Jones responds as Cheshire East loses Alsager appeal

Jessica Middleton-Pugh

Cheshire East Council has lost an appeal on a 95-home development in Alsager after the planning inspector concluded that the council did not have a five-year supply of deliverable housing sites.

In her decision letter, planning inspector Frances Mahoney said "the Council has not demonstrated a five year supply of deliverable housing sites in the borough" and "the position of the council as to whether it has an identified supply of housing land, has swung backwards and forwards" throughout the appeal process.

The inspector continued: "The Council's optimism that the sites upon which they rely as presenting development opportunities with a realistic prospect that housing will be delivered on the sites within five years is at best questionable and at worse unfounded". She said the appeal had provided a "reality check" for the council's evidence.

Plans for the proposed development on land off Dunnocksfold Road in Alsager were first submitted in October 2012. An appeal was submitted in May 2013 when the council failed to rule on the application.

The council then considered the proposal and said that it would refuse the application as the borough had a five year housing supply in place. The council changed its mind and ahead of an inquiry into the proposals held in February 2014 said that it could not conclusively demonstrate supply. However, Cheshire East then switched positions for a second time and presented a five year housing land supply position statement the day before the inquiry was due to take place.

Developer Emerson Group acted on behalf of the appellants, the Morris family and contractor PE Jones. Emerson was advised by Emery Planning.

The inspector raised concerns regarding the robust nature of evidence within the council's position statement for land supply, where she said "unrealistic assumptions" had been made. These included the Council assuming two or three developers working on a site when there was only one, and ascribing a greater number of units to sites than they actually have planning permission for.

On one site in Crewe the council assumed 10 units would be built, when a supermarket has now been developed on the site. In another case, the council assumed 10 units on a site that it refused development for. The inspector said that at the inquiry the council made adjustments to the land supply figure to factor in these "less than certain assumptions and factual inaccuracies", however they still gave her cause for concern.

Taking into account what the inspector said was "limited development" in the area, she estimated that the council only had a supply for 3.6 years. Using the council's own assessed supply figure, the figure was only 4.8 years.

The inspector highlighted flaws in the council's planned delivery of 1,150 homes a year, which she said was based on out-of-date projection figures from the Regional Spatial Strategy, and did not factor in the under-provision of homes since 2008. She also said it did not include a 5% or 20% buffer.

The inspector's final assessment of Cheshire East's five-year housing requirement was 2,029 homes a year.

Last week a government planning inspector submitted his initial comments on Cheshire East Council's draft local plan and said he was "concerned about the adequacy and methodology of the council's objective assessment of housing needs". He also highlighted the use of out of date figures.

Speaking to Place North West, Cllr Michael Jones, leader of Cheshire East Council, said: "If you go by RSS figures, we have at least a five year supply of housing, and these figures have been universally accepted until recently. Once you change the delivery levels to 1,350 a year as some are proposing [in Cheshire East's emerging core strategy], of course it is going to appear as if we have a shortfall.

"The supply required for the area is 11,000 units, and we have 17,000 in the pipeline, although not all will be delivered in five years. The annual figure named by the inspector has never been delivered in Cheshire East – we have never built more than 1,200 homes even in peak years.

"We are not getting consistency from planning inspectors, and the Government needs to decide what is required from us. We are currently in the unique position of delivering something that is not in our control, but is in the hands of developers."

When asked about the discrepancy in figures, Jones said: "The definition of a five year supply is an ongoing process, and at the point of appeal we were in the early stages. We have much more robust figures now, and are including lower estimates on sites to avoid criticisms such as the ones we received earlier in the process."

Your Comments

Jones it’s time to go its as simple as that. What a mess and what a waste of taxpayers money.

By Simon Says

Having lost one of the most professional and experienced Housing Strategists from the Team at Cheshire East it is little wonder the Authority keep finding themselves in this ridiculous and inexcusable position. It seems to me that where Planning applications are concerned the strategy is ‘the answer is no – now what is the question’?!

By David Sleath

If Cheshire East had properly funded strategic planning and made it a priority in the first place, they wouldn’t be in this situation. Money is now continually being wasted on these appeals and I am sure more are in the pipeline. Just the other day Councillors voted against Officer recommendation and rejected a small housing development in Knutsford. No wonder few houses are building built in the area.

By fed up resident

I am a developer. Everyone needs to face up to the need to build and let developers and the planning officers at the LPA get on and build the homes that the current population of home-seekers want. Cut out the planning committees and lets get back to the facts, avoid the political / bullshit-based rejections and appeals, and put the wasted money into construction to get the housebuilding jobs & economy back on track. As for Mr Jones and his pandering to the Nimby voters – you would earn more respect if you stood up for common sense and stopped the spin. This shell-and-pea game over LP and 5 year supply is a sideshow and you aren’t a very convincing ringmaster.

By Greedy Developer

Cllr Jones its time to go, your own crusade is costing us all money will nothing to show. The local plan is a farce and you are hindering matters not helping.

By Robert

Yes, we are getting consistency from planning inspectors – they all say you are not providing enough housing! Attacking the development industry who are investing and solving the housing crisis is unhelpful as well as inappropriate – he who throws the first stone…

By Observer

Yes, CEC have lost too many people, many of whom were invaluable. However, as well as budget, actually letting them do their jobs and taking advice would help retention! The Strategic Planning Committee have a huge job and would benefit from significant extra training / "CPD" to be able to grasp the demands of their and their officers’ roles. The new homes bonus, CIL etc will produce significant income for the CEC so they have an indisputable business case to invest much more in people and training.

By Comment

The plan is inconsistent because it wants to restrict growth in the South of the borough and build as much as possible in the North where houses and land can command greater value. The result is that it is trying to refuse developments in the South, whilst at the same time pushing through unsustainable developments in the North.

By Whatcher

^ CEC are totally averse to a plan-led, strategic approach to house building. Completely against any development and growth whilst Michael Jones panders to the local electorate and councillors spouting consistent lies and saying what he thinks people want to hear. An absolute joke of a leader and planning authority. God knows what the policy makers have been doing to create such a pathetic excuse of a Local Plan, only a few weeks now until the truth is finally exposed at examination.

By LJA

Whatcher, that is complete nonsense. The vast majority of new housing (both planned & unplanned) is in the south of the borough. Towns like Sandbach, Nantwich & Alsager are being expected to accommodate many times the number of houses required for organic growth and will just become pure dormitory towns with massive housing estates and few local jobs. That’s why there is so much anger in them. On the other hand, towns like Wilmslow get so few new houses that the population will age & become ever more dependant on bussing in key workers to support their needs. This isn’t a remotely sustainable situation and will be to the detriment of both the north & south of the borough.

By Rik

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