The planning inspector examining Cheshire East Council’s draft Local Plan has warned the council for the second time in as many months that it should avoid making too many changes to the plan, or risk starting the process again.
Planning inspector Stephen Pratt has given the council until the end of July to submit additional evidence. The council has revised its original assessment of housing need, increasing the number of dwellings by 33% to 36,000 dwellings by 2030 compared with the submitted Local Plan.
Pratt said the council’s forecast number of additional jobs due to be created in the borough, 31,400, represents almost a 2.5 times increase compared with the submitted plan, 13,900, almost doubling the economic growth rate and increasing the need for employment land from 350 to 378 hectares.
He went on: “However, until I see and consider the additional evidence and material to be provided at the end of July, I cannot form any views on the soundness of any amended figures or sites.”
According to the inspector’s note, the council considers the changes to represent an “evolution of the existing strategy”.
The inspector reiterated: “I have previously indicated my concern about the possible scale and nature of amendments necessary to the submitted plan… I am also concerned about the potential cross-boundary implications of the proposed increases in the overall amount of housing and employment development.”
Pratt added that “I wish to be assured that the scale and nature of any changes necessary to ensure that the submitted plan is sound do not result in a plan which involves substantial changes or significant alterations to the underlying strategy which might suggest that the submitted plan should be withdrawn.
He continued: “I remain concerned about the apparent lack of engagement with other parties, including Town & Parish Councils, community and interest groups.”
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 agreed 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 initially proposed a minimum of 27,000 houses between 2010 and 2030, averaging 1,350 homes each year.
Last week, George Osborne, local MP for Tatton in east Cheshire, said in his new productivity plan for the country that he would ask inspectors to write Local Plans for councils which do not have one in place.
Cllr Rachel Bailey, chairman of Cheshire East Council’s Local Plan Task Force, said: “The council has placed on its website the latest round of correspondence with the Local plan Inspector. This includes our latest monthly update letter, the Inspector’s response and the council’s reply.
“The documentation shows that the council is ready to meet the deadline set by the Inspector for the submission of additional evidence in support of the plan. Discussion is now focussed on the next steps and how the Inspector and council take the public examination forward.
“The latest letters show the council is making progress with the Local Plan and will meet its agreed deadlines. We are also confident that, although revisions will be made to the Local plan Strategy, these are not so significant as to constitute a different plan.
“We now look forward to working with the Inspector to progress the Local plan Strategy through its next stages towards adoption.”