by main roads and lacking a meeting place.
Over 2000 comments were received regarding the town centre, some of which referred to specific buildings as presenting an eyesore, particularly the row of units at Parsonage Green (where Tesco Express is located) which was referred to as "the grot spot in Wilmslow".
It was also clear from the feedback that people value green space in Wilmslow, both in the town centre and urban areas, and many wanted better links and walkways between places.
Brian Donohue, Chairman of the Wilmslow Neighbourhood Planning Group, commented "What we've found out at the moment is there is a great enthusiasm for doing something about the centre of Wilmslow. People would love to reshape the centre of Wilmslow."
He added "The Neighbourhood Plan cannot redesign the centre of Wilmslow, what the Neighbourhood Plan can do is put forward policies which have to be supported in the event of somebody wanting to do something."
Whilst Grove Street divided opinion, with half of the comments positive and half negative and many wanted it to remain pedestrianised whilst others wanted to see the return of vehicles.
Respondents ranked the eight topics in the following order in terms of importance to them: town centre, health services, environment, natural environment, education, housing, transport, leisure and employment.
Whilst the top three areas where people would like to see improvement were transport, town centre and leisure.
In the next few weeks this data is going to be independently analysed by two planners from Manchester Metropolitan University. They have also confirmed that they will be working with a planning consultancy based in Macclesfield.
Brian Donohue, explained "These are the experts in terms of planning, protocol and planning policy. They know the scene and they know the Local Plan. They will come in and they will work with us as a team and the groups in particular to point them in the right direction in terms of what they have to do to identify where the policies are, or the objectives are, search out any evidence that will support those objectives, or policies, and if there isn't evidence gather that evidence because everything we do and everything we submit as far as this Neighbourhood Plan is concerned has got to be backed by some form of evidence otherwise it won't get through."
Town Clerk Matthew Jackson added "It is not the consultants' Neighbourhood Plan, they are there simply to facilitate the group's development of the Neighbourhood Plan in terms of the group's objectives and policies, which will be based on information taken from the public."
Having carried out the first analysis the Neighbourhood Planning Group, which consists of 23 volunteers, has been divided into 4 subgroups who will now be looking to develop objectives and policies under the headings of housing, environment, town centre and infrastructure.
Town Clerk Matthew Jackson, said "The data that has come in helps us to identify which areas are of greatest importance to the people of Wilmslow or are in the greatest need of improvement. We've based it on the data we've got so we are using that data, one to give us a steer on more specific things but also to give us a steer in to which areas the Neighbourhood Plan would most benefit the people of Wilmslow."
The objections will come from the first traunch of information gathered from the survey which is very broad. The group will need to make an interpretation of this information to draw some conclusions, they will then need to test their assumptions to see if the public agree.
Matthew explained "We are not trying to deviate from the Local Plan because we can't. I think some people will think use the Neighbourhood Plan to counter the Local Plan but it has to compliment it. It doesn't mean it can't say things which are close to the Local Plan but from the information we've gathered I think we'll want to use it to try and influence things on the edge of the Local Plan. In other words design guides and those sorts of aspects."
Brian added "We think we can put into the Neighbourhood Plan policies such that people who are going to develop these green belt sites have got to abide by.
"We think we can influence an Emerson or a Taylor Woodrow, or whatever it is, in terms of them laying out their plans for the site that they have to abide by the kind of policies we've got in the Neighbourhood Plan."
Having formed the objectives and policies the Neighbourhood Planning Group will share these through face to face public meetings, displays and presentations. They aim to carry these out during the summer and once they have gathered feedback this will be incorporated into the draft Wilmslow Neighbourhood Plan. This will be submitted to Cheshire East Council who will carry out their own six week public consultation.
Following this the draft plan will be returned to the Neighbourhood Planning Group so they can take the responses into account before submitting the final plan, which is not likely to be until the end of the year at the earliest. Once the plan is completed it will go to a public referendum.
Matthew Jackson commented "So it's in everybody's interests to make sure that there's been sufficient consultation through the process that when we actually get to the referendum stage there aren't any surprises.
"If we don't consult, one thing we'll struggle to get it through the Inspector, because we won't have demonstrated a consultation with the public, but also the public may well then reject the plan if they see things they are not comfortable with."
He added "The consultation that takes place needs to be genuine, if we just do the consultation for consultation sake it leaves things wide open to the Neighbourhood Plan failing and that's not in anyone's interest."
For further information visit the Wilmslow Neighbourhood Plan website.