Cheshire East Council announced this week that they have secured a landmark ruling in the Supreme Court to better protect residents from speculative housing developments that threaten the countryside. However, the Cheshire East Labour Group have dismissed Cheshire East's instead claiming that the Supreme Court ruling opens the way for house building on Green Belt land.
Cheshire East Council said that the decision, by five judges sitting in the highest court in the land, will significantly strengthen local and neighbourhood planning policies throughout England, leaving planners and planning inspectors to re-think the rulebook.
They continued to state that ruling, announced on Wednesday, 14th May, at the end of a three-year legal process, vindicates the position taken by Cheshire East, in conjunction with Suffolk Coastal Council, that guidance in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was being applied incorrectly an that both councils had successfully argued that this undermined local decisions in the development plan as to where development should and should not be allowed.
Welcoming the decision, council leader Rachel Bailey, said: "This is a landmark ruling, achieved by Cheshire East, which will benefit planning authorities and town planners up and down the country.I am proud that this council had the courage to pursue this action.
"This means that we can now better protect our local communities from speculative, unsustainable development by ensuring a proper approach to the application of planning policies."
The NPPF says that in some circumstances relevant policies for the supply of housing should be treated as 'out of date.' Developers had argued that 'policies for the supply of housing' was an expression which embraced a wide range of policies designed to protect the environment. But the Council said that argument – based on the wording in the NPPF – has now been overturned, allowing planning authorities to better resist unsustainable and speculative housing schemes.
Cheshire East Council says the judgement strengthens the hand of all local authorities seeking to protect green gap, green belt and other special sites such as Jodrell Bank.
The Supreme Court hearing arose from an application by Richborough Estates to build 170 homes on green gap land between Nantwich and Crewe at Willaston.
Although the judges upheld the developer's appeal, the Council said they succeeded in securing the ruling about the proper interpretation of policy, which sets a new precedent for future planning decisions.
The Supreme Court judgement said: "No one would naturally describe a recently approved green belt policy in a local plan as 'out of date', merely because the housing policies in another part of the plan fail to meet the NPPF objectives."
Councillor Ainsley Arnold, cabinet member for housing and planning, said: "We took this action on behalf of our residents and to ensure that locally set planning policies which seek to protect green belt, green gap, or other important landscapes, get the recognition they deserve.
"This is a decision of national importance and we felt that we had to stand our ground on this matter by taking our case to the highest court in the land. That decision, and the hard work of the Council's planners and lawyers, has been vindicated."
Sean Hannaby, Cheshire East's director of panning and sustainable development, said "This is a momentous victory for planners and planning authorities. It strengthens the position of all local planning authorities seeking to resist unsustainable development in inappropriate areas".
"The Supreme Court has decided that because of the circumstances of the particular case, the permission granted on appeal for 170 homes at Moorfield,s in Willaston will still stand.
"However, the wider importance of the ruling on the interpretation of the NPPF has great significance for Cheshire East and all other planning authorities as it means that due weight must be given to an authority's non-housing-related policies such as green gap protection.
"We hope that local communities and planning colleagues nationally will agree that the hard work of officers, backed by members, has brought much needed clarity to this issue.
"We may have lost the battle in Willaston but we have certainly won the war in terms of resisting unsustainable, speculative development schemes that impact on our countryside and our residents."
However, Cheshire East Labour Group state that "An in depth reading of the Supreme Court ruling on 10 May that allowed permission for 150 houses on Green Gap land in Willaston has revealed that no land is now safe from speculative housing applications, whether it is Green Belt, Green Gap or even a heritage site. The ruling makes clear that if the local authority does not have a 5-year housing land supply then planning permission must be granted on almost any site.
According to the Labour Group, the judges were scathing in their criticism of Cheshire East Council, describing their argument as inappropriate and unnecessary with one judge describing the Cheshire East argument as a 'doctrinal
controversy' that obscured the real intention of the government rules to boost the supply of housing.
Brian Roberts, Labour Councillor for Crewe West, said, "Conservative-controlled Cheshire East Council have wasted a massive amount of council taxpayers' money on legal fees to argue an obscure point that is inappropriate and unnecessary. All that they have succeeded in doing is obtaining a clear ruling that Conservative government policy is to allow private developers to build anywhere they like in south Cheshire. This ruling opens the floodgates even wider, allowing developers to ride rough shod over local communities and replacing the Green and Pleasant Land with bricks and concrete."
Steve Hogben, Labour Councillor for Crewe South, said, "When I first saw the council's press release I thought it was an extract from Alice in Wonderland. It claimed the judgment was a landmark decision of national significance and that Cheshire East had been right to refuse the planned development in Willaston. Then I read that the Supreme Court had upheld the granting at appeal of planning permission for houses at Moorfields! That strikes me as a strange kind of logic and precious little consolation to the residents of Willaston who have been trying to protect their Green Gap for years. This has rightly been described as a Pyrrhic victory, for which taxpayers will pay heavily."