Cheshire East Council Leader Michael Jones has robustly defended the authority’s spending on its Local Plan – to protect residents and the countryside while delivering economic growth for the future.
Critics have attacked the authority for spending £3.7m on the blueprint for development in the Borough up to 2030.
However, Councillor Jones said the sum was money well spent to protect Cheshire East from unplanned and unsustainable development and ‘a drop in the ocean’ compared to the economic benefit to all the residents in the years to come.
The public examination of the Local Plan has now been paused as the Council is minded to make some modifications following the Planning Inspector’s interim report. This is not unusual and is happening in many other local authorities across the country.
Cllr Jones said: “First of all, the Council put the spending figure in the public domain in the first place. We have nothing to hide.
“It is perfectly reasonable and sensible to spend £3.7m putting together such a large, complex and vitally important document as the Local Plan and I don’t understand why some critics are seemingly so upset.
“A spend of £3.7m would equate to the monetary value of about 1.5 acres of development on land in the north of the Borough.
“When you consider that many developers are trying to get planning permissions on our greenbelt and greenfield sites – £3.7m to protect us from up to £81 billion of development gain going in unsustainable locations seems pretty good value for money to me.”
The Local Plan has been a massive undertaking: the Council has received more than 40,000 responses from residents and organisations, which were collated, assessed and fed into the submission version of the Local Plan Strategy. The strategy has also undergone nine rounds of public consultation since 2010.
This work is of real value and has already contributed towards the Council receiving tens of millions of pounds of Government funding for our roads.
The work done on the Local Plan also forms the building blocks of whatever plan the Council goes forward with – so none of it is wasted.
Cheshire East has also now created a Task Force, led by Councillor Peter Raynes, to drive and coordinate the work to address the inspector’s concerns and strengthen the Local Plan.
Cllr Raynes, Cabinet member for finance, added: “It is important to bear in mind that the pause in the public examination of the Local Plan is not a rejection of the entire Local Plan – and we welcome the opportunity to address the specific areas of concern to the Inspector.
“The report highlights some weaknesses in the Local Plan but there’s plenty that’s right – the duty to cooperate with neighbouring Councils for example.
“The delay is regrettable but it is important that this document is right for the people of Cheshire looking forward to 2030.
“We fully support the Government’s Localism agenda and believe local people should have the power to shape their communities and the final Local Plan will reflect this.
“We will continue to put residents first while working with the Planning Inspectorate to get this right. Our mantra has always been to protect Cheshire East from unsustainable development and is a commitment we stand by.”