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.