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 as Cheshire East Council doesn’t yet have a Local Plan, developers can build almost wherever they like at the moment. Cheshire East Council is now working on a Local Plan, but the progress has been dogged by delays and controversy.
As an interim measure Cheshire East Council produced a 5 year housing land supply showing which sites were held to be suitable for housing. Thegreenfield sites identified in the 5 year housing land supply were intended as sacrificial victims. Houses would be built on the sacrificial sites, but other sites would be protected. Now that the 5 year housing land supply has been rejected all those sacrifices have been in vain
This latest setback, which comes hard on the heels of the announcement of further delays to the Local Plan, damages the reputation of the Cheshire East Council planning department which earlier this year was found guilty of maladministration by the Ombudsman and to have "knowingly and persistently misled the public”.
In a devastating blow the Inspector states, “There is no dispute that supply of housing has not met targets in the CEC area since the 2008/9 year. Since that time targets have been missed to the extent that the under delivery amounts to well over 2500 dwellings.”
“Where there has been persistent under delivery, as is quite clearly the case here, action is required to seek to redress the situation because the need is not going to disappear. Part of that action is to increase the choice of land available by adding a 20% buffer to the housing land requirement.”
So now, having been caught out, Cheshire East has to prove not just a 5 year supply, but also an additional 20% buffer. But it gets worse. As well as a 20% buffer Cheshire East will now have to add 1750 houses to catch up on the previous undersupply.
The Local Plan also comes in for criticism as “the pattern of some strategic sites across the Borough is relatively concentrated”. Labour councillors have previously pointed out that proposed new housing has been mainly in the south of the borough around Crewe, Sandbach and Alsager. The Inspector expresses reservations about the site at Basford East and says “Similarly, there is a distinct lack of credible hard evidence that the projections for Leighton West and other sites are achievable or realistic.”
Cllr Sam Corcoran, Labour Councillor for Sandbach Heath & East, said, “This decision is further bad news for Sandbach. The 160 houses off Congleton Road are now going ahead. The £282,000 funding from the developers is not enough to pay for expansion of Offley Road Primary School, likely to be £300,000 - £600,000. We need to ensure that developers pay for the infrastructure necessary to support new houses. The developers have so far got away with minimal contributions and the tactics of the Conservatives are playing right into the developers’ hands. The desperately needed road improvements, new primary school places and other facilities should be paid for out of the profits made from building houses on greenfield land. Under the Tories the only winners are landowners, property speculators and lawyers.”
Labour Strategic Planning spokeswoman Cllr Janet Jackson said, “This ruling is a damning indictment of Tory incompetence. Due to past persistent, obstinate under delivery, the Inspector has set a target of 9,000 new houses in Cheshire East over the next 5 years and determined that only 7,000-7,500 have been demonstrated so far. That means that sites for an extra 1,500-2,000 houses will have to be found.”
Labour Group Leader Cllr David Newton said, “The importance of getting a Local Plan in place cannot be overemphasised. The Labour Group is willing to work with the Conservatives to achieve a decent Local Plan that will stand up to government inspection and judicial review. This latest decision shows that Labour was right to highlight the significant flaws in the Emerging Core Strategy published last month. We now need to work hard to prevent the collapse of the entire Local Plan.”