Local plan: putting the record straight

After criticism in the Chronicle, Councillor Dave Brown, deputy leader of Cheshire East Council, replies on behalf of the council. Note: this is Dave Brown writing, not me.

 

I refer to your lengthy editorial in the Thursday, 17th April, edition lambasting the council — unfairly may I say — over its local plan and the five-year housing supply. I am extremely disappointed that your poor grasp of the current situation concerning the local plan and the five-year housing supply is misleading your readership and painting a picture of failure by the council.

Let me begin, therefore, by putting the record straight and making a very basic distinction between the local plan and the five-year housing supply for the benefit of yourself and your readers.

The local plan and the five-year housing supply are two separate documents.They are not connected.

Let me say this again — they are separate and NOT connected.

The final Local Plan consultation has just finished and will go to the Planning Inspectorate later this year to be ratified. Indeed Eric Pickles has praised us for our work to-date.The local plan is — and always has been — progressing very well.

Therefore your reference to Cheshire East as being in the “twilight zone” with its local plan is just plain wrong. There is, and never has been, any doubt over our position with the local plan core strategies and we expect it to be finalised this year.This will be followed by site allocations in the autumn.

Your assertion that it has taken since 2008 until 2015 to develop the local plan again is plain wrong. We have been tasked with creating the local plan since 2009 and it will be finished in 2014, which represents just over four years and not the seven which your newspaper is intimating.

On another but related matter, Congleton Borough Council did not fail to produce its local plan at all and it was never in disarray and never failed to produce its housing targets. Again, just plain wrong!

You may remember that local government reorganisation took place in 2009, which meant that none of the boroughs could have completed their plans prior to their abolition in 2009. In any event Congleton’s local plan did not expire until 2011, as did Macclesfield’s and Crewe’s local plan.

The newly-formed Cheshire East Council, which had split from the West, then had to grapple with a completely new geography in 2009. Despite this, Cheshire East forged ahead with its local plan and has, in actual fact, progressed ahead of other local authorities.

Therefore the local plan, thanks to the incredible work by officers, has not been affected by local government reorganisation in the slightest. From the research I have undertaken, there is not a single local authority in the country that has managed to create a local plan in under four years. As I say, ours will be ratified this autumn so that represents under five years.

Let me now turn to your comments about the Planning Inspector’s decision on 94 homes at Elworth Hall Farm in Sandbach.

Once again, I will reaffirm that the five-year housing supply is a separate matter that we are liaising with the Planning Inspectorate over. The five-year housing supply assessment is currently the subject of evidence gathering by council officers to establish a five-year housing supply position.

So why did the Planning Inspector interpret NPPG and publicly announce the authority does not have a five-year housing supply? Very simple, because the appeal was heard at a time when not all of the relevant information was available.

Furthermore, assessments depend on different calculations — and each inspector will interpret these differently. The goal posts are continually shifting and Cheshire East is not the only council affected. We continue to campaign for clear guidelines to work to.

The decision at Elworth Hall Farm in Sandbach will not automatically impact on future planning appeal decisions and each planning appeal will be judged on its own merits. We are angry and disappointed that an individual planning inspector has deigned to judge our position with scepticism — but we continue to challenge this most robustly.

It is one inspector’s interpretation of national planning policy guidance that is creating the current uncertainty around the authority’s five-year housing supply. Let me be clear about this – we are not at the mercy of developers.

We will — and always have — fought and challenged developers who seek to build on our beautiful countryside with unwanted and unsustainable developments and during this period we will continue to do so.

And I take great issue with your comments about “inept decisions” from councillors throughout the years that has led us to the five-year housing supply uncertainty. This is just not true.

Are you forgetting that a government-imposed moratorium was only lifted in 2008, by which time the recession had well and truly kicked-in and housing developments all over the country lay empty? The housing market is now recovering thanks only to the efforts of George Osborne who is successfully stimulating the market again.

In terms of where we go with the authority’s five-year housing supply is now the subject of much discussion. The five-year supply is based on countless variables and is only ever a snapshot of a moment in time.

The inspector’s snapshot was based on data from December 31st 2013. Since then the authority has approved hundreds of homes in recent months. Our job now is to bring the Planning Inspectorate up to March 31st 2014.

It would now help no end if the local newspaper would kindly refrain from misleading its residents so that we can get on with the important job of protecting our beautiful borough.

4 thoughts on “Local plan: putting the record straight”

  1. Local newspapers – especially THIS local newspaper – are vital in questioning actions of a local authority. We no longer trust Cheshire East because of its short troubled life, BUT we do trust our local newspaper for its courage in reporting the truth as it sees it. We want Sandbach to remain a peaceful, quiet market town -not overwhelmed with houses built on green fields and traffic jams on all the main roads into and out of town.

  2. Dear Mr Brown,

    I do not doubt that there has had to be some fast work to build the local plan, and that dedicated professionals, civil servants, and others are working hard to provide it. I look forward to its delivery so that we can all get on without the need for these costly appeals that are hitting we developers and the rate payers so hard in the purse.

    I suspect Mr Brown might be being disingenuous in the statement that the Local Plan and 5 year supply are unrelated. They are in fact both defined in the overarching NPPF and so, whilst being separately published, ‘are’ related in their source definition, but moreover linked in their use by planning folk in an inescapable way.

    Let us see where common sense leads us to when considering why we have a Local Plan:

    – The Government sits down and has a think about how many houses will be required into the distant future.

    – From this it hands down to the LPA’s a quantity of the total that each LPA must provide.

    – The LPA tries to convince everyone that this can be achieved by producing a Local Plan which defines a long term approach to development of the area under its control.

    – Now, the Local Plan would be quite useless unless it actually stated WHERE these new houses would be built.

    – For that reason a strategic assessment of potential locations is produced by the LPA in the form of the SHLAA or Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment. The SHLAA lists sites – real pieces of land in the LPA’s region, that can or might be developed for housing within the Local Plan lifetime. The intention is for the SHLAA to show how the number of units required by the government will be met, and WHERE. The sites listed in the SHLAA are categorised into those that can be developed in 1 – 5, 6 – 10, and 11 – 15 years, with each being summed up. The SHLAA comprises much of the ‘evidence base’ referred to when judging housing land supply, with the 1 – 5 year category produces the ‘5 year housing land supply’ itself, as required by the NPPF.

    Incidentally, the likely availability date for sites and yields stated within the SHLAA must be based on a number of assumptions about how quickly sites can start to be developed and how quickly habitable houses come out the other end of the process – CEC’s recent (discredited) revision of its 5 year housing land supply was criticised for shaving time off both assumptions to inflate the potential 5 year supply number without adding significant numbers of sites.

    Mr Brown, I know that you are quite likely to be spending the Bank Holiday weekend working on the [new] official position on CEC’s 5 year housing land supply as promised by Councillor Jones last week. However, please could I respectfully request that if you believe any of the above to be incorrect then you take time out to educate me as to why by responding to this thread so that the public can be similarly advised.

    GD

    PS #1. The NPPF is a long document but relatively clearly written and a good introduction to how planning is driven. Anyone who wishes to understand the context and contribute to the discussion on planning matters would be well advised to spend time reading it. In terms of what it is, the opening line announces ‘The National Planning Policy Framework sets out the Government’s planning policies for England and how these are expected to be applied.’ This document is of very significant importance for planners, those deciding planning applications, objectors, those handling appeals, and those reviewing appeal decisions. See http://planningguidance.planningportal.gov.uk/wp-content/themes/planning-guidance/assets/NPPF.pdf.

    PS #2. Any nimbys looking in might want to look at the CEC SHLAA 2014, its latest update. It is a big document to download but quickly skimmed through. It lists and maps sites for potential development and it’s always good to know what you might be campaigning to save in the years to come.

    PS 3. Why use the GD persona and not write in the clear ? Simple, I have a stake in the outcome of planning applications and fear retribution. I took up the GD nom-de-plume to present my views on some of what is being said and done in relation to planning at CEC. I am non-political and seek simply to tell the truth as I see it, and of course, the perspective from the dark side.

  3. You might want to ask Councillor Dave Brown for his feelings on the position of the CEC Local Plan given recent appeal outcome from Dunnocksfold Road, Alsager, which pretty much sinks many of the foundations that the Core Strategy relies upon. His 4 year boast now sounds more than a little hollow.

    GD

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