The White Moss
The White Moss is a site between Alsager ( Close Lane ) and the M6 Motorway. A Quarry has been operational on the site for many years, extracting peat and sand. The area is beyond the Alsager town boundary in Haslington parish and opposite the link road which runs over the railway line through Radway and to the M6. Although the site is beyond the Town boundary and in Haslington Parish, any housing placed there would receive all services from Alsager and it would become an extension of Alsager, creating a large area of infill.
The quarrying operation on the site has a restoration order on it, which means that the site should be considered a Greenfield site, in its restored state. The original concept of the restored site is that it would provide leisure facilities for Alsager Residents, especially using the Lake for water based activities.
Despite strong objections from the Town Council, the MP , ARAG and residents, Cheshire East decided that it wanted to adopt the White Moss as a Strategic Location with a first phase of 350 houses. The White Moss Site was included in the Local Plan following an additional, so called, consultation process. The purpose of this consultation was to provide a vehicle for its inclusion. . Whereas all other sites in the Local Plan had been identified through the democratic process which developed the Alsager Town Strategy, the White Moss was imposed by Cheshire East with no local support.
The Developer associated with this site initially submitted a planning proposal for 1,000 houses ( application number 13/4132N view it here ) and some of the documents supporting that proposal even mentioned the possibility of 2,000 houses. Shortly before the proposal was due to be considered by Cheshire East’s Strategic Planning Board (SPB), the Developer modified the number of houses to 350, to be consistent with the Local Plan, which has now been submitted for inspection.
When the White Moss proposal was first considered by the SPB, the report produced by Cheshire East Planning Officer was heavily criticised as inadequate, inaccurate and misleading but a decision was deferred rather than a rejection. A new report ( the Report , see here page 13 onwards) was produced by Officers for the meeting of 20/8/2014, which still had a number of major inconsistencies, errors and clear bias, some of which are identified below but despite compelling reasons to reject the proposal, 8 Conservatives on the Board , having contributed nothing to the debate, voted to accept the proposal. This was a blatent political decision.
Members of the Board were pressured by Cheshire East Officers saying that to vote against this proposal would be to weaken the Local Plan. They also stated that any damage with might be caused by placing housing on the White Moss should be ignored because the most important thing ( to them ) is Cheshire East’s housing numbers.
Some of the main objections which were ignored are:
- Including this proposal, Alsager will now have 1,985 houses as opposed to the 1,000 in the Town Plan. Given that White Moss will be allowed to expand to at least 1,000 and 450 houses, rather than 300 can be expected on the MMU site, we can expect over 3,000 house in Alsager in the next 15 years. See analysis here.
- The national noise limits are significantly exceeded on the site with noise from the M6( the limit is 55 dB and 75 dB is regulary recorded, more than twice the volume of the national limit) , creating an acknowledged health risk. Building should not normally take place in such areas. This will become worse with the anticipated increase of traffic on the M6. From the Report, the Assessment of noise pollution demonstrated that ‘the site was unable to achieve this level [the World Health Organisation Guidelines] at a number of locations throughout the site.’ (page 40). It is alleged that the erection of an acoustic barrier along this stretch of the M6 scheduled to become four-lanes, allied to design layout, glazing and ventilation may have ‘the potential’ to meet the national and World Health Guidelines.
- Atmospheric pollution ( NO2 and particulate pollution ) from the motorway exceeds national limits and is a significant health risk. The Environmental Audit Committee report on Air Quality found that poor air quality is shortening the life expectancy of people in the UK by an average of seven to eight months and is costing society up to £20 billion per year. Locating people on the White Moss would be very dangerous for residents and in particular children living there. Cheshire East has a duty of care for its residents. The Report comments on ‘uncertainties’ regarding air quality issues owing to limited monitoring and modelling. In other words permission has been granted to a site that may well breach regulations and the Report also suggests that there is an underestimation of ‘future traffic growths’; nor has it taken account of other planned developments and road schemes (page 41): ‘The cumulative impact of a number of developments in the area around Alsager…has the potential to significantly increase traffic emissions and as such adversely affect local air quality for existing residents by virtue of additional road traffic emissions’. This directly contravenes one of the Strategic Priorities of the Local Plan. More seriously this demonstrates a lack of commitment to public health and well-being for the residents of Alsager both now and in the future where sections of the site are already ‘exposed to concentrations above the national nitrogen dioxide health based standard primarily due to emissions from the M6 motorway’. Can we afford complacency on this issue?
- The area is adjacent to a site of special scientific interest which could be damaged by draining the Oakhanger Moss and as a Moss, White Moss it is obviously subject to flooding.
- There are massive overhead cables and pylons over the site.
- The traffic generated together with traffic from Alsager’s significantly increased population will create serious problems over the railway junction and into Alsager.
- A High Pressure gas pipeline passes through the site.
- The site falls within the blast zone of the Radway armaments factory.
- The standard checklist to identify whether or not a site is sustainable shows that many of the basic facilities needed are beyond the defined limits. In other words, this site is not sustainable. In fact the Report (page 35) states ‘this site is unsustainable in terms of loss of open countryside and lack of economic benefits’
- The Report states ‘Accessibility is a key factor (emphasis added) of sustainability that can be measured’ (page 32)…’ The site fails against all but 3 of the criteria in the North West Sustainability Checklist, all but 2 of which are significant failures.’ The Report argues that there are other criteria in the NPPF which requires an integration of social, economic and environmental factors but the only criterion that is cited as being met is ‘ the need to provide people with places to live’. (page 34) In other words having failed to meet all other criteria regarding criteria for sustainable development in the NPPF, the site is to be approved because of the ‘benefits’ to the housing supply. This runs contrary even to the NPPF which talks of not making the environment worse for future generations. This constitutes the lowest common denominator of any definition of sustainable development or strategic planning.
- Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle under Lyme councils have both objected to this proposal and there is a duty to co-operate with neighbouring councils. The Report claims that Stoke and Newcastle Local Authorities objected to the Application for 1000 houses but have not done so in relation to the Application for 350 houses. Evidence that they have done so was registered at the SPB meeting.
- The Developers have made a fundamental error in assessing the landscape on the basis of the comparison with the existing quarry rather than with the legally-required restoration plan for the site. This is in direct contravention of the NPPF and results in an assessment which constitutes a serious underestimation of the impact on the landscape.
- The indicative design for the Application is described as ‘uniform and bland’, without ‘vision’, without ‘a sense of place’ or ‘identity’; it is an Application to plant a generic block-based housing estate in the middle of the countryside. ( Report page 43)
- The site has the capacity to generate methane gas and there may well be significant contamination linked to the quarry.( Report Page 44 )
- The site has attracted a number (20 was cited by the Chief Planning Officer) of Objections to the Local Plan which were to be heard by the Inspector during the Examination process. Steamrollering through this Outline Planning Application at this time by the SPB constitutes a blatant attempt to undermine this debate within the Examination process of the Local Plan.
- In the recent planning appeals, Cheshire East has argued successfully that Alsager itself is not sustainable as a Key Service Centre, it is an area of restraint to help with the Potteries regeneration, that the settlement Zone Lines must not be violated and that intrusion into and harm to the countryside is so significant that such development cannot be allowed. The White Moss is also an environmentally sensitive area. It is adjacent to a protected RAMSAR site, which would be threatened by this proposed development.
Accepting the White Moss proposal:
- Significantly increases Alsager’s housing allocation
- Violates Alsager’s Settlement Zone Lines
- Ignores the objections of neighbouring councils
- Intrudes into open countryside
- Damages the nature of the surrounding countryside
- Undermines the Local Plan examination process and ignores Local representations.
- Undermines future appeal arguments.
- Accepts a site which is admitted to be unsustainable
Passing this proposal violates many Cheshire East Policies and this inconsistency will be used against Cheshire East in forthcoming appeals.
This decision demonstrates the dreadful state of affairs around Local Planning. We have a very poor piece of legislation in the National Planning Framework ( NPPF) which was introduced by the current government. This document was drafted primarily by Developers and as could be expected, opens the door to uncontrolled development. Our Local Authority is unable to demonstrate to Planning Inspectors that a 5 year supply of housing exists and it does not have a Local Plan in place. The NPPF imposes a presumption in favour of development and in the absence of a 5 year supply or Local plan, there is no protection from Developers and government will not help. As well as failing to deliver a Local Plan, our Local Authority, unilaterally decided to ignore the Alsager Town Strategy and override all consultation by imposing the White Moss Site on our Community. Voting at the SPB, based on a flawed Officer’s Report which gives numerous compelling reasons to reject the proposal, was along party lines and members appeared to have made pre-determined decisions. It was a political vote which dumped yet more unwanted and unneeded housing on Alsager.
Before the SPB meeting on Wednesday 20/8/2014, Alsager was being punished with additional housing because Cheshire East did not have a Local Plan. It seems now that we are being punished because we have one. It is difficult to reconcile these events with the Leadership claim that Cheshire East is working to take Politics out of planning.