The planning inspector overseeing the Cheshire East local plan examination has warned the council against making too many changes to the plan, or else be forced to withdraw and resubmit the strategy in a new form.
The note from inspector Stephen Pratt dated 1 June pointed to the need to avoid “substantial changes to the submitted plan and significant alterations to the underlying strategy”.
According to Pratt “significantly amended overall housing and employment land provision figure, along with a set of new and/or amended sites… might suggest that the submitted plan should be withdrawn and resubmitted”.
If major changes are made to the plan in its current form, Pratt stressed that they would need to be put out to public consultation. However, the note said that “apart from the stakeholder engagement workshops, he is not aware of the nature of any other engagement and consultation with the community and other stakeholders before drawing up the amended strategy, including specific new and amended sites and assessment of alternative sites”.
Speaking to Place North West, Cllr Michael Jones, leader of Cheshire East Council, said that the council didn’t feel like what they were working on was a new plan, and that if they did have to consult on the changes the process could last for a further 12 months.
The public examination into Cheshire East’s local plan was suspended in November after Pratt outlined “serious shortcomings with the council’s objective assessment of housing need and future provision” and asked the council to supply further evidence into its housing supply estimates and co-operation with neighbouring authorities.
At the time of the suspension of the examination, Pratt said that if the council chose to continue with the examination, the plan would be likely to be thrown out. Other options available to the council were a six-month suspension of the examination to allow for additional work, or withdrawing the plan and resubmitting it for examination once it has been reworked.
The council released a timetable in April for the revision of the local plan, which gave the local authority until the end of July to submit additional evidence and hold engagement sessions.
The local plan sets out the council’s case for sustainable economic growth and is the strategy the council wants to adopt to manage development in Cheshire East up to 2030.
The local plan proposed a minimum of 27,000 houses between 2010 and 2030, averaging 1,350 homes each year.
This figure has been repeatedly criticised by local developers and planners, with some estimating the housing need is closer to 40,000 homes over the same period.
Nick Lee, managing director of NJL Consulting and planner on a number of residential schemes within Cheshire East, said: “There is considerable concern expressed by the inspector over the course the Council are taking over the local plan. Information arising out of various workshops does suggest several areas of additional evidence will require consultation and scrutiny in the first instance. We believe this does place the plan at considerable risk of failing and is something that the council must really think carefully about before moving forward.”