Alsager Planning Appeals.

Cheshire East has rejected a number of planning proposals in recent months and subsequently developers have appealed against those decisions.  This section of the ARAG site contains information about each appeal and it will be updated from time to time as the appeals take place and as the situation develops. 

The Developers are arguing that Cheshire East can not demonstrate a 5 year supply of housing land ( as required by the National Policy Planning Framework – NPPF ) and that the completion rate of housing assumed by Cheshire East is not deliverable, especially given the backlog of housing completions in recent years.  They say there has been “persistent under-delivery”.  Furthermore, they argue that the Strategic Housing Land Availability assessment (SHLAA) which identifies possible land for development and the adopted Alsager Town Strategy have not been objectively tested.  On this basis they argue that these documents should carry little weight and because ( they say ) there is a pent-up demand for housing in Alsager, there should be a “presumption in favour of development” ( this “presumption” is built into the NPPF ).  Cheshire East on the other hand argue that the SHLAA does demonstrate a 5 year supply of land, that the Cheshire East Local Plan, although not yet complete is close to completion in 2014.  Anything which over-turns a Cheshire East rejection would therefore be premature.  Cheshire East also argue that the backlog of housing can be delivered over the duration of the plan and that when one considers delivery over 10 years, Cheshire East’s record is not one of persistent under-delivery.  The Alsager Town Strategy has been adopted by Cheshire East in its emerging Local Plan and this document was produced by the Community of Alsager with the primary aim of delivering housing on Alsager’s Brownfield sites.

Hassall Road Appeal

ARAG has attended 3 planning appeals over the last two months, the last of which, Hassall Road, ended on Friday 6/09/2013. There are two reasons for attending: to understand the process and the threats we face from well-represented and well-funded Developers and secondly, to ensure that a Community view was adequately presented to the Inspector. ARAG attended all 3 days of the Hassall Road appeal in Macclesfield, Councillor Hough attended for an hour on the first day and Councillor Jones for two hours on the second day.

 This has been a very steep learning curve but there is one fundamental point which came up over and over again. All material in the public domain and the published evidence supporting the process which developed that material, is subject to intense scrutiny throughout an appeal. If something in the “evidence base” is inaccurate, vague or missing or if an assertion has no justification in the “evidence base”, it will be challenged and it will result in that evidence carrying little weight in the Inspector’s decision-making process. This covers all documents in the public domain, for example: plans, supporting documents and Town Council minutes ( which were the subject of some scrutiny and criticism ). In other words, every word in a document such as our Adopted Town Strategy or its draft needs to be professionally and rigorously tested before publication, otherwise it can, and will be, undermined. It is not just the content which is important, it is also what is omitted or not addressed. All documents in the public domain were treated very seriously during the appeal and all such issues identified, served to challenge Cheshire East’s Case.

 It has been strongly argued, throughout all of the appeals, by Richard Humphries QC (Cheshire East’s legal representative) and ARAG that the Adopted Alsager Town Strategy was produced through a democratic process and that it represents the expressed views of Alsager Residents. The appellant ( Developer’s barrister Ms Morag Ellis QC ), however, determined that the Alsager target of 1,000 was a top-down target assigned by Cheshire East which was not challenged during the Town Plan Process. When questioned on this point by Mr John Barratt, the developer’s barrister at the Sandbach Road North appeal, Councillor Derek Hough appeared to confirm that this was the case. (Councillor Hough was Alsager’s Stakeholder Panel Co-ordinator)

 Furthermore, the identified site allocations in the Town Strategy do not add up to 1,000 (shortfall of 110). The Town Strategy states that “The lack of recent development is increasing the pressure on the housing market, creating a latent demand and potentially increasing issues with affordability and access to housing” and the decision to drop particular areas from the draft Town Plan is not justified in the evidence base. The appellants argue that this statement clearly indicates ‘pent up’ demand for housing in Alsager.

 It is unclear whether or not these issues will influence the Inspector’s decision. It is clear, however, that they could have been easily avoided through adequate document inspection and process documentation. ARAG worked to counter these arguments and and could not have done more to defend the core principle of the Town Strategy regarding brownfield development before Greenfield. We would argue, however, that residents in the community of Alsager should not have been placed in this vulnerable situation potentially leading to exploitation by Developers.

 The table below attempts to summarise the arguments over the 3 days but taking a boxing analogy, it is possible to see when someone has scored a point but in this case, it isn’t possible to determine the value of a point in the Inspector’s thinking.

The last 3 days of the Hassall Road appeal addressed the issue of whether or not Cheshire East can demonstrate a 5 year supply of available housing land. Derek Bould presented the ARAG view and that can be viewed hereDerek Longhurst, attending the Appeal as a resident, ARAG member and a Town Councillor, submitted a presentation which can be viewed here.

 Councillor Derek Hough requested that he be allowed to present but the Inspector declined, ruling that he had made it clear that he didn’t want to cover areas already addressed in the first part of the appeal which took place in May.

 We will now have to wait for the Inspector’s report, which will inform the decision to be made by the Secretary of State (Eric Pickles MP). The implications of the Secretary of State overturning Cheshire East’s rejection of this proposal are severe. It would set a precedent which could lead to all other appeals being approved in favour of the developers.

 

 

Appellant Statement Cheshire East
This is a modest application, surprised to be here for just 30 houses where there is “pent up demand.” It’s only 30 after all. The Town plan says there is “pent up demand” It would set precedent and would lead to 3,000 around Alsager. This cumulative effect is called “prematurity” and it would have an unacceptable impact on Cheshire East’s emerging Local Plan.
Cheshire East is holding back development where there is an objectively assessed demand. Cheshire East Numbers can’t be delivered in Appellant’s view. We have a plan which Cheshire East is confident can be delivered.
The Cheshire East Local plan identifies 1,100 houses but only identifies two strategic sites. Twyfords (450) and MMU ( 400). The plan doesn’t make it clear where the other 250 will come from. Why would this site not be chosen? It was a preferred option site in the draft plan and a majority voted for it. Acknowledged that the plan left a gap but that this wasn’t material as things change and the Local plan is considering primarily strategic sites. The Hassall Road site isn’t in the Town Plan.
Only 54 houses have been delivered in the last 5 years in Alsager. This is evidence of pent up demand. Where is the evidence that Alsager will deliver the 1,000 houses in the Town plan or the 1,100 in the emerging Cheshire East Local Plan? Cheshire East considers that the Alsager Town Strategy is appropriate and that the policy of Brownfield before Greenfield will deliver the required numbers.
Can’t believe that there is a case for prematurity on this site. How can 30 houses affect the whole of Cheshire East or Alsager. Releasing Area J would be a good thing. Because it will set a precedent and in particular release Area J. (Land adjacent to MMU)Appellant objected here saying: introducing prematurity at this point was not acceptable. Inspector ruled that he hadn’t a problem with that but that Mr Humphries should be aware of the risks
There is no reference to prematurity in the NPPF and anyhow, the numbers in the Town Strategy do not add up to 1,000. Legal point, there are relevant cases and prematurity can be argued.
Any policy which restricts growth is contrary to the NPPF. Settlement Zone Lines are an example. They restrict growth. They should be changed regularly to accommodate growth. You must always consider the 3 aspects of the NPPF: Growth, Environment and Community. Settlement zone lines protect the countryside and the nature of the settlement.SZLs are used in many other places.They are multi-purpose, defining settlements and also defining where the countryside starts. This is a way of protecting the countryside.There are several examples where the Inspector found that SZLs were appropriate to protect the countryside e.g. Loachbrook judgement, Shavington, Hind Heath, Bishops Cleve
Settlement zone lines have changed in the past when in Congleton Borough Council, why not now to release pent up demand. Economic growth shouldn’t be held back but this shouldn’t be at the expense of the countryside and social needs.Didn’t confirm if settlement zones lines have changed
Settlement zone lines expired in 2011, so they need revision in the Local plan. Cheshire East revises them when it suits for their plans with strategic sites. The current settlement zone lines will allow for significant growth and they will allow the numbers to be achieved
The Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA) was agreed after consultation with Developers in 2012 but not 2013. Cheshire East changed lead in and delivery rates which are not agreed with the industry. Cheshire East has not been transparent. The SHLAA has to be updated every year. Cheshire East is transparent.
The SHLAA has not yet been objectively tested as this part of the Local Plan adoption process has not taken place. This will not happen soon as there has to be public consultation, there will be a lot of objections and the document has to be rigorously assessed before it is adopted Cheshire East is doing everything it can to deliver the Local Plan. Much of this problem has been caused by the creation of the unitary authority Cheshire East from 3 boroughs.
The approach with strategic sites mitigates against housing delivery. They go against countryside policy and therefore will create objections. Delivery rates cannot be met because of their size and lead-in times. Infrastructure needs cannot be met because of the phasing. Cheshire East believes that the emerging Local Plan will deliver the required numbers and that the Alsager Town Strategy informs the Local Plan.
The Town Strategy has not been objectively tested. It doesn’t balance the Brownfield sites with the “need”. During the draft plan process a majority were for Area J. It provides a contribution but it has to be tested. The Secretary of State gives Town Plans little weight. The Alsager Town Plan is unusual in that it was one of the first which allowed bottom up planning. It should be given considerable weight.It is the voice of the community
Stoke on Trent and Newcastle under Lymeare primarily bothered with the large sites and are happy with the level of allocation in Alsager they are concerned with Basford and White Moss. Alsager is an area of restraint and Cheshire East must listen to neighbouring authorities. When you look at the levels of “out commuting”, Stoke on Trent is destination No1 and Newcastle-u-Lyme is No 2.
There has been persistent under-delivery therefore a 20% buffer should be applied and this should be over the next 5 years (known as the Sedgefield model). There has been under-delivery over the last 5 years but in the 5 before that there was over-delivery. There is a shortfall now which should be overcome over the duration of the plan. (this is known as the Liverpool model) The numbers implied by the Sedgfield model have never been achieved so why set a target that can’t be achieved.
It is unlikely that the delivery rates suggested by the SHLAA will be met You have heard Mr Fisher’s evidence

 

 

Sandbach Road North Planning Appeal – Macclesfield – 7/8/2014 – 16/8/2014.

 

The Planning appeal on Sandbach Road North was run by the same Inspector, Mr Philip Major, who ran the Congleton Road Sandbach appeal. The outcome of both of these appeals will have a significant impact on Alsager. You will see from the map on our Home page here that if the developers have their way, Alsager could be on the receiving end of around 3,000 houses rather than the Cheshire East-devised target figure of  1,000.

 The Sandbach Road North appeal has now ended. ARAG attended all the way through the 9 days. Councillor Longhurst attended on several appeal days and 2 of our Cheshire East Town Councillors attended for the introduction on the first day and the morning when they presented their views. Our Green Councillor attended on the first morning. Other than the above, no Alsager residents attended, it is to be hoped that there will be a greater show of Community support in the coming appeals.  There will be at least another 4.

 Although a tremendous amount of detail was presented and argued during the appeal, it reduces to core arguments. Much of the argument was based on the National Policy Planning Framework (NPPF) introduced by the current government to make the process easier for Developers to manage and more difficult for interested groups to oppose.  The Appellant ( the Barrister and his legal team representing Developer, Gladman Homes ) primarily argued the following:

 

The Appellant Cheshire East
Contrary to the requirements of the NPPF, Cheshire East does not have a Local Plan, one can not be expected in the short term and the old Congleton Borough Council Local Plan (CBCLP) is out of date. Cheshire East has published an Emerging Plan which is nearing completion. The CBCLP is out of date but certain policies have been formally saved and still apply.Mr Fisher, the Cheshire East Chief Planning officer made the point that Central Government has not made sufficient allowance for delays caused by the Central Government initiated complex process which created Cheshire East in the first place.Another cause of delay is the excessive amount of time he himself has to spend in planning appeals of this nature. This is typically 8 days per appeal with 5 in Alsager alone. ( all at ratepayers’ expense )
The Alsager Town Plan and Strategy should carry little weight, based on previous decisions and statements made by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. ( Eric Pickles). The Alsager Town Plan was developed through a consultation process and after considerable amendment to the draft plan following comments from Residents.  A number of Brownfield sites have been identified which will fulfill the Alsager housing Quota allocated by Cheshire East.This site does not conform with either the emerging Local Plan or the Town Plan.The Town Plan contains the expressed wishes of the Alsager Community generated through a democratic process and therefore it should be given significant weight irrespective of any previous decisions.
The number of 1,000 allocated to Alsager over the next 20 years and accepted in the Town Plan, is a number imposed by Cheshire East and it was not challenged by the Alsager Town Council. The Appellant argued that on that basis, the number could equally well have been 500 or 3,000. The allocation of housing to Alsager by Cheshire East  is justified by them as 4% of the overall housing total for Cheshire East.  During cross examination following his presentation, Councillor Hough of Alsager confirmed that this was a target set by Cheshire East and it was not challenged by him or the Stakeholder panel during the Alsager Town Strategy Process. He did not answer the question “why 1,000 ?”
There has been a persistent under-delivery of housing demonstrated by Cheshire East. Because of this, the housing numbers should be increased by 20% ( rather than the standard 5%- this is an NPPF rule ) to provide a buffer which will allow for delivery. In the first 5 years from 2003 until 2008, Cheshire East delivered. Since 2008, there has been a shortfall but this has been due to market conditions. This means that a 5% buffer should be applied and not 20% as under-delivery has not been persistent over the 10 year period.
Cheshire East do not have a 5 year supply of housing land as required by the NPPF. This was argued in great detail. There is a 6.9 year supply. Each point put up by the appellant was effectively countered.
Cheshire East can not deliver housing completions at the required rate and there is currently a back log that needs to be recovered. This should be recovered over the next 5 years. Cheshire East argue that the backlog should be delivered over the next 19 years, in which case it is feasible. Planning permissions have been granted, completions are a function of Developer capability and market conditions
Because Cheshire East is unable to demonstrate a 5 year supply, this proposal should be accepted This proposal is against key Cheshire East Policies, in particular intrusion into open countryside and it is not included in the Emerging Local Plan. Cheshire East can demonstrate a 5 year supply and therefore this proposal should be rejected.

 Cheshire East made the very strong point that both from the point of view of employment and infrastructure, Alsager itself is not a sustainable community.  In particular, Alsager as a Key Service Centre is operating below the minimum employment level for a Key Service Centre and the roads in the Town Centre are operating above maximum capacity.  On this basis, it was argued that any development beyond that stated in the Town Plan is unsustainable.  It does however beg the question “how can an additional 1,000 houses be justified if Alsager itself is unsustainable?”  

2 presentations were given by ARAG and 1 by Councillor Derek Longhurst, an ARAG supporter and resident.

 You can read Derek Bould’s ( ARAG President ) presentation here.

You can read Chas Howard’s ( ARAG Chairman ) presentation here.

You can read Derek Longhurst’s presentation here.

 On Thursday, we managed to get out from the appeal in Macclesfield and the Inspector carried out a site visit to Alsager. Two Alsager residents very kindly allowed the Inspector to view the site from their gardens and houses. The Inspector, Cheshire East Officers, Gladmans representatives, Chas Howard ( ARAG) and Councillor Derek Longhurst attended.

The Inspector was very thorough and couldn’t fail to have been impressed by some of the nicest land and views in Alsager on a glorious day.

The Inspector will make his recommendation in the coming weeks and the Secretary of State will then decide. Let’s hope that he makes the right decision for Alsager.

 If Alsager loses this appeal, it will be because of the NPPF, introduced by the current government and the same government’s unwillingness to halt building in inappropriate locations. Developers are taking the obvious advantage which exists because Cheshire East do not yet have a Local Plan in place. One of the main reasons for this is because of the re-organisation of Cheshire to form the complex Cheshire East unitary authority.

It was reassuring to hear that Cheshire East have recruited experienced planning officers onto a team of 15 to accelerate the Plan but the Window of opportunity for Developers will exist until a Local Plan  is in place with the protection it provides.

The Secretary of State is of course fully aware that this is the case but so far he has refused to help ( he could do if he was so minded) or confirm that weight should be given to our Town Plan ( Alsager residents expressed wishes.)

ARAG will continue to press for implementation of Alsager’s fundamental policy of Brownfield before Greenfield.