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News  »  Chairman makes a statement on the Local Plan

   Chairman makes a statement on the Local Plan     December 10, 2015

Wilmslow Town Council has been fully engaged with the process of the emerging Cheshire East Local Plan since its first stages back in 2012.

At that time the Town Council assisted Cheshire East Council in helping to facilitate a local consultation on potential development sites in Wilmslow over the next 25 to 30 years. The Town Council’s role in this process was misinterpreted by many who felt that as The Town Council were helping to facilitate the consultation they must be in full agreement with the development of  sites identified by Cheshire East, this was most certainly not the case as demonstrated by the Town Council’s own response to the consultation. It is a matter of record that Wilmslow Town Council has regularly challenged Cheshire East on the proposed development of sites situated in the Green Belt, and those it has considered unsuitable for development.

 Cllr Keith Purdom, Chairman Wilmslow Town Council

The process led by Cheshire East achieved the predictable response of those who responded of saying NO to all green belt housing development for housing as indeed did Wilmslow Town Council. There was also considerable confusion that the sites identified by CEC were recommended for development by CEC whereas our understanding was that these were the available sites from which CEC wanted to select specific sites for housing and this has proved to be the case.

Wilmslow Town Council has, from the early days of this process, opposed the development of the Green Belt for housing, has argued for a brownfield first policy approach and has supported commercial Green Belt development only on a site (Royal London) that it felt had sustainable links with the town centre, was screened effectively from many directions and would encourage the largest employer in the town to prosper and potentially expand.

The Town Council has, over the period of the Local Plan process, made it very clear to Cheshire East Council that it did not support the entire package of development sites presented to the Local Plan Inspector in late 2014. Whilst adopting this view Wilmslow Town Council did feel that a total of 400 new houses during the plan period was not unreasonable as this had been reduced from an earlier number of 1500 thanks to the arguments put forward by both the Town Council in numerous meetings with the Leader of Cheshire East Council and senior officials and by Wilmslow lobby groups. This view on 400 homes took in to consideration the number of houses already built since 2010 and the housing numbers that would result from the large Adlington Road site that did not have Green Belt protection.

The Town Council recognises that the Cheshire East Local Plan is a necessary document and that it needs to pass independent inspection before it can be adopted. The Town Council read with great interest the initial views of the appointed Local Plan inspector when they were published in the Autumn of 2014. What has to be understood is that these views only related to the aspects of the Local Plan that he had examined at that time and that only related to the Cheshire East wide strategic elements. The most significant aspects as far as Wilmslow was concerned was that he believed that the economic forecast for Cheshire East as a whole had been overly pessimistic and that the overall housing numbers which had been calculated from this forecast were therefore too low. The unmistakeable conclusion from this was that overall housing numbers would need to be increased if the Inspector could be expected to accept the Plan. The other significant view for Wilmslow was that the Inspector felt that the distribution of housing numbers between the south of the Borough and the northern towns (including Wilmslow) did not reflect economic growth projections and that a proportionately higher percentage of houses would need to be introduced to these northern towns.

Cheshire East Council subsequently had the option to make amendments to these strategic elements of the Local Plan by the summer of 2015 or to start the entire process again.

Having decided to make alterations to the initial Local Plan submission Cheshire East Council worked to address each of the points made in the Local Plan Inspectors report. Wilmslow Town Council at this time shared the frustration of many other Town and Parish Councils and formally wrote to the Inspector to record its dissatisfaction at the consultation process.

Wilmslow Town Council has always taken the view that Cheshire East Council has a very challenging task to deliver a Local Plan that will both fulfil inevitable housing needs and yet protect green belt space that is so valued by all of us residents

Clearly the revised housing numbers for Wilmslow ( now 900) put forward by Cheshire East Council to the inspector over the past few months represents a significant uplift and, if the Inspector has been convinced that the Strategic elements of the Plan are now sound, these numbers will present a significant challenge and will it seems inevitably mean  incursion in to areas of green belt.

There has been a degree of concern expressed by a small number of Wilmslow residents in the press that Wilmslow Town Council has not attended the recent hearings held by the Inspector. I would reiterate that these hearings were not focussed on Wilmslow specific issues but about Cheshire East wide economic projections, Cheshire East wide resultant housing numbers, the Cheshire wide 5 year supply, the technical process for selection of potential green belt sites ( not the selection its self) and the general distribution of homes throughout the Borough. The Town Council’s appointed group, that are engaged in this process, believe that arguing against Cheshire East wide issues when the Inspector has already steered Cheshire East Council was an unnecessary distraction believing that getting the best outcome for Wilmslow in terms of influencing site allocations was a more productive approach.

Members of Wilmslow Town Council met again with Cheshire East Council several weeks ago when discussion centred on how the Local Plan would progress if the Inspector agrees to continue the process when he makes his statement later this month.

The Town Council were advised of the technical strategy for identifying possible development sites and were advised of the new strategic sites identified for possible development in Wilmslow. The sites identified at Staneylands, off Dean Row Road and an enlarged site off Upcast Lane had been made public by Cheshire East some weeks earlier.

 The members present made clear what they believed to be the most significant local concerns to the addition sites. It was made clear that the additional sites and the originally identified sites in the  Local Plan would be consulted on again by Cheshire East Council in early 2016, should the Inspector accept the overall strategy.

Wilmslow Town Council made it clear that it favoured a Neighbourhood  Plan to allow residents the opportunity to determine development sites however should the Local Plan proceed in the timescale anticipated by Cheshire East Council this aspect of the Neighbourhood Plan may not be possible. As a result the Town Council advised Cheshire East Council that it would do all it could to ensure that Wilmslow residents were encouraged to respond in large numbers to the site allocation consultation in early 2016 and has subsequently allocated budget funding to do so. At this time to Town Council will be encouraging Wilmslow residents to advise Cheshire East Council of their preferred ( least worst) development sites.

Rest assured that Wilmslow Town Council is in principle opposed to building on the Green Belt and if it is possible to meet the requirements of the local plan by building solely on existing brown field sites this is the preferred option.  However we will certainly face pressure from Cheshire East to develop some part of the Green Belt to meet the target of 900 houses required by the Inspector.  The council will seek to represent the views of the majority of local residents, and  will do everything in its powers to encourage site selection at a local level and not at Cheshire East Council level. 

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