Monday, 14 April 2014

The Cheshire East Local Plan. More twists and turns than a twisty turny thing.

There is an episode of Blackadder in which a very drunk Lord Melchett accuses Edmund of twisting and turning 'like a twisty turny thing.' 

What's this got to do with anything? Well I was trying to think of something with more twist and turns than the Cheshire East Local Plan and all I could think of was Lord Melchett.

The latest twist (or turn...) came on Friday, with the publication of the Elworth Hall Farm, Sandbach appeal decision, which is the first to consider the Housing Position Statement published by the Council in February. 

That statement claimed a 5.13 or 5.86 year supply depending upon whether or not a 5% or a 20% buffer is used. The Elworth Hall Farm inspector concludes only that the Council has not demonstrated a five year supply of deliverable housing sites, but the appellants in the case, Rowland Homes, claimed a 3.45 to 3.95 year supply.

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to have one land supply calculation (the 7.15 year supply included in the February 2012 SHLAA) dismissed by an inspector may be considered a misfortune, but to have a second calculation dismissed looks like carelessness.

Where now then for the Local Plan, the Submission version of which is currently subject to public consultation?

The NPPF states that Local Plans should be consistent with the principles and policies set out in the framework, which includes the need for to identify and update annually a supply of specific deliverable sites sufficient to provide five years worth of housing.

Notwithstanding though the cross in that box, more fundamentally, the NPPF also requires plans to be 'justified', which means that they include the most appropriate strategy when considered against reasonable alternatives and based on proportionate evidence. A key part of the evidence base is the SHLAA, which needs to establish realistic assumptions about the availability, suitability and the likely economic viability of land. Given the Elworth Hall Farm inspector's comments about lead in times, build rates and "a distinct lack of credible hard evidence to justify the projections for some (strategic) sites"  there must a significant doubt that the Local Plan is 'effective' or deliverable. 

It is understood that the leader of the Council has expressed a desire to 'battle on, check our figures and continue to fight', and given that previous opportunities to reappraise the Local Plan have not been taken it seems safe to assume that it will be submitted at the earliest opportunity. Can it be found sound though in it's present form? There are surely more twists and turns to come...