At the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday a Labour motion supporting Neighbourhood Plans was rejected by the Conservative Cabinet.
The Sandbach Neighbourhood Plan was held up as a model of public involvement for others to follow. The steering group was chaired by some one not involved in party politics and there were many non-councillors on the working groups. There was an initial public consultation that identified the main themes and then a second consultation to set the policies in those areas.
The Conservatives and LibDems on Sandbach Town Council voted to stop work on the Sandbach Neighbourhood Plan in 2013, but eventually a cross-party consensus was formed and the plan was published in March 2015.
By contrast, concerns were expressed that the Bunbury Neighbourhood Plan had been published while a consultation was still in progress. The plan was published and submitted to Cheshire East Council after a parish council meeting on 8 April, but responses to a policy questionnaire are invited by 20 April. It seems hard to understand how any responses received on 20 April can be taken into account when the Bunbury plan had already been published!
Sam Corcoran, Labour Councillor for Sandbach Heath & East, said, “I am here to praise Neighbourhood Plans but also to voice some warnings. Neighbourhood Plans can be good for promoting community involvement, but they are not a magic bullet. They are not cheap or simple. We must still press ahead with a Local Plan, as Neighbourhood Plans will carry more weight once an overarching Local Plan is in place. Neighbourhood Plans may provide a sticking plaster, but the full treatment requires a Local Plan.”
Dr Darren Price, planning expert and Labour Parliamentary Candidate for Congleton, said, “The Conservatives repeatedly promise that they will bring speculative housing developments under control. In February 2013 Cllr David Brown was quoted in a press release saying, “We are now in a fantastic position to tackle the issue of unplanned, unwanted and unsustainable development.” Two years later there is still no Local Plan and no 5-year housing land supply. The Conservatives have now discovered Neighbourhood Plans, but their statutory influence has not been wholly confirmed, despite some positive appeal decisions. The Conservatives recognition of the value of Neighbourhood Plans has come too late, after a long time of opposing them, and they are now being used as a fig-leaf to cover the leadership’s embarrassment over the continuing failure of the Local Plan”
Ken Edwards, Labour Councillor for Macclesfield Central, said, “By rejecting the Labour motion intended to embed Neighbourhood Planning into the long term future activity of the Council the Tories have exposed the hypocrisy of their position. They have failed to produce a viable Local Plan which would guide development for Cheshire East as whole. They have jumped on the bandwagon of Neighbourhood Planning as a desperate alternative to protect local communities from predatory development. They have provided only one expert officer to support the process whereas at least four are needed.
“Labour supports the Neighbour hood Plan process for four reasons
1. It allows housing demand to be locally determined and sites locally identified
2. If done properly, it involves the whole community in an educational process which will enable people to understand the full range of needs of their community.
3. It provides a link between local community plans and the overall Cheshire East Borough local plan
4. Through that linkage the housing and employment needs of the Borough will be determined.
“By rejecting the Labour motion the Tory hypocrisy was cruelly exposed. They have no long term commitment to the process; for them Neighbourhood Plans are a stopgap to fill the vacuum left by their own gross incompetence in not being able to produce an adequate Local Plan to protect communities from predatory development, particularly in the south of the Borough.