Hassall Road Planning Appeal Meeting

Hassall Road Planning Appeal.

The planning appeal for the Hassall Road proposal by Seddons for 30 houses was held in Crewe on Wednesday 3/4/2013. Cheshire East had previously rejected this proposal primarily on the grounds of “intrusion into the landscape.”

The developer was represented by a barrister and legal team and Cheshire East was also represented by a barrister and officers. Alsager Residents, ARAG Oficers and two of our Cheshire East Councillor part time were also present and contributed to the discussions.

It was clear from the level of representation and the small size of the development that this appeal was about much more than just the building proposal itself. The majority of attendees were also developers. The developers are challenging the Cheshire East Development plan and in particular the basis upon which the housing allocation across the whole of Cheshire East is calculated. The key document is the SHLAA, (Strategic Land Housing Availability Assessment) a huge document, which defines where housing land will be found in Cheshire East over the next 20 years. They have effectively hi-jacked this small Alsager appeal to force a decision on the SHLAA which will have an impact on all building decisions in Cheshire East, even though the 5 year supply was not a reason given by Cheshire East for rejection of this proposal.

Both sets of barristers were arguing for a postponement of the meeting and were strongly supported by ARAG but the Inspector ruled that he would hear the appeal and reconvene, probably towards the end of May, to hear the arguments about the validity of the SHLAA. The main reason for delaying the meeting was that the arguments from the developer had only been received the previous week.  This isn’t the best news but it at least gives Cheshire East and others time to prepare their case for the next stage of this appeal and it is much better than the Inspector accepting the appeal.

The barristers on both sides argued about the technical reasons for the Cheshire East rejection decision. There was significant contribution from the floor, explaining some history of the site which tried to shift the argument away from the dry technical issues to the impact this decision would have on the community. The main difficulty in these arguments is that the Inspector is obliged only to consider an application in isolation and will not consider the impact on the strategic planning of an area. It is clear that common sense or the views of the community are of little importance in these arguments and certainly the Developers have no interest in the needs and stated aspirations of the community.

A site visit took place in the afternoon joined by two members of ARAG and two local residents. The inspector appeared very approachable and receptive of comments addressed to him.

In contradiction to the opinions of the ‘experts’ for the developers, it was very obvious that the whole area is indeed ‘open countryside’. The Inspector could not fail to have seen the same thing and to have heard the comments made by the locals. Back on the road, the Inspector took note of the poor bus service and of the worn condition of the speed humps which are an indication of the amount of traffic. He actually said that the road was quite busy considering that the schools are on holiday and was informed that no one has ever undertaken a proper traffic survey. The Inspector was also surprised to learn how much use was still being made of the sports facilities on the MMU site and the fact that children from Pikemere School have to cross this busy road to use those facilities (the tennis courts). He was also told about the number of childrens’ football teams (at least 19) using the pitches as well as the students and adults. He was given a brief summary of the current, alternative, (ARAG’s) proposals for the development of the MMU site to make the point that there are other, more sustainable, developments in the pipeline.

If Seddons are successful in their attempts to undermine the SHLAA document, it will have a very damaging effect on Cheshire East as a whole and Alsager in particular. We would no longer be able to argue that there is a 5 year supply and therefore developers can have building applications passed simply on the argument of ‘no 5 year supply’.  We very much hope therefore that Cheshire East, will be successful in its defence of this case.

The recently introduced legislation ( the National Policy Planning Framework) insists that if a 5 year supply of building land can not be proven then priority must be given to the developer.