The Government inspector overseeing Cheshire East’s local plan has published his views on the latest evidence put forward by the council, which increases the amount of homes and employment land the borough will deliver by 2030.
The examination into the plan was suspended by inspector Stephen Pratt last year to allow further work to be carried out on key evidence areas.
Pratt previously outlined “serious shortcomings with the council’s objective assessment of housing need and future provision”.
The local plan initially proposed a minimum of 27,000 houses between 2010 and 2030, averaging 1,350 homes a year. According to the revised evidence base, the council has increased the number of dwellings by 33% to 36,000 by 2030, and has increased the requirement for new jobs from 13,900 to 31,400 on 930-acres of land.
Following the submission of additional evidence at the end of the summer, a series of public hearings took place in October.
In his interim views issued to the council, Pratt said that the council “has produced an impressive and comprehensive set of additional evidence within a relatively limited amount of time during the suspension of the examination”. However, he stressed that the evidence has “significant and wide-ranging implications for the submitted local plan”.
He said: “Cheshire East Council would undoubtedly wish me to fully endorse the key elements and conclusions of the additional evidence produced during the suspension of the examination. However, this is not possible for several reasons”.
According to Pratt, the new development requirements outlined by the council could require releasing green belt land in the North of the borough. Cheshire East is yet to make specific decisions on site selections.
He said the additional demand for homes would require increasing the number of new dwellings proposed for towns in Cheshire East, including around the Green Belt settlements of Poynton, Knutsford and Wilmslow.
In addition, Pratt emphasised that full public consultation would be required, and he did not want his views to sway the results.
He said: “This leads me to conclude that the proposed amendments to the local plan should be finalised and fully completed, and most importantly, subject to full and unfettered public consultation, with the council’s responses, before it is formally submitted for examination.”
Cllr Rachel Bailey, cabinet member in charge of the local plan, said: “I am delighted that the inspector has broadly supported the council’s approach.
“With his endorsement in principle, we can now press full ahead in progressing the Local Plan to its later stages. The next step will be to present a comprehensive set of proposed changes to a full meeting of the council before carrying out wide-ranging public consultation over a six-week period.”
Dan Mitchell, partner at Barton Willmore, said: “The interim conclusions of the inspector support a need for at least 1,800 homes per year across Cheshire East as a minimum housing requirement. This aligns with evidence-based work we originally undertook in 2012 suggesting the same level of growth. It is clear that Cheshire East is a prosperous economy and the Council needs to provide more land for both jobs and new homes.
“The inspector has tasked the council with undertaking a full review of the site selection process to ensure that sufficient land comes forward. This will mean allocating new land, identifying new strategic sites and looking to the Green Belt in the north of the borough to meet these needs. We look forward to hearing more about the selection of new sites and engaging in that process.”
Nick Lee, director of NJL Consulting, said: “A number of developers will no doubt still have concerns over the conclusions on economic growth, particularly given the major announcements on HS2 and ongoing outperforming by Cheshire East compared to other parts of the North West in terms of jobs growth.
“It is also telling that no one participating in the resumed hearings was allowed to submit additional evidence to set against the council’s position.
“It may be a relief that perhaps there is now light at the end of the tunnel for this plan process but I suspect that many will continue to scrutinise its next steps very closely.”