Inspector backs Cheshire East’s revised Local Plan

Cheshire East Council has welcomed key recommendations from planning inspector Stephen Pratt, which will now enable it to progress its Local Plan and bring it into force next year.

Planning inspector Stephen Pratt has published a letter which sets out his views on the further modifications needed to the Cheshire East Local Plan Strategy.

His letter confirms his previous endorsement of the core policies of the plan still stand and that “no new evidence or information has been presented to the examination which is sufficient to outweigh or alter my initial conclusions”.

This signals his agreement with central issues such as the ‘duty to cooperate’ with neighbouring authorities, overall development strategy, the scale of housing and employment land, green belt policy, settlement hierarchy and distribution of development.

The letter represents that the convoluted journey of Cheshire East Local Plan is drawing to a close.

The inquiry into the Local Plan first began in August 2014, and after a few weeks of examination was put on hold by Pratt to allow for more work and evidence gathering, after he became concerned over the plan’s legal compliance.

The plan initially proposed a minimum of 27,000 houses between 2010 and 2030, averaging 1,350 homes a year. During the work of the past two years, the council has increased the number of dwellings proposed by 33% to 36,000. The requirement for new jobs has gone up from 13,900 to 31,400 on 930-acres of land.

The inquiry began again in September this year.

The inspector’s letter supports the council’s approach to the allocation of development sites and addressing housing supply.

He said that the council seems to have undertaken “a comprehensive assessment of housing land supply and established a realistic and deliverable means of meeting the objectively assessed housing need and addressing previous shortfalls in provision, including assessing the deliverability and viability of the proposed site allocations”.

The inspector went on to support the principle of a ‘green gap’ around Crewe and that the development strategy for the main towns, villages and rural areas appeared to be “appropriate, justified, effective, deliverable and soundly based”. As a consequence, there was no need to consider other possible development sites at this stage.

Cllr Rachel Bailey, leader of Cheshire East Council, said: “This is really good news for the people of Cheshire East and I am pleased that the inspector has recognised the thoroughness of our evidence gathering and public engagement.

“We are confident that our Local Plan, which is comprehensive and robust, will give the people of Cheshire East its best protection against unplanned and unsustainable development.

“I am really pleased that the incredible hard work of our officers and members has paid off and the revised plan has been supported by the inspector, subject to some necessary modifications.”

The inspector recommended modifications to the council’s approach to windfall housing and the boundary of site CS32 safeguarded land in Macclesfield.

In addition, he has also posed a number of technical queries within an annex to his letter.

The next step for the Local Plan will be consultation on formal modifications, which will take place during early 2017. Following this, the inspector is expected to issue his final, detailed report and then the council can formally adopt the plan.

Industry reacts

Gary Halman HOW PlanningGary Halman, managing partner of HOW Planning, which advised landowners, businesses and housebuilders and was involved throughout the examination process, said: “Cheshire East will be mightily relieved that Pratt has effectively found the plan sound, subject to a series of relatively minor changes previously proposed by the council, and some limited modifications he is now recommending. This is looking like the end of a journey that has taken more than four years for Cheshire East and cost several million as well as huge staff resources.

“The inspector has supported the key strategy and the council’s approach to green belt release, safeguarded land and housing/employment provision, in line with his earlier views which essentially gave a green light to the council’s amended approach.

“A key change now however is that the inspector has found that Cheshire East Council has been unduly pessimistic in its approach to windfall housing sites provision, noting that whilst the council had assumed this would arise in Crewe and Macclesfield, it had historically made a meaningful contribution in other settlements too, and it should be assumed that this will continue. The inspector has not recommended that this leads to the removal of any allocated housing site, but considers it will provide additional flexibility in case these identified sites are delayed or found not to be deliverable or viable, when more detailed work is done.

“It’s good that the inspector has reported swiftly following the close of the examination, given the time which has elapsed since the Local Plan process started. Cheshire East needs the certainty and predictability of an up-to-date Local Plan and developers, housebuilders and local communities will be glad when the plan is finally adopted.

“This is particularly important for those towns in the north of the borough which have been starved of housing opportunities because of the historic green belt boundaries, which this plan rightly addresses. There will soon be an ability to take these sites forward through planning applications, delivering much needed market and affordable housing in towns where development has been suppressed because the Local Plan has taken so long to come to fruition.”

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