Planning inspector criticises Cheshire East development plan

CHESHIRE East’s Local Plan – a future development strategy – has been criticised by a planning inspector who believes the authority is understimating future economic growth.

Under the plan Cheshire East aims to deliver 27,000 homes and 20,000 extra jobs by 2030. Some 42 sites have been earmarked for some form of development.

But in an interim report, the inspector says, “There is a serious mismatch between the economic strategy and the housing strategy of the submitted plan”. An alternative estimate is that the district requires 40,000 homes.

The report adds: “There are shortcomings in the council’s objective assessment of housing needs, both in terms of establishing an appropriate baseline figure and failing to specifically take into acount and quantify all relevant economic and housing factors, including market signals and the need for affordable housing.”

The authority says it has a “brownfield first” strategy but the Local Plan earmarks some green belt land in Handforth for 1,800 homes. To compensate it wants to add to the green belt around Crewe and Nantwich.

But the inspector said: “The process and evidence relating to the proposed amendments to the green belt boundary in the north of the district seem flawed, particularly the release of sites form the green belt and the provision of the safeguarded land, and there seems to be insufficient justification for establishing a green belt in the south of the district.”

Councillor David Brown, deputy council leader and cabinet member in charge of the Local Plan, said: “It is regrettable that there will now be a delay in getting this finalised. However, we must justify our decisions with work on our objectively-assessed need and economic evidence.

“Our aim is to deliver the best housing, jobs and infrastructure for the people of Cheshire East and our future generations.”

Chancellor George Osborne, the MP for Tatton, said: “I very much regret that there will be a delay to the long-awaited Local Plan. I know Cheshire East Council have worked hard to put this in place and I’ve spoken to them about it.

“The key thing is that more work is now done over the next few months to get it absolutely right and I’m glad Michael Jones and Cheshire East Council are going to do that.”

Brian Silvester, UKIP councillor for Willaston and Rope, said council leader Michael Jones and his deputy should resign.

“CEC have had over five years to get the Local Plan right and they have totally failed, just as they have failed to establish a five-year housing supply that isn’t overturned at appeal. The consequence of this is that developers have had free rein to do virtually what they want and residents have to sit and watch whilst their prescious green gaps and green belt is destroyed and concreted over. This withering criticism from the inspector will result in a further delay of a least several months whilst the Local Plan is revised to bring it in line with what is acceptable.”