Friday, 8 November 2013

The Beatles, Soundness & Cheshire East

“I get by with a little help from my friends” sang The Beatles, which came to mind when contemplating the task of a LPA attempting to steer a Local Plan through an ocean of competing interests towards the island of soundness.
Two of the tests of soundness that a development plan is subjected to during examination are whether it is justified (the most appropriate strategy, when considered against the reasonable alternatives, based on proportionate evidence) and effective (the plan should be deliverable over its period).
Reasonable alternatives will include, firstly, the quantum of development directed to a particular settlement over the plan period (e.g. How much to this town? How much to that town) and, secondly, the best locations within those settlements to accommodate that development (e.g. How much to the north of the town? How much to the south?).
For every site that a LPA seeks to allocate and every landowner that stands to benefit from the process, there is likely to be at least one other site that will not be allocated and another landowner that will not benefit. The latter party is less likely to be aggrieved though, and therefore less likely to strongly object at an examination, if the preferred site is clearly better and clearly the result of robust selection process. Given the need for the plan (and therefore the sites allocated within it) to be deliverable, it is vital for an LPA to be able to count on the promoters of it’s preferred sites to support it’s position and assure an Inspector that they can and will be brought forward within the plan period.
By way of an example, let us return to the perfect storm brewing around the Cheshire East Local Plan. A Pre-Submission Draft has been published for consultation that includes a delivery  rate from strategic sites that a planning inspector recently called in question. In coming to this conclusion the inspector highlighted issues of evidence base and infrastructure requirements, both of which are material to the assessment of soundness. The inspector did not subject the strategic sites to a forensic analysis, but any such analysis would highlight that at least three strategic sites or broad areas for growth (the North and South Cheshire Growth Villages and the area north of Congleton that are cumulatively expected to deliver 3,500 homes by 2030) appear to be no further advanced than a red line on a location plan. For the Local Plan to be found sound it will require the owners of these areas to support the Council (itself the owner of the North Cheshire Growth Village) in demonstrating that the proposals are based upon both a credible site-selection process and that plans are in place for these homes to be delivered. The absence of such credibility will certainly be brought to the Council’s attention by those with non-preferred sites.

Given the above, it is perhaps possible to hypothesise that the soundness of a plan can by gauged at Pre-Submission stage by weighing the strength of feeling for and against it. It is inevitable that there some communities and some landowners will feel aggrieved, but when more parties are lining up to appear at an examination to object to a plan than support it, the alarm bells within the LPA and within the Planning Inspectorate should be beginning to ring. In the case of Cheshire East and the housing supply issues identified recently another Beatles song comes to mind… ‘Fixing A Hole’.


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