In a double whammy last week the planning Inspector approved plans for 160 houses off Congleton Road and the Secretary of State confirmed approval of 280 houses on Abbeyfields.
These housing applications have been approved with minimal contributions to infrastructure. In each case the landowners/developers are expected to make multi-million pound profits.
Until Cheshire East Council has a Local Plan, there is a strong presumption in favour of any proposed speculative housing development. The Local Plan has recently been delayed again and is not likely to be approved before mid 2014. The Councillor in charge of developing the Cheshire East Local Plan is Cllr David Brown from Congleton.
In 2006 Congleton Borough Council published a draft plan, but this plan was not finalised before Congleton Borough Council was abolished in 2009. The Councillor in charge of developing that plan was Cllr Barry Moran from Sandbach. It is unclear why the plan was not completed in the 3 years from 2006 to 2009.
In April 2013 Labour Town Councillors proposed that Sandbach should prepare a Neighbourhood Plan. This would have protected Sandbach from speculative housing applications if the Cheshire East plan were to fail or be delayed. However, the work on the Neighbourhood Plan was stopped in July 2013 when the Mayor Cllr Mike Benson proposed suspending the standing orders of the council in order to revoke the earlier decision of the council to go ahead with a Neighbourhood Plan. Only Labour councillors Ursula Griffiths, Sam Corcoran and Richard Hoffmann voted to continue work on a Neighbourhood Plan for Sandbach
Cllr Ursula Griffiths said, “Our primary schools are already full. New housing developments should provide new schools.”
Cllr Sam Corcoran said, “If only Congleton Borough Council had completed its draft plan, then the whole of the Congleton borough would have been protected from speculative housing applications for 10 years. I would like to know what our Borough Councillors were doing during those 3 years from 2006-2009 and why the plan was not completed.
“As I recall, Cheshire East Councillors began work in 2008 as a shadow council, and were paid allowances for that year, on the pretext that they needed to ensure a smooth transition. Why wasn’t the local plan picked up as an issue that needed to be resolved during that year? ”
Cllr Richard Hoffmann said, “If a Neighbourhood Plan had been vigorously pursued when it was first suggested in April, we would now be well down the road of having a decent plan for Sandbach, with proper community involvement. Instead, Sandbach has been left largely defenceless against profit-driven speculators because of three key factors:
· the actions of the Conservative Mayor of Sandbach in blocking a Neighbourhood Plan
· the incompetence of Conservative councillors on Cheshire East in failing to develop a decent Local Plan, and
· the ruthlessness of a Conservative led government in changing the planning rules to encourage building on Greenfield sites in a desperate attempt to kickstart the economy.”