Cheshire East makes U-turn on Green Belt release

The council aims to ditch proposals to release some Green Belt land around towns such as Mobberley and Alderley Edge for housing, on the grounds that enough development has been delivered to meet need.

The Cheshire East Local Plan was approved in 2017 and consulted last year on the second phase of the strategy – known as the site allocations and development policies document and covering new, small-scale potential sites in the north of the borough for housing and employment.

Towns that could potentially have seen additional sites earmarked for development, as well as the above, included Mobberley, Bollington, Knutsford, Wilmslow, Middlewich and Alderley Edge. They are described as ‘local service centres’ in the document.

The 2019 version included plans to review Green Belt allocations with a view to releasing land to provide an additional 3,500 new homes to meet the council’s target of delivering 36,000 homes in the years to 2030.

The revised document, due for consideration by the council’s strategic planning board on 23 September, says that Green Belt release is no longer required, because schemes that were in the pipeline at the time of the consultation have now been delivered, bringing the council close to its target.

The document states: “The 2020 monitoring results show that there remains a significant overall housing supply in the borough. The level of supply flexibility now stands at 13.9%, compared to just under 10% when the Local Plan [was approved].

“More particularly, the substantial level of housing completions in 2019/20 (3,065 homes) means that supply flexibility, expressed as a proportion of homes still to be built to reach the overall requirement for 36,000 homes, now stands at 24.6%.”

The figure increases further if current allocations for 275 homes at Middlewich and Poyton are included, the document states, “meaning that even if one in five homes within the current housing supply was not built by 2020, the plan’s minimum requirement would still be exceeded.”

Amendments to the Green Belt boundary can only be justified “if exceptional circumstances” exist, it adds.

As well as the proposed review of Green Belt release, the latest draft also includes:

  • Revised policies for retail development and town centres, reflecting reduced demand for new retail floorspace and a need for diversified uses in town centres to support their vitality, according to Cheshire East, and,
  • Higher environmental standards for new homes to help tackle climate change

Once approved by the strategic planning board next week, the document requires cabinet approval on 6 October. It will then be sent to full council for approval, expected next spring, before being examined by a Government planning inspector.

Councillor Toni Fox, Cheshire East Council’s cabinet member for planning, said: “We promised during the public consultation last year that we would carefully consider all the comments that were made. These revisions demonstrate that we have fully considered and reviewed the 2,700 responses.

“Planning always involves balancing a range of issues – facilitating new homes, jobs and other investments that are needed, whilst protecting our local environment and the health and wellbeing of our residents. The revisions we have made reflect all of these considerations.”

He added: “We are conscious that central Government is consulting on proposals to radically reform the planning system, including the way in which councils prepare their local plans.

“This inevitably raises some uncertainty for councils currently preparing plans, and residents. However, until we have more detail it is impossible to gauge how these may affect the emerging SADPD. At this time therefore it is important to progress this document to its next stage.”

The Conservatives lost overall control of historically Tory-controlled Cheshire East Council in the December elections for the first time since it was formed in 2009.

Gary Halman, planning principal at consultancy Avison Young, said: “The council is proposing a very different strategy to that which it published and consulted on just 12 months ago. All the proposed housing allocations in the smaller towns and villages have been dropped in the draft just unveiled.

“This means that in sustainable settlements like Alderley Edge, Bollington and Mobberley for example, which have excellent local facilities, will remain shrink-wrapped by the Green Belt and there is no growth planned for them during the remainder of the Local Plan period to 2030.

“This seems a strange position to adopt given that they are such sustainable locations. To remain sustainable and viable, some further housing growth would surely be a good thing, underpinning their vitality and, crucially, delivering much-needed affordable housing in what are inevitably high-value and therefore relatively unaffordable locations in the north of the borough.”

Cheshire East Housebuilding

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