Sam Corcoran has highlighted contradictions and inexplicable omissions in a report prepared for the Cheshire East Council Strategic Planning Board which recommended approval for up to 250 houses on the business park site by Junction 17 ref 12/3948C.
CONTRADICTIONS OVER NEW 17 ROUNDABOUT
The application claims to be for a business park with an access from an enhanced roundabout by Junction 17 to be built as a modification to the government funded Junction 17 improvement scheme. However, Cheshire East Council highways officers and government highways officers have stated that the roundabout being constructed under the government pinch point funding scheme does not include an access to the new business park and that this cannot be changed in the available timescales.
If the roundabout with access to the business park cannot be built then the business park section of the proposals cannot be built.
The report prepared for the planning board does not mention the problems with building the enhanced roundabout and misleads the committee.
The 250 houses are supposed to be justified in order to fund the business park. The report states “a condition is considered to be necessary to ensure at least, the implementation of the roundabout permission prior to the commencement of this development”. However, the officer report goes on to say “if for any reason the roundabout … is not provided” then further financial contributions will be required. The planning officer seems to know that the roundabout will not be provided and is already suggesting that he will allow housing in return for financial contributions, without any business park development.
The report could have misled the planning board into thinking that the business park will be built and that the housing is there to fund the business park. However, the officer writing the report knew, or should have known, that the access to the business park could not be built.
LOCAL PLAN PUT AT RISK BY CHESHIRE EAST COUNCIL PLANNING OFFICERS
Questions have also been raised over the viability assessment contained in the officer report, which directly contradict the viability assessment in the Local Plan.
Paul Smith a member of the Royal Town Planning Institute, said “If the [Local Plan] Viability Assessment is as fundamentally flawed as the recommendation for this application would suggest, then the whole Local Plan Strategy process is called into serious doubt. Viability is not an optional part of plan-making, it is fundamental to it. Without a robust Viability Assessment, a plan cannot possibly be sound. Yet that is the position that this recommendation acknowledges that the Council must be in.”
The Local Plan included up to 200 houses on the site to fund 20ha of employment use. The latest application, supported by Council officers, says 247 houses are needed to fund 5ha of employment use.
The masterplan, submitted as part of the application, shows roughly 700 houses on Sandbach Heath to fund 20.7ha of employment land. This masterplan is clearly at variance with the Local Plan, which says up to 200 houses, but Cheshire East Council officers seem happy to accept this in order to get approval for the planning application including 250 houses on the business park site.
5-YEAR HOUSING LAND SUPPLY
Cheshire East Council is spending hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal fees to prove that it does have a 5 year housing land supply. Yet the Cheshire East head of planning told the hearing on 25 June on the Capricorn development that the Council couldn’t even, at best, say its housing land supply is strong. Was this astounding statement from the man charged with defending the Council’s 5 year housing land supply figures motivated by a general contempt for the policies for which he is nominally responsible or does it relate to this site where there seems to be a determination to get a planning application for houses on the J17 business park site passed no matter what the consequences are?
Sam Corcoran said, “Serious questions have to be asked about why Cheshire East Council planning officers contradict their own Local Plan, withhold information about the impossibility of the proposals being made and try to force through a plan for 250 houses on a business park site.
“I fear that the developers will seek to have the condition relating to the enlarged roundabout at Junction 17 waived or overlooked by Cheshire East Council planning department.
“The contradictory and unexplainable actions of planners have allowed property developers and landowners to make millions out of this site without any business park being built.
“We desperately need decent planning officers who can prepare a sound Local Plan and consistently demonstrate that the Council has a 5 year housing land supply.”