The Last Post
A small group of people in ARAG has been working very hard over the last 2 years.
We have done our best to keep the Community informed about planning issues,
- We have consistently promoted the views of our members,
- We have worked hard to develop opportunities and to bring education and employment to Alsager,
- We have attended and made representations at 53 days of appeals and relevant Strategic Planning Board Meetings (SPB),
- We have fought planning applications and Cheshire East decisions which will damage our Community.
All activities have been funded from within that small group with the exception of a couple of specific projects like the Traffic Survey for example.
ARAG is sad to announce that it will stop its current activities and close down the website by Christmas. There will be some posts before then but apart from some tidying up “that’s all folks”.
Much of what has happened in our area, over the last 2 years, has been driven by politics. Common sense, principled positions and reasoned arguments have been ignored. As a consequence, the planning system in Cheshire East has completely failed and Developers now determine which housing will go where. In Alsager we will get at least 2,500 houses in the next 17 years, which represents a growth of at least 45%, with no infrastructure improvement.
ARAG is not a political organisation and will not become one.
We have been informed, by our MP (Fiona Bruce), that ARAG has been blocked politically from delivering employment and a UTC to Alsager by the leader of Cheshire East. Representations at all levels have been routinely ignored, as have ARAG’s offers of help and co-operation to the Town Council.
A number of our 1,500 members have been very supportive but it is apparent that ARAG has almost always been alone in attending 53 of the 57 days of appeal and most of the relevant Strategic Planning Board Meetings. The exception to this is Councillor Derek Longhurst who has attended and given evidence at more appeals and SPB meetings than the whole of the Town Council put together. These appeals and SPB sessions cover sites all over Alsager. Having put in these hours, ARAG is now very well informed but the experience has also illustrated the futility of these sessions. It has become clear that without an adopted Local Plan and consistent decisions from Cheshire East (SPB) we can’t win. The system, through the government’s biassed NPPF legislation, is stacked massively in favour of Developers and the situation is made impossible by Cheshire East’s failure to deliver a Local Plan and demonstrate a 5 year housing supply. This was clearly illustrated at the recent Sandbach Road North appeal. Cheshire East, because of its inability to demonstrate a 5 year supply and its regular inconsistent decision making, has no defence.
This latest 9 day appeal has been a “game changer”. The barrister representing the Developer, Mr. Barrett, used the recent findings of the Local Plan examination to address the impact of new housing upon Alsager as a key service centre. As a consequence, he addressed the need to change our settlement zone boundary to facilitate yet more housing. As usual, ARAG representatives throughout the course of the appeal, spent their time alone with the exception of councillor Derek Longhurst. None of those aspiring to become our new Cheshire East Councillors have spent time at any of the appeals in order to listen to two leading Barristers giving their learned views upon these subjects. The least we, as residents, should expect is that important decisions, which will affect the future of Alsager, should be made on an informed basis. The totally contradictory messages emanating from Cheshire East’s Strategic Planning Board were, yet again, used to undermine Alsager’s position.
The outcome of this appeal ( this appeal is a rerun, the previous decision having been overruled at judicial review ) will not be known until mid-February. The decision depends on the weight given by the Inspector to the previous Inspector’s decision and the evidence presented by Alderman Derek Bould and Councillor Derek Longhurst on Landscape and housing numbers. These two pieces of evidence and analysis evidence provided by ARAG featured significantly throughout the appeal.
Why are our CE councillors still in office and shouldn’t they, along with Michael Jones, do the decent thing and own up to the fact that they have totally failed us and continue to do so?
A few individuals have said that we were not elected, and we don’t represent the Community. This 2 year exercise was brought about because of serious concerns around our elected representatives and their obvious inability to protect our Community from Developers. These same people are now proposing alternatives and claiming that this time it will work. We can report that many of our members are very concerned about the likely outcome.
Having already spent over £3.5m + appeal costs on the failed Local Plan and several other millions on appeals, Michael Jones, supported by our Cheshire East Councillors is now promoting Neighbourhood Plans, trying to sell the concept that where Cheshire East has failed, instead, Neighbourhoods will be able to defend themselves from Developers. This will of course take a long time ( 2 years?), be very expensive ( £60k+? 14 already underway in Cheshire East ) and in the meantime, there will be no protection from Developers either through a 5 year supply or a Local Plan. As Neighbourhood Plans come on line, Developers will simply switch the spotlight from Local Plans and deploy their huge resources onto Neighbourhood Plans. Neighbourhood Plans have not as yet been tested through appeals or judicial review. They certainly will be.
Michael Jones, has recently said that “Neighbourhood Plans will allow Communities to decide how much, what type and where new development will take place”. In the light of our experience, we wondered if this is a joke. Developers and their Barristers will determine these things and 14 Neighbourhood plans do not make a Local Plan. Cheshire East, we assume will continue to dump more housing allocation onto Alsager.
For many of the 26 years of its existence, ARAG had excellent working relationships with Congleton Borough council and Cheshire County Council. Under the current climate it has been totally demoralising and fruitless.
For these reasons, ARAG will cease its current activities and close down our website by Christmas. There will be some posts before then but, apart from your ARAG team wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, “that’s all folks”.
We would like to thank everyone for their contributions, their enthusiasm and support.
ARAG was formed 26 years ago by Rafe Wakelin and the original members including Derek Bould, Miles Palmer, Derek Gammage and Brian Hollinshead. Two of these founder members, Brian Hollinshead and Derek Gammage, made major contributions but are sadly no longer with us.
Derek Fulluck, a Local businessman, worked very hard and very effectively to deliver business support for ARAG’s UTC proposal.
Ian White and Margaret Wakelin have made significant background contributions. Miles Palmer, Chris and Robin Peake and Jonathan Weatherby have all made contributions to running ARAG.
The Independent Town Councillor Prof Derek Longhurst made significant contributions and in particular, helped with research and connections with the world of education.
Our members have made regular contact and their encouragement and support has been very valuable.
Thanks to you all.
Derek Bould, Rafe Wakelin, Chas Howard