Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Housing Land Supply & The Cheshire East Plan

Three appeal decisions have been published, which are the first to interrogate land supply in Cheshire East since the publication in February of the updated SHLAA. The three are:
 
Middlewich Road & Abbey Road, Sandbach;
 
 
Sandbach Road North, Alsager; and
 
 
Congleton Road, Sandbach
 
 
The fact that two Inspectors have confirmed that the Council does not have a five year land supply will come as little surprise to those who expressed a degree of sceptism about the 7.1 year figure included in the SHLAA. The decisions come though at a critical point in the local plan process and so the implications are of major significance to planning and development in the Borough.

The housing requirement is currently 5750 for five years, based upon the old Regional Spatial Strategy figures (although it should be noted that the Council’s emerging housing requirement is higher than that of the former RSS). There is a backlog since 2003 of around 1750 dwellings, so a total requirement of 7500.

The two crucial questions are whether to apply a 5% or 20% buffer (as per paragraph 47 of the NPPF), and how long it should take to address the backlog. The Sedgefield approach is to backlogs is to deal with in the short term, i.e. over five years. The Liverpool approach is to deal with over the longer term, which is usually interpreted as over the plan period.
 
The Council tried to argue that a 5% buffer would be appropriate and that the backlog should be dealt with over a nine year period. This gives a requirement of around 7000.
 
The Inspector upheld the appellants’ arguments that a 20% buffer is appropriate and that the backlog should be dealt with over the five year period.

It was agreed at the Congleton Road Inquiry that the housing requirement has not been met for a number of years and, given the NPPF requirement to "boost significantly the supply of housing” (paragraph 47), the Congleton Road decision notes that that aim "would not be best served by being too relaxed about the need to recover the backlog". This gives the requirement of 9000.

On the supply front, the Council’s position is that it is 9367, with a 4000 contribution from proposed strategic sites. In HIMOR's Gresty Oaks submission an allowance of 1000 from strategic sites was proposed within a supply of 5500. The Congleton Road decision provides for an allowance of 3000 within a supply of 7000-7500..
 
So is there grounds, as the Leader of the Council has indicated, to continue to claim a 7000 requirement? The NPPF does not express a preference for either the Sedgefield or Liverpool methods, but a 20% buffer and the Sedgefield approach to backlogs is now pretty typical in cases like Cheshire East where there has been historic undersupply. Even if this point could be argued, the second question is whether the 7000 supply calculation is legitimate. The Congleton Road decision deliberately affords the Council ‘leeway’ here and does not subject each strategic site to the kind of ‘forensic’ analysis that HIMOR undertook as part of the Gresty Oaks submission.

In my humble opinion, if the current plan, based upon a SHLAA that two Inspectors have interrogated, is submitted for examination I can see no conclusion on five year supply different from those reached in these decisions. I am not a lawyer, but if I were a Cheshire East Council Tax-payer I would see little merit in Cllr Jones’ suggested legal challenge because, as is stated in the Congleton Road decision, 'the assessment of land supply is not an exact science' and it is hard to see how these decisions are illegal, irrational or procedurally improper, which are the accepted grounds for challenge. Even in the event though that the requirement was judged to be 7000 the current supply is unlikely to stand up to detailed scrutiny.
 
Importantly, either the submission of an unsound plan or a judicial review of these decisions would extend the current policy vacuum and so the only realistic option that I can see for the Council is the swift preparation of development plan that includes deliverable strategic sites.

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