April 2009 saw the birth of two new authorities in the North West formed out of six district councils and the abolition of the Cheshire County Council. Gary Halman, managing partner at HOW Planning, looks at how Cheshire has developed since then, and what we can expect for its future.
Since 2009, Cheshire West & Chester and Cheshire East Councils have been steering their respective economies, seeking to drive economic growth, ensure adequate housing and run a panoply of public services from roads to education, and waste to libraries.
Unsurprisingly given the complexities of bringing such disparate areas together, both councils have taken time to put Local Plans in place to guide the pattern of future development. Cheshire West was first past the post adopting its in 2015 but Cheshire East’s has been much more problematic and was only very recently adopted at the end of July 2017. This hasn’t stopped development from taking place, but major new housing in Cheshire East has too often been delivered through the appeal process as the absence of an up to date Plan coincided with national government’s drive to accelerate housing delivery.
In both parts of Cheshire, house prices remain ahead of the North West average and the county continues to face an affordability problem; the average house price is still far too high at 7.7 times the average salary. It remains to be seen whether increasing new housing supply dramatically – as both plans seek to do – will have any impact on this.
The economic fortunes of Cheshire vary with location: in the north of the county where the local economy is strongly influenced by the Greater Manchester conurbation, including its proximity to the airport, road and rail connections and universities, employment land is in demand and companies are growing. Astra Zeneca’s former site at Alderley Park is successfully attracting new start-ups as well as established companies as it reinvents itself as a world class multi-occupied life sciences park. Hot spots such as Bentley Motors in Crewe also have major plans for expansion as the company trades strongly.
Elsewhere areas like Ellesmere Port still face challenges to maintain and grow a sustainable, high quality employment base, whilst Chester remains an attractive city but with growing traffic congestion problems that require radical solutions.
HS2 will now start to influence investment decisions and growth strategies as the preferred line has just been announced. This project will really gather momentum over coming years. Crewe has the potential to boost its growth as a distribution hub and this could have positive spin off effects on both the local housing market and the town centre which remains in need of regeneration.
And town centres across the county are areas where we can expect to see a requirement for intervention by both councils. The retail sector nationally is still adjusting to online shopping trends and major new town centre retail schemes are highly unlikely. A combination of increased residential use within town centres and active management – traffic calming, more markets and support for independent specialist traders – are likely to be critical in ensuring the county’s attractive and distinctive market towns have a sustainable future.
- To take part in the Place10 series reflecting on the decade since Place North West was first published in August 2007, send your stories and memories to email@example.com headed ‘10’.