Cheshire West & Chester – What now for developers?

Cheshire West and ChesterThe night of 7 May was a grim one for Labour, which missed out on several key targets across England and lost MP after MP in Scotland. However, Labour councillors in Cheshire West and Chester bucked the trend, taking control of the Council by one seat from their Conservative rivals and shocking commentators in the North West, who had assumed the Conservatives would hold on for another four years.

It was long agreed by those involved in the planning and property sectors that, under the previous Conservative administration, Cheshire West and Chester Council was a hard nut to crack in terms of opening a positive and productive dialogue with the local planning authority. So now those same people will be looking at the new Labour administration with curiosity, to see if there are any noticeable changes in the approach to development.

The widespread consensus in the private sector is that Labour administrations are usually more open to development than Conservative-run councils. This comes as no surprise when you look at the politics. Broadly speaking, Labour authorities usually contain areas of higher deprivation, smaller housing stock and unemployment; Conservative areas usually have higher employment, larger rates of home ownership and an electorate that views development as necessary, but not something they want nearby.

It will therefore be interesting to see what changes take place in Cheshire West and Chester now that Samantha Dixon and her Labour Group have taken the reins. Cllr Dixon has already named her Cabinet, the political directors of the new administration, and this could give a clue as to what direction they will take in terms of property and development.

Cllr Brian Clarke, council member for Winsford and also chair of the Winsford Neighbourhood Steering Committee, has been appointed Cabinet Member for Development and Infrastructure. He oversaw the production of the Neighbourhood Plan in Winsford and has openly spoken in favour of giving local people a say in the planning process. Whilst discussing Cheshire West and Chester’s Local Plan, he said, “Our plan takes into account our neighbourhoods, neighbours and our regional aspirations but always remembering who we are making it for – our residents.”

If we are to view this as a sign of things to come, we could assume that Cllr Clarke will be keen to open progressive dialogue with developers in Cheshire, but only if proper consultation takes place with local communities,  with assurances that residents and local groups are fully involved.

Population growth, like death and taxes, is inevitable: what is important is how growth is managed. Without proper political leadership and governance, no one wins. History has taught us that when politicians shy away from working with the private sector, problems occur, as developers and planners alike feel they become the ‘bad guy’ for wanting to supply more homes, and communities believe they become further cut off from a planning process that has a real effect on their lives.

This is something that Cllr Dixon and her Labour Cabinet need to address. More homes need to be built, more investment needs to be pumped into the authority and more jobs need to be created for local people. The Labour administration’s approach to planning and development will influence all of these in Cheshire West and Chester in the coming years.

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