The Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government has allowed Fox Land & Property's proposals for 280 units at land off Abbey Road and Middlewich Road in Sandbach after overruling a planning inspector's recommendation.
The decision is likely to have a significant impact on numerous appeals by housing developers and landowners currently awaiting a decision in Cheshire East.
The appeal in question was previously considered at inquiry in April 2011, with both the inspector and Secretary of State agreeing that the appeal should be dismissed on a range of general planning grounds. However, following a High Court and Court of Appeal Challenge, the appeal decision was quashed, with the Secretary of State now reversing his previous decision in light of updated evidence and the directives of current national planning policy, which states that council's must demonstrate five years of deliverable housing sites.
In reaching his latest conclusions, the Secretary of State dismissed the council's housing land supply position, as outlined within the 2013 Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment, that a supply of 7.15 years could be demonstrated. A key ground for opposing this view was the Council's reliance on strategic sites, currently earmarked for delivery through the Core Strategy. The Secretary of State's view is that these sites are as yet untested via the Local Plan process and are largely subject of substantial and far-reaching objections. As such, they should not be relied upon to deliver up to 43% of the Council's suggested deliverable supply figure, as is currently suggested.
Whilst the Secretary of State appears to accept the council's view that a 5% and not 20% National Planning Policy Framework buffer should be applied in relation to minimum housing delivery numbers in Cheshire East, he concluded that the housing land supply position weighs in favour of the appeal being allowed, albeit without proposing a specific housing land supply figure of his own.
Jonathan Vose, principal consultant at Walsingham Planning in Knutsford, said: "Many parties have been awaiting the first appeal decision on this matter for some time, and had perhaps expected one of the other appeal decisions to come forward first, rather than this recovered and revisited decision. Whilst the council may draw some comfort from the Secretary of State's views relevant to the housing supply buffer figure, his views on housing supply generally and the relevance of draft Local Plan strategic sites, such as the proposed new settlement in the Green Belt outside Handforth, raise significant questions of Cheshire East.
"The council has placed great emphasis on the importance of these strategic sites as key elements of its Local Plan strategy and as a supply-related asset to oppose the need for windfall proposals to meet local delivery targets. The Secretary of State's clear view that not all of these sites can be expected to survive the scrutiny of local objection or examination means that the council's approach to future windfall submissions and the means by which it seeks to promote future housing allocations may require comprehensive reassessment."
Fox Land & Property is part of diverse property group Gladman, based in Congleton.