Cheshire East Appeal.
The appeal considering a proposal to build 160 houses in Congleton Road, Sandbach ended on Wednesday 23/07/2013. The whole process was scheduled to take 8 days but was completed in 6, with 5 days in the Crewe Council offices and 1 day of site visits. At least 2 ARAG officers attended every sitting session and we have detailed notes and analysis of everything which took place. No decision has yet been made and the Inspector will publish his report to the Secretary of State in due course. The Secretary of State will base his decision on advice from the Inspector.
ARAG gave priority to this appeal for several reasons, the main ones being:
- The legal team representing the developer challenged the Cheshire East SHLAA. This means they are challenging Cheshire East’s ability to identify and deliver a 5 year supply of housing land. There was a lot of argument about the detail of this specific planning proposal and the impact it would have on Sandbach but if the Inspector determines that Cheshire East is unable to demonstrate a 5 year supply of housing, this will have a serious impact on outstanding and future Alsager appeals.
- ARAG will want to present as strong a case as possible to the Inspector when Alsager appeals are heard. The same Inspector will hear the Sandbach Road North appeal. To this end it has been very important to assess and understand the process used to control appeals and to hear the arguments put by both sides. Very persuasive arguments have been put by both Cheshire East and the Developer legal teams and there have also been a number of excellent presentations from Sandbach Councillors and Action Groups. ARAG also presented its view, focussing on support for Cheshire East’s and the Sandbach position and the potential damage which uncontrolled development will cause to our Communities.
Cheshire East has not as yet delivered its Local Plan. The availability of a Local Plan is essential within the terms of the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) introduced by the current government. The NPPF is a complex document and it does contain ambiguities and it is open to interpretation. In the absence of a Local Plan however, the NPPF states that there must be a ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’. It also states that Councils must be able to demonstrate a 5 year supply of land and this is done through a document known as the SHLAA ( Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment). Cheshire East argues that its Local plan is emerging and is expected to be complete by the end of 2013 ( followed by an acceptance procedure). In the meantime, a SHLAA has been produced which demonstrates more than a 5 year supply. Saved policies from the now out of date Congleton Borough Local plan remain in force. Cheshire East argues that it can demonstrate a 5 year supply and that delivery of housing from within that supply is a function of the market. The saved Congleton Borough policies still apply and furthermore, it argues that acceptance of any proposal outside of the emerging plan would be premature as it would, by definition, shape the result of the final plan. In this case the primary reason Cheshire East gave for rejection was that the site is an incursion into open countryside.
The developer argues that the Congleton Borough Local plan is out of date, no weight can be given to the Cheshire East emerging plan because it is incomplete, the SHLAA can be given no weight for a range of detailed reasons and that the proposed development is sustainable.
The Inspector indicated that each planning appeal will consider the individual merits of each proposal.
Cheshire East presented its case very well. The arguments were strong and they held up under cross examination. Members of the public also presented well and the Inspector certainly received an excellent representation of the views of the Community. The presentation from the legal team representing the developer was robust and it is impossible from an observer point of view to judge the legal merits of one case over the other.
It does appear though that the main objective of the developers, represented by a barrister and legal team, is to undermine the powers of Cheshire East to reject planning applications. Given that Cheshire East is elected by our Communities and funded with ratepayers’ money and the fact that developers are often ‘land-banking’, rather than building, it is to be hoped that the Inspector will give priority to the expressed Community view, rather than the commercial self-interest of the developers.
We have now been informed that the next appeal will be for Alsager’s Sandbach Road North and this will take place over 6 days in Macclesfield starting 7/8/2013. The Inspector will not have made any decisions by then but we are informed that the same Inspector will run this appeal. The experience gained in this appeal will be invaluable in preparing the ARAG contribution for Sandbach Road North and the other appeals which will inevitably follow.
It is to be hoped that other members of the Community and our Town Councillors will attend in Macclesfield to demonstrate the strength of opposition in Alsager to these speculative development proposals. The power and quality of material from Sandbach councillors and Sandbach residents groups was both well organised and very impressive.