Developer Led Planning or Plan Led Development
The planning catastrophe unfolding in Cheshire East affects us all. For example, primary schools in Sandbach are already oversubscribed and even after 3 schools have been expanded there are still forecast to be 149 more children than primary school places in Sandbach in 2016. The 2,000 new houses already approved will overload infrastructure including roads, doctors’ surgeries and schools.
In January, Cheshire East Council claimed (again) to have identified land for housing to supply the needs of the next 5 years. However, at an appeal decision for 94 homes at Elworth Hall Farm in Sandbach a Planning Inspector concluded that the Council does not have a 5-year housing land supply.
The Inspector’s report contains devastating comments on the incompetence shown by Cheshire East Council and the alarming suggestion that the Council was not even close to having a 5-year supply. The Inspector noted that when rejecting the original planning application the Council claimed to have a 5-year supply, subsequently decided this was not the case, then on the second day of the planning inquiry said it was about to publish a document showing that it did have a 5-year supply. The Inspector also noted that the Council had “changed its assumptions concerning build rates and lead in times from those used in its 2012 assessment”. This flip-flopping by the Council is unlikely to have impressed the Inspector. Nor was the Inspector impressed by the inability of the Council to provide up to date information on the number of houses already being built – the information given was only accurate to 31 December 2013. The Inspector referred to “a distinct lack of credible hard evidence” to justify the Council’s claims. What is worse is that the much vaunted Local Plan being prepared by the Council was given ‘very limited weight’ by the Inspector, who said that adoption of the Plan “is not expected before 2015 at the earliest” and added that adoption of the Site Allocations and Development Policies Document is “not anticipated before 2016”.
The Inspector examined and rejected all the excuses trotted out by the Conservatives in the past were all examined and rejected: the moratorium on house building may have impacted on 2006/7 but Congleton Borough and then Cheshire East Council have failed to meet the housing target every year since then, the “additional 20% buffer to reflect persistent under delivery” was confirmed, and the Inspector referred to the latest idea from Cheshire East Council announced at the Council meeting on Thursday 12/04/14 - that homes for elderly persons should be taken into account. The Inspector was dismissive of the argument and concluded that even if another 360 homes were added to the figures then there would still not be a 5-year supply.
Turning to the specifics of the Elworth Hall Farm site, the Inspector observed the severe traffic problems on Middlewich Road and hinted that the developers should have been asked for money to improve the Abbey Road/Middlewich Road junction, but noted that Cheshire East Council Highways team hadn’t asked for any contributions towards improvements to the junctions on Middlewich Road. This is yet another case where developers are being allowed to build on greenfields and Cheshire East Council are allowing them to get away without paying for necessary infrastructure improvements.
The goldrush of housing developers to Cheshire East is caused by deliberate government policy in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).
Labour Group Leader Cllr David Newton said, “This is truly a devastating situation. It throws open the whole issue and now makes it possible for all and sundry to drive a coach and horses through the Local Plan. What we are, therefore, likely to get is an incoherent, piecemeal, and patchwork range of developments which have no proper balance or recognition at all of strategic needs across the authority. It makes a mockery of all the reassurances given to local communities, and grist to the mill of those who have always been sceptical of the Plan and its numbers.”
Cllr Chris Thorley, Labour Councillor for Crewe East, said, “The Conservatives wring their hands and shed crocodile tears, but do nothing effective to stop the plunder of the Cheshire countryside. The local Conservatives blame the government for the NPPF. Conservative MPs blame local Conservative councillors for not having a Local Plan. Instead of blaming each other, the Conservatives need to stop these speculative housing applications and restore order to the planning system. The worst affected areas of Cheshire East so far are Sandbach, Shavington (potential property increase of 120%), and Crewe (potential extra 33,000 residents). It will be interesting to see what happens when the developers start targeting Wilmslow, Knutsford and Alderley Edge.”
Cllr Sam Corcoran, Labour Councillor for Sandbach Heath & East, said, “The country does need 200,000 new homes a year and I accept that Cheshire East needs to build 1,150 a year, but they don’t all need to be built in Sandbach and they should not be predominantly executive style 4 bedroom houses.
“There is an alternative to the Conservative chaos. Labour would repeal the NPPF and devolve power to local councils. Councils would be free to build the starter homes for young families and bungalows for the elderly that the country needs. On a local level, in April 2013 Labour Town Councillors proposed a Neighbourhood Plan for Sandbach. This would take about a year to prepare and would protect Sandbach from speculative housing developments. Sadly, Conservatives & LibDems blocked a Sandbach Neighbourhood Plan in 2013. At the Town Council meeting on 24 April, 2014 I will be asking again for a Sandbach Neighbourhood Plan to be prepared.”
Cllr Ken Edwards, Labour Councillor for Macclesfield Central, said, “The combination of lax planning regulation by the Tory-led coalition government and neglect by the local Tory administration in Cheshire East is leading to disastrous long term decisions on housing development in the Cheshire countryside with large numbers of houses being given planning permission in the wrong place without supportive infrastructure.
“We need affordable sustainable housing combined with a balanced infrastructure plan for appropriate roads, schools health services and community facilities. Labour would have ensured the right resources went into creating a local plan that would have produced the right number of houses in the right places with appropriate supporting infrastructure.
“Residents need to recognise that Tories are incapable of sensible planning since they are happy to see a market led free for all. We are in a mess and the Tories are incapable of getting us out of it. All the blather produced by the council leadership is seen to be empty wind every time a Planning Inspector considers an appeal by a developer”