In recent months, the subject of Neighbourhood Plans has been promoted by Central Government and Cheshire East as the best way for communities to engage with the Planning System. It has even been suggested at a recent Town Council meeting that a Neighbourhood Plan can offer Communities protection from unwanted housing development.
This website now contains a page on Neighbourhood plans, the background to them and ARAG’s position, which you can view here.
In Summary, ARAG considers that a Neighbourhood Plan will now not benefit Alsager. It must be consistent with the adopted Local Plan and as it can only influence where development identified in the Local Plan should take place and its nature, there is no benefit. In fact the Town Strategy process and Alsager’s current predicament demonstrates that identifying alternative sites simply invites developers to target both the original and the alternative sites.
When the Alsager Town Council first engaged with the Town Planning process in 2011, ARAG held the view that a Neighbourhood Plan would have been a much more appropriate and useful way of expending time and money. It would have determined where development could take place in Alsager, it would have been consistent with the Local Plan and it would have carried significant weight in all subsequent planning decisions. This assumed however that a Local Plan would have been produced and adopted by Cheshire East in a reasonable timeframe, perhaps 2 years, to meet Central Government deadlines, rather than the reality which will be 4-5 years. It is very difficult to understand how an Authority can go from a position where an approved Local plan was in place, The Congleton Borough Local Plan, to one where a Local Plan and 5 year supply of housing doesn’t exist and will take 4-5 years.
The impact of Cheshire East’s failure to deliver a Local Plan or to demonstrate a 5 year supply of housing and the fact that the Alsager Town Strategy carries no weight in the planning process has been that every single planning application, no matter how inappropriate, has been passed either by Cheshire East or at appeal.
Cheshire East, without any justification, imposed a housing target of 1,000 on Alsager. This number has now grown to 1,985 and it could easily grow beyond 2,500 before a Local Plan is in place. This represents a growth of more than 50% and these permissions have been granted in the first 2 years of the 20 year plan. You can view an analysis of Alsager’s housing planning permissions here.
In ARAG’s view, we have missed the opportunity to benefit from a Neighbourhood Plan. The only protection we will get is from the Local Plan, which will not be adopted and in place for some significant time yet. The average time from submission to adoption is 2 years and the Cheshire East Local Plan was submitted in May 2014.
At the Town Council Meeting of 02/09/2014, and in the local press, despite a previous unanimous Council decision not to start a Neighbourhood Plan, Councillor Hough claimed that:
A Neighbourhood Plan could be produced in 6 weeks.
A Neighbourhood Plan could conflict with a Local Plan to Alsager’s benefit and there is Case evidence to demonstrate that.
A Neighbourhood Plan was important to protect Alsager.
A Neighbourhood Plan would not be expensive to produce.
Funding would be available from Central Government to help with the cost of producing a Neighbourhood Plan.
We would make these points:
- So far, nationally, only 13 Neighbourhood Plans have been adopted. The typical elapsed time from start to adoption is 2 years and this is when a Local plan is in place.
A Neighbourhood Plan must be approved by the Local Authority and it must be consistent with the Local Plan. If there is case law on this subject which demonstrates otherwise, where is it?
All of the sites identified in the submitted Cheshire East Local Plan are either committed or now have planning permission. The failure to deliver a Local Plan has also facilitated the granting of planning permission on a number of inappropriate and unplanned sites. A Neighbourhood Plan offers no protection, it is too late. It can only identify additional sites.
Independent planning advice suggests that the minimum cost to develop a Neighbourhood Plan of adequate quality, would be in excess of £50k.
Central Government funding for Neighbourhood Plans was suspended in mid-August, until April 2015 at the earliest.
The National Planning Policy Framework ( NPPF ) was introduced by the current government in March 2012. It was drafted by a committee dominated by Developers and Planning Consultants and it deliberately gives priority to housing development over the wishes of Communities. It is in fact a charter for development which allows normal planning processes and Local Decision making to be ignored. Neighbourhood Plans were introduced by the Localism Act ( 2011 ). Although the stated intention is to allow Communities to engage with the Planning process, Neighbourhood Plans must comply with Local Plans and by definition with the NPPF. Following a local referendum, they must be approved by both Local Authorities and the Planning Inspectorate. The NPPF and related Central Government decision making and influence means that inappropriate development has and will take place, whether Communities object or not.
Cheshire East’s failure to deliver a Local Plan of course worsens this situation.
In our view, engaging with the Neighbourhood Planning Process is a distraction from the impact of this poor piece of legislation and the failure to deliver a Local Plan, which is encouraged by Central and Local Government.