A government planning inspector said he is "concerned about the adequacy and methodology of the council's objective assessment of housing needs" within the Cheshire East local plan.
Following the submission of the council's local plan strategy in May, the planning inspector, Stephen Pratt, has sent Cheshire East a list of clarifications required ahead of a pre-hearing meeting on 27 July.
He pointed out that Cheshire East's Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment identifies potential sites for up to 50,000 homes, compared to the council's projected supply of 27,000 homes over 20 years, and questioned why a higher level of housing was not proposed. He also requested information on why certain plots had been chosen for development.
He said: "In some cases, it is not clear why particular sites were chosen for release from the Green Belt… the detailed reasons for selecting or rejecting particular sites are not readily apparent."
The inspector listed 16 specific concerns about the draft plan, including:
- Council identified 870-acres of employment land and aimed to provide 20,000 jobs, but did not describe occupiers or amount of land allocated to each type of busines
- Interim household projections use 2011 data, which, inspector said, should only be used to assess 10 years in advance but were used to forecast 20 years in advance, leading to potential errors
- Clarification required as to whether 5% or 20% buffer was included in plan to allow for undelivered projects
- Housing completions over past five years varied between 466 units and 741 units a year, compared to requirement of 1,150 a year – how will plan address previous shortfall
- 500 dwellings included to meet needs in High Peak District, but site allocations are not included
The council's draft plan envisaged delivery of 360-450 affordable homes a year, which the inspector suggested was 1,000 short of the annual need.
He requested a response from the council to criticisms from developers, landowners and house builders that challenged the assessment of housing need.
The inspector has asked for a written response from the council by Friday 18 July.
Cllr David Brown, deputy leader of Cheshire East Council, said: "After the turmoil of local government reorganisation and many years of preparation, Cheshire East Council is delighted that the planning issues underpinning the Local Plan are finally being considered by an Inspector.
"The Cheshire East Local Plan includes significant proposals for new development and these inevitably raise many matters that require careful scrutiny. We expect the examination to be rigorous in its assessment of issues – and these questions are testament to that.
"The Council is preparing full and thorough responses to these questions and these will be submitted by July 18, as requested.
"In the meantime, we remain in dialogue with the Inspector over the operation of the examination through the autumn and hope that a full programme can be published shortly."
Dan Mitchell, partner of Manchester-based planning consultancy Barton Willmore, who advises housebuilders in the borough, said: "The forthcoming Chester East Local Plan Examination is set to be a real tug-of-war between the Council, which is determined to get its Local Plan adopted as early as possible, and developers and land promoters who have genuine concerns regarding the soundness of the Plan.
"There are diametrically opposed positions on the overall housing growth requirements and the need to release Green Belt around key towns in Cheshire East. The Inspector has already recognised potentially significant problems with the Council's evidence-based work and has now asked the Council to justify its position."