Further Delays for Local Plan
For many years there was cross-party political consensus over planning matters. Developers had to prove that their plans would benefit the local community before they were granted permission to build houses on greenfield sites. Then the coalition government changed the rules to allow developers to build on greenfields unless the local Council can prove that the development is harmful. This massive shift in policy marked a party political divide over how to address the national shortage of new homes. The Conservatives have let loose private developers, hoping that free enterprise will solve the housing shortage. As a result, planning is currently out of control in Cheshire East, with speculative housing applications being granted approval. The counter-balance to the new legislation (NPPF) is supposed to be a Local Plan saying where development should and should not take place. Cheshire East Council does not have a Local Plan.
Cheshire East Council has been very backward in coming forward with a Local Plan, but earlier this year a Local Plan was finally submitted for review by a Government Inspector. Sadly, even after all the years of waiting, it looks as though the Cheshire East Local Plan is in trouble. A month ago the Inspector requested a delay to the process. At the Cheshire East Council Cabinet meeting on 14 October, the Conservative Leader said that he welcomed the 6-week delay in the Local Plan hearings and that his team dealing with the Local Plan enjoyed his full confidence and support.
However, in a letter dated 22 October, the Inspector said, “I expect to inform the Council of my interim views on the legal compliance and soundness of the submitted plan within the next few weeks.”
“However, due to the need for the Council to fully consider my interim views, it may not be appropriate to resume the examination hearings as envisaged. It may be necessary to adjourn the hearing sessions for a longer period, so that the Council can fully consider the implications of my initial views on the legal compliance and soundness of the submitted plan.”
Every delay to the Local Plan gives more time for developers to get their speculative housing applications approved by planning inspectors who are under orders from the government to have a presumption in favour of approving housing applications where there is no Local Plan in place.
Planning expert and Labour Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Congleton, Dr Darren Price, said, “The Inspector clearly has concerns about the Cheshire East Local Plan. The timetable suggested by the Conservative leadership is looking ever-more optimistic. The importance of having an adopted plan cannot be over-stated. I would advise the Council to start making contingency plans in case the Local Plan is not approved promptly by the Inspector.”
Cllr Sam Corcoran, Labour Councillor for Sandbach Heath & East, said, “We need to build more houses. The difference between the political parties is in how to meet that need. The Conservative policy is to encourage private developers to build more houses and to allow them a great deal of flexibility in choosing the sites; and the developers choose those sites which make them the most money. Labour would give more power to councils. Labour policy would not reduce the number of houses being built, but it would change the locations chosen. It would also change the style of houses being built and enable local councils to plan and fund the infrastructure necessary to support the new houses (schools, road improvements etc). The clear party political choice is whether you want local government or private enterprise to determine when, where and what sort of houses are built.”
Cllr Ken Edwards, Labour Councillor for Macclesfield Central, said, “Sadly it looks as though the Conservative Administration in Cheshire East has failed in one of its fundamental duties, that is to create a robust Local Plan to ensure that future development benefits the community as a whole without destroying amenity for residents. Early lack of concentration on this vital task and a wish to cut expenditure to the minimum has meant far too few resources were allocated to this task, particularly in the years 2010 to 2012. Hence there has been a rushed ending and the need for further consultations.
“The Tories have failed in one of their flagship policies, trumpeted as a huge success by their leader Michael Jones. The Inspector’s statement that there could be further delays is another nail in the coffin of the reputation of David Brown, the Councillor who leads on the Local Plan and is responsible for its implementation. Let us hope against hope that the Inspector finds the Council’s position strong and robust, but hope is fading fast.”