Local plan progress is no cause for praise

Politicians are a bit like rabbits stealing your lettuce. You sit and watch all night and then the moment you turn your back, the sneaky buggers have nipped in and had a nibble.

Such is the case with a Press release the week before last on the Cheshire East Council local plan — which we dutifully printed — in which the council celebrated the fact that its local plan was on course, sneaking in praise that’s not really warranted.

“(The council) has produced an impressive and comprehensive set of additional evidence within a relatively limited amount of time during the suspension of the examination,” planning inspect Stephen Pratt was quoted as saying.

“The positive views expressed by the inspector have enabled the council to make amendments to our local plan with confidence and publish these for consultation,” said a councillor.

Yeah! Great! The council is doing well! We’re on track for a local plan! Ace!

Until you stop and think. Or at least we stop and think.

The local plan was suspended in November 2014, when Mr Pratt said that, if the council tried to pursue it in its current form, he would rule it unsound.

To go back to rabbits, while many local plan rabbits skipped off merrily across the meadows, Cheshire East’s had myxomatosis.

Cheshire West’s planning rabbit was safely tucked up its hutch more than a year ago, while Cheshire East’s lay gasping for air, flailing around uselessly. This analogy is getting more unpleasant than we hoped but you get the picture: Cheshire West’s plan was finished a year ago, Cheshire East’s probably still has a year to go. Cheshire East’s plan is not a success by any definition of the word.

When Mr Pratt said the plan was useless, we reported that the minimum period for its suspension was six months but the council was optimistic that it would need no longer than that.

When we asked Cheshire East Council off the record what the worst case scenario was we were told: “Well, it’s possible the plan will have to go back to public consultation, but that won’t happen. We’ll have sorted it out long before then.”

Strangely, this worst possible scenario, the outcome that we were told was unlikely, seems to be basically what happened, not that you’d know it — people generally don’t trumpet their failures.

As we have extensively reported, it was nearly 12 months before the plan was back on track, with hearings only resumed in October and the plan currently again heading for public consultation.

If all goes well, the council will adopt the local plan late this year. If all goes well.

(Purely from a sense of mischief we would remind readers that when the council reported us to the old Press Complaints Commission for saying it was useless, Coun Dave Brown tried to belittle the Chronicle by saying we didn’t know what we were talking about, saying: “The local plan… will be finished in 2014. (The) assertion that it (will take from) 2008 until 2015 to develop the local plan is plain wrong.” Our 2015 was clearly optimistic, and we’re not going to have a plan until late 2016, possibly early 2017).

Don’t get this wrong: we’re not saying councillors and planning officers should take it in turns to flay themselves with whips and parade naked outside Westfields by way of atonement. We all make mistakes and we must move on. There’s no point dwelling on the past. Praise the hard work of staff and the efforts people have put in by all means.

But the final signing off of Cheshire East’s local plan will only be a sign for relief, not a cause for celebration. Our local plan will still be in place two years after West Cheshire’s, started on the same day.

The result of the council’s failure to develop its local plan and five-year housing supply is going to be developments that were in the wrong place, not wanted by locals not in the council’s best interests either. Infrastructure and schools have not been properly planned, and our elected representatives have had to dance to the tune of developers, rather than guiding where developments go. The monuments – or at least the five bed detached semis – to the failure of the plan will be with us for decades.

Save the praise for successful endeavours.

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