Cllr Ainsley Arnold

Cheshire East argues housing criticism ‘unfair and unfounded’

Cheshire East has hit back over heavy criticism from developer Muller over its housing delivery numbers, after the company claimed over a fifth of homes granted permission in the borough were actually given consent on appeal.

In a statement this week, the company’s chief executive Colin Muller was critical of the council’s housing delivery, arguing that 21% of the 20,400 new homes granted planning permission since 2010 were given consent on appeal, and argued Cheshire East had used “valuable internal resources and spent millions of pounds on lawyers, legal counsel, and expert witnesses fighting against the applications”.

“Building houses doesn’t happen overnight, but they will never get built if permission is refused in the first place,” he said. “For the council to claim that they granted permission for 20,441 homes is a gross misrepresentation of the facts.

“If they had had their way there would be at least 4,300 fewer homes in the pipeline, and the housing situation in east Cheshire would be in an even worse state than it is now.”

Muller’s statement follows around three months after the developer lost a legal battle against the council over its Local Plan.

In a response to Muller’s claims, however, Cllr Ainsley Arnold, Cheshire East’s cabinet member for housing, planning, and regeneration, said the council “categorically rejects his accusations as totally unfair and unfounded”.

“Applications went to appeal because the council opposed speculative, sporadic development across the borough.  The council – while formulating its Local Plan Strategy – did not wish to see disjointed, ad-hoc and uncoordinated development.

“Like many councils, Cheshire East experienced a high number of planning appeals while its local plan was in development.  But our objection was not to the principle of new housing, rather the problem of development unconnected to supporting infrastructure.”

Arnold said that “like many councils” Cheshire East had experienced “a high number of planning appeals” while its Local Plan was being developed, but added: “Our objection was not to the principle of new housing, rather the problem of development unconnected to supporting infrastructure”.

“The Local Plan, adopted last year, allocates almost 1,000 hectares of land for new housing and the council is pleased to see many more house builders active in the borough and demonstrating a responsible approach to house building and the planning process,” he said.

“Less than 10 years ago, Cheshire East was subject to what amounted to a ‘moratorium’ on house building. Yet in 2016/17 a record 1,762 new homes were completed in Cheshire East and that is something I am proud of.

“By forging productive relationships with responsible sectors of the industry we seek to ensure that house building continues at the appropriate pace and, combined with existing planning permissions, the borough has sufficient land to meet housing needs through to at least 2029.”

Arnold concluded: “Finally, this council looks forward to seeing Muller Property progress three key sites earmarked for more than 700 homes, the first of which has enjoyed planning permission since 2014.”

The Local Plan was formally adopted in July 2017, but shortly afterwards the council revealed that there were irregularities with its air quality data between 2012 and 2014, after discovering that the results had been manipulated to make certain areas appear cleaner in a “deliberate and systematic” way. An investigation by Cheshire Constabulary is currently ongoing.

Cheshire East last month adopted a new housing strategy that sets out a requirement of 355 affordable homes each year until 2023.

The borough said it had delivered more affordable homes over the last three years than its future targets, delivering 1,400 houses in the period, with 978 of those being social or affordable rented homes, and brought 243 empty homes back into use.

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It sounds like Mr Muller is a bitter and twisted man!

By Pj

Politicians need to resource their planning teams … you then need a strong head of planning to direct and educate his/her Members … then get a plan in place and start approving … sadly this has not happened at CE and pressures have built up to the extent that it’s been planning by appeal … add into the mix it takes them months to respond to a pre-app and then way beyond the 8 or 13 weeks to determrine and you have the perfect cocktail where everyone gets frustrated … time for Politicians to get a grip and have a grown up debate about the value their Planning team can bring in delivering jobs and new homes. Muller has spoken some home truths but misses the bigger picture and is smarting over spilt milk.

By Anon

You’re talking nonsense councillor how long did it take you to get your plan in reasonable shape. Far, far too long is the answer which left the borough open to challenge and subsequently meant that millions of pounds of taxpayer money was wasted fighting appeals that had limited chance of success from the councils perspective.

By Bday

I have some sympathy with Cheshire East planning officers. It is clear the officers are treated with contempt by the members to the point where they take no notice of the planning officers professional opinion. Decisions are made on what is politically convenient to the members at the expense of the tax payer.

By Anon

@Anon Yes but the planning system is stacked so heavily in favour of developers that it’s lost all touch with the notions of sustainable development or quality. You can’t blame the members, especially in CE, for using the only tool at their disposal to limit housebuilders’ depressing urban sprawl: politics.

By House builder watch