Dunnocksfold Road Appeal – 10/2/2014 – 13/2/2014
The Dunnocksfold Road appeal finished in Macclesfield on Thursday 13/2/2014. A site visit by the Inspector is still outstanding and will take place 11/3/2014 from 8.00am
ARAG officers attended, gave evidence and spoke on every day of the appeal. On the first day of the appeal, 6 Alsager Residents gave evidence as did Councillor Derek Hough, who attended for 2 hours.
Councillor Derek Longhurst attended and gave evidence on Wednesday and Thursday.
The Inspector allowed ARAG officers to contribute throughout the 3 days of the enquiry.
The 5 year Supply
The Strategic Planning Board (SPB) of Cheshire East ( CEC) recently resolved that CEC can now demonstrate a 5 year supply of housing land. A 5 year supply is very important to all appeals because the lack of a 5 year supply means that CEC policies must be considered out of date and in addition, there must be a “ presumption in favour of sustainable development”. The lack of a demonstrable 5 year supply isn’t a “green light for development” but it is a very weighty consideration.
CEC opened the appeal by stating that CEC now considers it can demonstrate a 5 year supply. Mr Timothy Straker QC, the barrister representing CE, apologised to the Inspector for the late introduction of this evidence. He also explained that Mr Adrian Fisher, the Strategic Planning Officer of Cheshire East, could not be present at the appeal as he was very busy working on the emerging CEC Local Plan (Submission Document), scheduled for approval by the Full Council on 28th February 2014. Mr Straker requested deferral of the appeal because Mr Fisher is the only officer with the specialist knowledge to justify the claim of a 5 year supply. This request was not accepted by the Inspector who asked which was more important, working on the appeal given that CEC had been given plenty of notice, or working on the Local Plan.
CEC compromised and made Mr Fisher available on the last morning of the appeal.
Mr Paul Tucker QC, the barrister for the developer, presented detailed arguments which in his view demonstrate that the claim of a 5 year supply is not justified. In fact he claimed that only 3.88 or 3.16 years can be demonstrated depending on the basis of the calculation. Although Mr Fisher was present throughout this debate, these claims were not substantially challenged because CEC had not submitted detailed evidence to justify the 5 year supply in a number of areas.
CEC’s ability to demonstrate a 5 year supply will clearly be challenged in future appeals.
It wasn’t clear whether or not the Inspector accepted Mr Tucker’s points but the lack of counter argument from CEC or detailed evidence to support the claim of a 5 year supply clearly weakens Cheshire East’s position.
Mr Tucker challenged the credibility of the Cheshire East Strategic Planning Board, in his closing statement. The following paragraphs are quotes from Mr Tucker’s Closing Statetement.
“5.2 In a moment of eloquence Cllr Hough drew the analogy of the 5 year land supply debate over the last 18 months in CEC as something of a pantomime. It is difficult to fault his analysis. From the evidence it is clear that this is a LPA ( local planning authority) which has viewed achieving a 5 year land supply as a means to resist politically unwelcome development proposals. Again Cllr Hough was eloquent in explaining that in order to achieve what is believed to be a 5 year land supply that his committee had been granting permission on poor sites in order to resist sites such as the appeal site.”
“5.3 The latest scene of the panto was played out last week when in the morning of the SPB’s consideration permission was resolved to be granted to Kingsley Fields on the basis that the LPA could not demonstrate a 5 year supply.and in the afternoon of the same day it resolved that it could. The LPA has now moved back into the mode of refusing permissions on the basis of the lack of a 5 year land supply. “
Taking the example of the Dunnocksfold Road planning applications and the appeal, Mr Tucker pointed out that CEC itself had undermined the Dunnocksfold Road appeal by considering a second application for the same site, not significantly different from the first. In the second case, CEC officers recommended approval, in contrast to the position which it was taking itself on the appeal. Furthermore, the SPB deferred any decision on the second Dunnocksfold Road application on the basis of insufficient information about the cumulative impact on highways.
Challenging CEC’s credibility once more, Mr Tucker pointed out that CEC has provided no evidence at the appeal to justify that stance. ARAG challenged this presumption and submitted evidence from its own Roads survey, which the Inspector will consider.
Mr Tucker further claimed that CEC had undermined its own position by granting planning permission to sites which by its own definition are in “open countryside”.
Reasons for refusal.
Even though objections from residents identified a wide range of reasons for refusal, only two reasons were given by CEC for refusal of the Dunnocksfold application:
intrusion into and changing the nature of open countryside
damage to and loss of an important hedgerow.
CEC’s own witness considered that the Hedgerow argument by itself did not have sufficient weight to justify a refusal. Mr Tucker argued that it isn’t damage, it is change. That only 30 m will be changed and replaced further back from the road.
The key point of disagreement is whether or not the CEC policies which protect open countryside are up to date or indeed sufficient reason to reject the proposal.
CEC did not challenge the appeal on Highway grounds and accepted the appellant’s proposition that 95 houses would only generate between 2 and 5 cars at peak times, which is clearly wrong.
ARAG submitted evidence to the contrary, which the Inspector will consider.
The appellant argued that the Dunnocksfold Road site is surrounded on 3 sides by housing and could therefore not be considered open countryside. This is clearly ridiculous, in fact, to the West is one farm and to the East there is a Sports Field and then one house. Although Mr Straker did a good job of defending this position on Wednesday, his position was undermined because the Cheshire East Planning Officer had replicated this argument directly from the appellant in his argument to support the second Dunnocksfold planning application. Mr Tucker of course pointed out that this was yet another inconsistency. The same situation applies to the point made by the appellant that there would be no harm to the nature of the surrounding countryside because the site is flat. This again, although clearly ridiculous, was not defended adequately because of the Planning Officers acceptance of the position. Cheshire plain countryside is generally flat of course but it is still our countryside.
It is to be hoped that the Inspector will form her own opinions during the site visit
The Macclesfield Appeal Environment
The Inspector as well as members of the audience complained about the poor conditions in the appeal. It was often impossible to hear what was being said and it was so cold that most people had to wear scarves and coats. This isn’t a planning point but it does reflect badly on our area and the hospitality we offer at appeals and to visiting Inspectors.
CEC now claims that it can demonstrate a 5 year supply. This claim will be considered in the Dunnocksfold Road Appeal as well as other appeals coming up.
It is difficult to understand why CEC would not have adequately tested this claim for robustness. If it has been tested, that evidence was not made available to the appeal.
The Secretary of State offered help in this area and it appears that help has not been accepted. The 5 year claim will once again be tested by appeal and considering Mr Tucker’s analysis, there are serious questions to be answered about the validity of the 5 year supply.
By its inconsistent behaviour and decision making the SPB and Cheshire East Planning Officers have undermined this appeal. Officers recommended approval of a second application when CEC was fighting an appeal against the first and no adequate evidence was provided for its deferral by the SPB.
Cllr Hough’s comments on the SPB and the “pantomime” surrounding its handling of the 5 year supply is a serious concern. Granting permission on sites in our area to achieve Cheshire East numbers appears to have taken place (Rhodes Field and Hall Drive), which is contrary to the rule that councillors must not consider planning applications with pre-conceived ideas. Cllr Hough is the Vice Chairman of the SPB and he has regularly stated in Town Council meetings that he is proud of the job it does. These comments served to undermine the credibility of that group which is charged with the responsibility of protecting our community through the production of the Local Plan.
CEC appeared to be badly prepared for this appeal. The leader of the Council said that CE would fight Dunnocksfold Road tooth and nail. In ARAG’s opinion, the CE response was weak and we were badly let down. Both the Inspector and the appellant’s barrister appeared to understand our frustration relating to the position we find ourselves in, regarding the absence of a Local Plan and the evidence which such a document primarily should contain. This was demonstrated throughout the 3 days of the enquiry by the latitude given to ARAG officers.
The outcome of this appeal remains to be decided and it may yet be the case that the Inspector gives weight to the response from our Community but we are seriously disadvantaged by the facts that CEC does not have a Local Plan, that its 5 year supply is still a matter of opinion which has not been tested and that the SPB is making inconsistent decisions which conflict with its own CEC policies.
Following ARAG objections that Alsager has been subjected to a deluge of planning applications and that this was a speculative application which would take Alsager towards a 50% growth in housing, the Inspector requested that Cheshire East provided a map showing all current Alsager planning proposals ( we have one on our home page ). It was embarrassing to realise that CEC delivered a map which did not show White Moss Quarry (1,000) , Sandbach Road North ( 160 ) under judicial review ) and Cardway Cartons (140)
What is particularly concerning to ARAG, having seen certain parts of the evidence provided by CEC and by using the example of the map to illustrate our point, is the veracity or accuracy of the information contained within the local plan. The justification of the claim that a 5 year supply of available housing land exists will depend on this evidence.
The appellant in this enquiry seemed to undermine the claim of C.E. with remarkable ease and demonstrated what appeared to be a coherent rebuttal which is clearly demonstrated in Mr Tucker’s final submission. He comfortably expects the Inspector to support the Appellant’s case and find in favour of the developer.
No indication was given on a decision timescale but an April date seems likely.