I am writing to set out our approach to planning and development in Cheshire East following the publication of the National Planning Framework and fresh development proposals across various parts of the Borough. This follows a number of queries from local Councils plus a number of letters on this subject in the local Press.
Our main priority is the preparation of a new Local Plan for Cheshire East. This will replace the existing Plans from the former boroughs – and will look ahead to the year 2030 and beyond. The Council has already undertaken considerable work to progress the Local Plan:
- Consolidation and expansion of the Local Plan Evidence Base from 2009 onwards
- Publication of the ‘Issues & Options’ paper in Autumn of 2010
- Launch of the ‘Place Shaping’ public consultation in Summer 2011
- Completion of 4 Town Strategies under the pioneering government ‘Neighbourhood Planning Initiative’ in Spring 2012
- 7 further Town Strategies underway – Summer 2012
Preparing a Local Plan is a major undertaking for the Council – it is a statutory process and we need to follow national guidance and regulation as we proceed. There are several key steps involved in finalising a local plan – and each takes considerable time and expense to complete.
Evidence Gathering. The Council needs to have a good understanding of the Borough as it stands now, before we can plan for the future. Consequently it’s essential that we have a strong evidence base in place to underpin our plan making. Local Government re-organisation proved regrettably disruptive to the process of plan making in the former Boroughs – with each unfortunately embarking on different approaches and programmes. This necessitated considerable re-evaluation of progress made – plus further work in this field to take account of a larger borough and new responsibilities – but without such evidence the Council risks making ill informed decisions about our towns and villages.
Town Strategies. The Council is keen to work with Town & Parish Councils and has embarked on a major programme of preparing town strategies. We consider that local people should have a genuine say in the shaping of their own communities. Consequently we will publish individual and distinctive strategies for each of the eleven largest towns in the Borough. We will start public consultation on the next phase later in the summer – covering the towns of Crewe, Handforth, Knutsford, Macclesfield, Nantwich & Poynton.
Borough Development Strategy. To compliment the ‘grass roots’ approach of town strategies we will also consult the public on a draft ‘high level’ Development strategy for the Borough. This will set options for the overall number of homes and jobs that will be needed over the next 20 years – and will suggest totals for each of the main towns in the Borough, employing evidence gathered from the various town strategies . In the same way the Borough strategy will also identify some of the main infrastructure challenges that we will face over the next two decades.
The Core Strategy & Site Allocations. These initial stages will then be brought together to produce the final elements of the Local Plan – the overarching Core Strategy and the more detailed Site Allocations document. Collectively these two publications will comprise the new Cheshire East Local Plan. The Core Strategy will be prepared first – and will run approximately a year ahead of the site allocations phase. We aim to publish the draft Core Strategy in the spring of 2013 with adoption following in early in 2014. Both stages of the Local plan will be subject to formal public consultation – and will also need to pass the test of independent examination by the Planning Inspectorate.
The Council is committed to producing the Local Plan in a timely way, recognising the value to local communities, businesses and investors of having an up to date development plan. However we must also be thorough and rigorous in our approach, mindful that any plan we produce must withstand the scrutiny of external examination.
Interim Policies. Until the Local Plan is finalised we need to carefully manage development in the Borough. The Government requires us to provide a rolling five year supply of deliverable housing sites. Through the combined consequences of the recession and past policies of restraint, we cannot currently meet that obligation across Cheshire East. The Council recognises the value of a good supply of housing in providing accommodation for future generations and aiding economic recovery. However, it is also vital that developments are brought forward in a planned and managed way. Consequently we have published an Interim Planning Policy that sets out how housing supply can be improved, in accordance with the democratic wishes of local people. A revision of this policy has recently undergone public consultation and will be go to a future meeting of the Council. We see this as a positive a proactive measure to manage developments ahead of the publication of the Local Plan.
Planning Applications. The Council faces a number of speculative planning applications, mainly for housing, on sites that are not identified in our development plans. We will consider each of these on their planning merits. However in principle we believe that growth and development works best when it is planned and coordinated – and when local people have had a proper say in its scale and location. We will not encourage applications on sites that do not conform to our policies – and where proposals are clearly contrary to prevailing plans and guidance we will vigorously oppose them.
Our aim is to provide Cheshire East with a strong and clear planning framework for the future. By giving priority to the Local Plan whilst managing development in the meantime we are confident we can provide the best possible outcomes for all our communities