Cheshire East Local Plan
Towns in Cheshire have been deluged with speculative planning applications since the coalition government introduced new rules to try and boost the economy by allowing housing on greenfield sites. Local authorities can reject housing applications if the sites are not in the Local Plan, but while Cheshire East Council didn’t yet a Local Plan, developers could build almost wherever they liked. Therefore the Labour Group welcomes the fact that a Local Plan was approved at Council. However, although the Council has approved the Local Plan it will now be subject to a 6 week consultation, then it will have to be considered by a government inspector, which will take between 6 and 17 months: so it could be 2015 before speculative housing applications can be banished from Cheshire East.
Having taken legal advice the Labour Group agreed that the best way to improve the chances of the Local Plan being approved by a government inspector was to allow a free vote for Labour councillors.
The Conservative Leader of the Council had to declare that he had prejudiced his position and could not take part in the debate or vote on the Local Plan. It is disgraceful that the Leader of the Council should have acted in a way that prevents him representing local residents on such a key matter. The Monitoring Officer of the Council stressed that the Leader of the Council took no part in the meeting and had no influence over the conduct of it.
An amendment put by Cllr Ken Edwards to strengthen communities was voted down by the Conservatives. The amendment was that 2 clauses be added to section 8 of the Health & Wellbeing section on p114 of the Local Plan (page 184 in the agenda pack)
Clause 8: strongly encouraging the maintenance of community spirit and identification by ensuring protection wherever possible of clear boundaries for towns and villages through maintenance of the green belt or by green gap policies
Clause 9: Strongly encourages the support for communities by ensuring wherever possible the provision of community infrastructure including community halls, general stores and health centres using CIL and s106 agreements to support localism and community identity
An amendment was proposed to remove the White Moss Quarry site in Alsager from the Local Plan. Cllr Sam Corcoran, Labour Councillor for Sandbach Heath & East, pointed out that, following a late adjustment, the proposals for the White Moss Quarry site now also included a site owned by the Council and therefore there was surely a conflict of interest. However, following legal advice from the Monitoring Officer, the Conservatives voted the amendment down.
An amendment seconded by Cllr Steve Carter aimed to protect a section of green belt land near Fence Avenue, Macclesfield. Even though the amendment would have made no difference to the number of houses allowed and would not have affected the wider Plan, it was still voted down by the Conservatives who seemed determined to vote down all amendments and push through the changes to allow house building on green belt land.
The Labour Group hopes that the Local Plan will be approved by a government inspector later this year.
Several members of the public spoke at the council meeting on Friday and raised the shocking prospect that the Plan would be found to be unsound by a government inspector and so rejected.
Cllr Sam Corcoran, Labour Councillor for Sandbach Heath & East, said, “Cheshire East is agreeing to build an extra 500 houses so as to reduce the number of houses required in the High Peak Council area. The Cheshire East report says that neighbouring authorities are not in a position to assist Cheshire East with its housing requirements, but in fact, in principle Stoke-on-Trent City Council is supportive to considering the idea of accommodating some of its housing requirement from Cheshire East. If we can take housing requirement from High Peak Council then Stoke City Council should be able to take requirement from us. They have brownfield sites which need developing. We have green fields that need protecting. The houses needed in the area should be built on brownfield sites in Stoke and not green fields in Cheshire.”
Labour Group Leader David Newton said, “The Labour Group has tried to work with the Conservatives to achieve a decent Local Plan that will stand up to government inspection and judicial review. Given the significant flaws in the Emerging Core Strategy published last year and the resulting delay, it is welcome that a Local Plan has finally been approved by the Council. Despite misgivings about some aspects, this Plan is better than no Plan at all.”
Cllr Ken Edwards, Labour Councillor for Macclesfield Central, said, “Frankly it was a relief to see a local plan passed at last in spite of a series of completely irresponsible wrecking amendments by the Independent Group searching for popularity rather than constructively working for the serious long term interests of residents. The Conservative Group has already put the plan at serious risk by wanting to add to the green belt on the one hand and reduce safeguarded land by 140 hectares on the other.
The Labour Group believes we desperately need more houses of the right quality and the right types at affordable prices in the right place. For that we need a local plan to guide development. The reason house prices are so high is that there are not enough of them. Young couples and families need affordable homes.
A good local plan should strengthen communities. Strong well defined understandable communities give people a strong sense of pride of place and strengthen peoples sense of identity. Such communities have been shown to contribute strongly to peoples mental and physical health and well being. Labour amendments intended to strengthen the Health and Well Being policy were ruthlessly voted down by the Tories who apparently do not want to see community boundaries strengthened. Nor do they want to see the Community Infrastructure levy or s106 funding supporting the local community. Unfortunately, this shows they only play lip service to the localism agenda. They are keen enough to transfer assets to Town and Parish Councils and see their precepts rise for residents, but they want to keep all developer contribution for themselves and their own purposes. Their decision to vote down the amendment to the local plan that clearly stated planning gain should go to local communities shows them up as hypocrites on this issue.”