Judgement Day for Cheshire East Council
It has been hard to avoid the fact over the last three days that the Inspector of the Cheshire East Council’s Examination in Public has published his Interim Views on the Local Plan and has submitted these to the Council for consideration. Inspector Pratt’s views will determine the route which the Council chooses to take in the progression of the Local Plan.
NJL appeared at the EiP Hearings during September and October on behalf of a number of clients with interests within Cheshire East. During the Hearings NJL put forward a number of concerns regarding the Local Plan Submission Version, all of which have been included within the Inspector’s report.
In case you haven’t yet had the opportunity to read the entire 20-page report yourself, a summary of the main points made by the Inspector are as follows with choice quotes from the report also provided:
- The Council have met the minimum legal requirements of the Duty to Co-operate.
‘CEC has engaged constructively, actively and on an on-going basis with neighbouring authorities and prescribed bodies’
- The economic strategy has been unduly pessimistic, including the assumptions about economic growth and jobs growth, and does not seem to fully reflect the proposals and initiatives of other agencies and the extent of site allocations proposed in the submitted plan.
‘…the level of jobs growth is rather pessimistic, being little more than that achieved in the recent years of economic recession and less than that achieved in pre-recession times’
‘…seems to be a significant mismatch between the aims of the plan and the number of new jobs that could potentially be created by the proposed site allocations’
- There is a serious mismatch between the economic strategy and the housing strategy of the submitted plan. Particularly in the constrained relationship between the proposed level of jobs and the amount of new housing.
‘…this could be a strategy for economic failure’
‘…the preferred level of new housing and the aim to avoid increased migration into the district has constrained the assumptions about economic and jobs growth, resulting in a mismatch between the economic and housing strategies and failing to achieve CEC’s economic aspirations’
- 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 account and quantify all relevant economic and housing factors, including market signals and the need for affordable housing.
‘…support my initial view that the objective assessment of housing need may be too low and should be uplifted to reflect the evidence and trends of both the economic and housing markets’
‘Put simply, it seems that the level of future housing provision has been artificially depressed to avoid high-levels of in-migration into the area, which could result in unsustainable patterns of movement and put at risk the success of the economic strategy’
- The proposed level of future housing provision seems inadequate to ensure the success of the overall economic, employment and housing strategy.
‘…some evidence to suggest that CEC may have made some rather optimistic assumptions when considering the lead-in times and build-out rates of some of the strategic sites’
‘…in such circumstances it would seem that a 20% buffer for the 5-year supply would be appropriate’
‘To artificially restrict the supply of housing land risks a mismatch with the economic strategy and the principles of sustainable development, and could undermine the national policy of significantly boosting housing supply…the proposed phasing element of the strategy does not seem to be fully justified’
- The proposed settlement hierarchy seems to be justified, effective and soundly based, but further work is needed to justify the spatial distribution of development, including addressing the development needs of settlements in the north of the district.
‘…further work may need to be undertaken to review and fully justify the proposed spatial distribution of development’
‘…proposed levels of housing at these settlements will not meet their needs, and insufficient consideration seems to have been given to how those needs will be met’
‘…unduly influenced decisions to release larger Green Belt sites in the LPS’
- 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 from the Green Belt and the provision of Safeguarded Land, and there seems to be insufficient justification for establishing a new Green Belt in the south of the district.
‘…the process and the evidence may have been flawed'
‘…specific evidence justifying this approach was not completed until September 2013, well after these decision has been made’
‘…insufficient weight may have been given to the status and value of certain sites in Green Belt terms compared with other factors such as land ownership, availability and deliverability, when preparing and finalising the plan’
The Inspector also stated that:
‘ there is a risk that the failure to fully assess the social, economic and environmental implications of these higher levels of growth options in the SA work could be subject to subsequent legal challenge, and CEC may wish to consider this matter further’
‘…some key elements of evidence…were not completed until after key decisions had been made about the strategy…and other key evidence…has yet to be completed. This seems to suggest that the basic strategy may have been determined and the plan submitted for examination before all the key evidence was in place’.
Both the above statements, along with the overall summary of the Inspector’s views will have given Cheshire East Council a lot to consider in the coming days and the ways in which they intend to overcome such findings will certainly prove for an interesting read.
Concluding his report, Inspector Pratt sets out three Options which are now available to the Council in light of his Interim Views. The path to be chosen by Cheshire East is still unknown, however they themselves have already ruled out Option a) - to continue with the examination based on current evidence available – probably a sensible choice (their first in a while it seems), given that the Inspector stated that he would probably conclude that the submitted Plan was unsound if this option was chosen. The two remaining options are currently being considered by the Council, these are:
b) Suspend the examination so that the necessary additional work can be completed and considered before proceeding with the remainder of the examination;
c) Withdraw the Plan and resubmit it for examination when all the necessary consultation and supporting justification and evidence has been completed.
Which route Cheshire East choose to take is yet to be seen, although one does wonder whether a suspension of the examination (which would normally be for no longer than 6 months) would allow sufficient time for all cracks to be filled in, creases to be ironed out and dents to be repaired. From the discussions during the Hearings in September and October and the views of the Inspector it certainly does not appear that the Council can adopt a ‘quick fix’ approach.
NJL have been awaiting the Inspector’s Views with eager anticipation due to being involved in a number of projects in Cheshire East currently. Nick Lee provided a comment on the report to Place North West on Wednesday morning and the article can be viewed here.
We will of course remain on high alert for the Council’s response as to how they wish to proceed and update you further once word reaches us. In the meantime, should you have any queries regarding the EiP or ongoing or future projects within Cheshire East and wish to discuss the impact of the Interim Views on these please do not hesitate to get in touch.