Cheshire East expands housing target
The local authority said it has added 7,000 units to its housing forecast up to 2030 in a bid to get its suspended Local Plan back on track – but rejected a green belt review called for by housebuilders.
The council published a lengthy statement and several new reports containing economic evidence gathered by its consultants yesterday as part of a bid to overcome the planning inspector's complaints about the last draft plan, which greatly underestimated the amount of new housing needed in the borough.
Cheshire East is a victim of its own success, says Jones
A council spokesman said: "New evidence gathered during the suspension of the examination of the Cheshire East Local Plan shows that the Borough's economy is likely to grow much more quickly than previously expected.
"But the increase in new homes – needed to provide for rising numbers of aspirational working families – will be achieved without any major impact on the green belt."
Ekosgen, one of the consultants commissioned by CEC, projected an average growth rate of 0.7% a year between now and 2030. CEC said this compares with a growth rate of 0.4% envisaged in 2009, when work began on the Local Plan. The council said this will create 31,410 net new jobs by 2030. The initial version of the Local Plan envisaged net jobs growth of 13,900.
The council statement continued: "This strong jobs growth would create a need for 36,000 new homes by 2030 – 7,000 more than were identified in the submitted version of the Local Plan. The Council is making rapid progress towards this increased housing provision. The latest estimate suggests that when recent planning permissions are combined with the new housing proposed in the submitted Local Plan, the locations of approximately 33,000 homes have already been identified."
Cllr Michael Jones, leader of Cheshire East Council, said: "When we began work on the Local Plan in 2009, we were in the midst of a deep recession, during which the UK's GDP fell by 7.2%.
"In 2012, the sun started shining again and Cheshire East is now in the midst of a jobs boom.
"Cheshire East now has more businesses per head than any other North West district. Seventeen of the region's top 200 companies are headquartered in the Borough and 14 of our small and medium-sized businesses were named in 1,000 Companies to Inspire Britain, a special report published by the London Stock Exchange.
"Because a good proportion of our existing workforce will reach retirement age in the next few years, this means that we need to attract more people into the borough to maintain our strong economy.
"Cheshire East is a victim of its own success. Unless we want to see our roads clogged by a huge increase in commuter journeys into the area, we need to provide more housing locally to accommodate the likely increase in the number of people working in the borough."
Jones added: "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.
"For example, work is already under way to create two new neighbourhoods close to Macclesfield town centre, which will provide up to 300 new homes on previously developed land. We are assessing all of our green belt land to ensure that we can protect the most important locations where development is least appropriate.
"Most towns and villages have played their part in providing allocated sites for a proportion of the overall housing number and will continue to do so. The Council will continue to support its residents, who tell us repeatedly that they do not want inappropriate and unsustainable development. We will maintain our rigorous approach in resisting proposals which clearly have an adverse impact on the sustainable development of the borough.
"Our priority now is to put a strong plan in place that ensures we have the homes we need to match our growing economic success. We maintain that a plan-led approach to development provides the best approach for meeting the needs of future generations, whilst still maintaining the special character of this borough."
The evidence released by the council this week will inform further work, and this will be submitted to the Inspector by the end of July in line with the agreed timetable. It is anticipated that initial examination hearings will then resume in the early autumn.
Consultants to the housebuilding industry responded with cautious optimism to the revised figures. Dan Mitchell, partner at planning consultant Barton Willmore, noted: "This is an exciting time for Cheshire East, which is clearly a great location to do business. The renewed optimism in the council's growth forecast provides a great boost for investor confidence in this part of the North West. Having a soundly based Local Plan in place to aide development is of course a key step and we welcome the council's desire to achieve this as quickly as possible. The new evidence will need to be tested as part of the Local Plan process, but on face value the anticipated job growth represents a much more realistic assessment of growth across Cheshire East. Obviously, there are significant challenges. To achieve the forecast of 36,000 homes over the next 20 years, linked to their job growth forecast, the council will need to plan for and encourage a wide variety of new housing sites, as part of a root-and-branch review of its Local Plan, as current land supply is limited. The council is right to acknowledge this important balance of providing the right housing opportunities close to where new jobs will be created."
Nick Lee, managing director of planner NJL Consulting, added: "Whilst the news that growth and the need for more homes is higher than before is not unexpected; it will be essential that the council come up with a balanced plan that delivers the housing in the right locations to be truly sustainable. The sacred cow of green belt will remain a hot topic in Cheshire East during the whole plan process with many in the development industry being very clear that such release is essential to make the plan work properly. Economic growth and housing growth must go hand in hand.
"The council previously suggested a large scale release on land they own to the east of Handforth. I fully expect that, if this is pursued, then it will remain very controversial and stimulate significant objections with many organisations supporting a range of alternative sites. The council still do not have a five-year land supply. Until such time as there is a quantum leap in approving planning applications early on then I do not see this changing."