The saga of Cheshire East’s Local Plan has recently taken another twist, as the Planning Inspector has warned that the changes to the Plan may be so significant that it needs to be scrapped and resubmitted.
These troubles are nothing new. In November last year, Cheshire East Council’s Local Plan was suspended after the inspector declared that it had ‘fundamental shortcomings’, in that pessimistic estimates of economic investment and jobs meant they were not proposing to release enough Green Belt land for development. Subsequently, Independent councillorscomplained that they were being prevented from criticising the authority over the suspension.
The long and drawn out process has meant that the original public consultation on the Plan may well be out of date by the time the Plan is ready to be examined again, which is likely to be October at the earliest.
The situation is a complicated one: the Council is under pressure to release land for housing, but has also come under pressure from residents and town and parish councils to prevent development on Green Belt land. The Leader of the Council, Cllr Michael Jones, has said:
“We do not envisage major change to the Green Belt. We are committed to protecting our beautiful countryside and we will accommodate as much as possible of the additional new homes on brownfield sites.” Cllr Jones has also called Cheshire East “a victim of its own success,” but the truth is that it is currently a victim of its Local Plan process. The longer it takes to get a Plan in place, the harder it is for developers to work towards the Council’s vision, to say nothing of those parishes and towns trying to formulate Neighbourhood Plans.
As the process drags on, it is increasingly lamented by all sides and embraced by none. Should a delay in the Plan process require fresh consultation, it could take a minimum of 12 months but would enable a new opportunity to get residents and stakeholders to buy into a constructive Plan for the future of Cheshire East. Taking ownership of the Plan by accepting the requirements of national policy and using them to shape the borough’s future would allow for genuine partnerships between the public and private sectors and help Cheshire East to continue to thrive.
6th July 2015 Place Northwest