IMPORTANT: Alsager and the Cheshire East Local Plan Consultation

Alsager and Cheshire East Local Plan Consultation

This post is very important for Alsager residents. Please support our Community and do what you can to ensure that everyone in Alsager understands the threats we now face.

 Cheshire East is about to start another round of consultation on its Local Plan. This will start around 4/11/2013 and will last for 6 weeks. We will post further details when it has started.

 On Friday 1/11/2013, a Cheshire East Cabinet Member for Communities Meeting was held to discuss and accept the latest site allocations and in particular the new strategic sites and locations. This new document from Cheshire East’s planning department includes the White Moss as a Strategic Location for 750 new dwellings in addition to Alsager’s allocation. It also changes some important features of the original Local Plan outline for ‘mixed use’ of the MMU site.

 Please support our efforts in the coming weeks to make it clear to the Planning Authorities and our elected representatives that Alsager does not want the unjustifiable and unwarranted levels of housing now being proposed.

 Cheshire East is increasing the housing allocations because it feels it must demonstrate a particular level of 5 year housing supply across the whole of the Borough. It bears no relationship to our needs in Alsager.

 This proposal has been instigated by Cheshire East alone.

 This new proposal further makes an absolute mockery of the Town Planning Process and any suggestion of Localism. These imposed proposals will at least double Alsager’s housing allocation, they will open the door to many more speculative developments and also undermine the aspiration for Education and Mixed Use provision on the MMU site, for which so many residents have now stated their support.

 If these proposals are accepted in the coming weeks, we can expect in excess of 3,000 new houses in Alsager with little improvement to our infrastructure.

 Strong representations were made against the inclusion of White Moss as a strategic location for housing development in the Local Plan by Chas Howard for ARAG you can read the ARAG letter here and its summary here. Councillor Hough also spoke against the inclusion of White Moss.

 Councillor David Brown, the Deputy Leader of Cheshire East said in the meeting that “some tough decisions have to be made”. We would suggest that making a decision like this is easy compared with the damage it will do to Alsager and the Alsager Community. We have to let Cheshire East know very clearly that Alsager does not want this level of development under any circumstances.

A Planning proposal has already been submitted for 1000 houses at the White Moss and by consulting on new Strategic Locations, Cheshire East will automatically give the application additional support because the developer will be able to argue that it is simply conforming with Cheshire East’s Pre-Submission Local Plan.

As a Community therefore, we are faced with two separate issues, the Pre-Submission Local Plan, together with its implications for Alsager and the White Moss planning application.

 The Pre-Submission Local Plan.

 There are two significant issues in this document which will have a serious impact on Alsager.

 White Moss

 Cheshire East propose the White Moss as a Strategic Location.

  • Part of this location is the subject of the Ombudsman’s report, which found several areas of maladministration. The final outcome is yet to be decided.
  • The Inspector from the Sandbach Road North appeal found that Alsager is an area of restraint, to support regeneration of the Potteries and the wishes of neighbouring Authorities. 1,000 houses on the White Moss demonstrates no restraint, quite the opposite in fact
  • If Cheshire East adopt this site as a strategic location, it will demonstrate tremendous inconsistency and be in conflict with the arguments which defended Sandbach Road North. It will also undermine any subsequent appeal.
  • The White Moss Quarry is subject to a detailed Restoration Plan, a legal agreement which cannot simply be swept under the carpet.
  • Planning conditions have not been enforced over the years and conditions have been changed with no consultation. Adopting this location would absolve the Quarry Operator of these issues and responsibilities and actively support the recently submitted planning proposal for White Moss development.

ARAG is against development in this area, primarily because it will double Alsager’s housing allocation, it is inconsistent with a number of Cheshire East Policies, it completely undermines the successful arguments against Greenfield development in Alsager and it will open the door to over 3,000 additional houses. The Town Council has also clearly stated that it is against including this location. There are a number of detailed planning objections to this Location which will be published on this site in the near future.

 MMU

There are two significant changes to the original draft Local Plan outline for potential development of ‘mixed use’ of the former MMU site. Residents will be aware that ARAG has been working on proposals for the inclusion of a University Technical College on this site. In recent weeks we have been able to report significant progress in our discussions with not only the University but also with major global employers in the region and with a range of medium sized engineering companies in support of the UTC proposal. Furthermore, we now have more than 3,000 supporters for this proposal in Alsager. We pointed out that this was an appropriate development in relation to the draft Local Plan which stated that the mixed use of the site could include:

 On site provision, or where appropriate, relevant contributions towards transport and highways, education, health, open space and community facilities’. (Emphasis added)

We know that the leaders of Cheshire East Council were aware of the significant progress that ARAG has made in recent months towards the realisation of a UTC on this site, and so we note with interest that this sentence has now been removed from the Local Plan proposal for the former MMU site. We will leave residents to draw their own conclusions and to ask: Who was involved in the process to remove this reference to the potential for on site educational provision?

 The second excision from the draft Local Plan’s description of the MMU site seems to be a generally consistent removal of reference to the Council’s policy on affordable homes.. The delivery of homes in the original is outlined as:

 Including 30% of new homes to be ‘housing to meet local needs’, in line with Policy SC4 in the Emerging Policy Principles document.’This policy is entirely focused upon the provision of affordable homes for local people and there is now no mention of any such requirement in relation to the MMU site. 

We will seek to ascertain whether all Development sites remain subject to the policy for the provision of 30% affordable homes. We do note, however, that there is much slippage in the implementation of this policy following viability assessments – not available to the public – regarding the levels of the Developer’s profit margins.

What is now proposed for the MMU site is:

  • 175 homes expected during the early part of the plan period (2015-2020)
  • 175 homes expected during the middle part of the plan period (2020-2025)

 This constitutes a reduction of 50 houses from the original Cheshire East draft document although 50 more than was identified in the Congleton Borough Development Brief which set a maximum of 300 for the site.

 With reference to the sports facilities (buildings as well as pitches) the vagueness continues in that the original draft Local Plan’s ‘Creation of a Sports and Leisure Hub’ has now become ‘Creation of a wider sports and leisure hub, linked to the adjacent Cheshire East Council leisure centre facilities’ (Emphasis added) which may serve to indicate that we are, in fact, no further forward on this key issue.

 Finally, residents in Hassall Road, Church Road, Lodge Road, Close Lane and Dunnocksfold Road will be interested to know that the Council provides a ‘justification’ for its proposals on this site as follows:

 

    1. Situated adjacent to the corner of the existing settlement, the site presents an excellent opportunity to contribute to housing stock in the area, whilst retaining and enhancing important leisure facilities, forming a wider leisure hub linked to the adjacent school and Cheshire East Council leisure centre.

 The Strategic Priorities are said to be:

 

  • To create Sustainable Communities
  • To reduce the need to travel

 It is hard to take this seriously because Cheshire East Council has already accepted, in legal testimony, that Alsager is ‘unsustainable’ as a Key Service Centre and that its Housing Policy for this community is set to increase outward-commuting as registered in the recent Inspectorates Report on Sandbach Road North. There is no mention, then, of the issues around road infrastructure in this part of Alsager, nor the increase in congestion and carbon emissions that this Development and others will inevitably generate.

 We might also comment that the justification for the Council’s proposals includes ‘Nurturing Strong Communities’ Residents can decide for themselves whether its elected members are listening to them or representing the interests of this community in the decision-making around the Local Plan process

 The White Moss Planning Application.

 The White Moss planning application 13/4132N can be viewed here. We will post suggested objections on the web site in the next few days. The documents referred to above give some background but the key points are:

 

  • The White Moss Quarry is covered by a restoration plan, a legal agreement, which would create a Nature Reserve and recreational amenities. This plan should be implemented and not ignored for the sake of unwanted and unnecessary housing.

 

  • The White Moss itself is environmentally important and it is close to a RAMSAR site see here for details. 

 

  • Development on the White Moss will conflict with a number of Cheshire East policies, e.g. employment, minerals, intrusion into and harm to open countryside, air quality, noise, ( from the M6). More details will be supplied in the near future.

 

  • Alsager is an area of restraint to support the regeneration of the Potteries and this was one of the main reasons for rejecting the Sandbach Road North proposal. Building on the White Moss demonstrates no restraint.

 

  • Intrusion into and harm to the open countryside was the main reason for rejection of the Sandbach Road North appeal, this proposal would destroy any possibility of the planned  Nature Reserve and it would create natural infill areas which would destroy even more Greenfields.

 

  • By violating its own policies in so many ways, Cheshire East will undermine its own carefully developed arguments to fight off speculative developments, which were used in the recent round of development appeals. We see this as an abdication of responsibility and giving up on Alsager