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Little Heath Inquiry: Day Two

9th May 2014 @ 6:06am – by Webteam
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Day two of the Inquiry into the Little Heath appeal by Gladman Developments to build up to 120 dwellings swung into action at 9.30am yesterday morning.

The venue had changed from the Carlsberg Suite on Day One to the older Alexandra Suite at Crewe's football stadium as the former was being used yesterday by the Blood Transfusion Service. Indeed, as cross-examination restarted of Adrian Fisher, Cheshire East's head of planning, Gladman's barrister John Barrett seemed to be trying to draw blood, drop by drop.

The whole process yesterday seemed peculiarly detached from Audlem in general and Little Heath in particular. With Cheshire East's Local Plan the focus, the village had just one mention during the day: a short discussion about the relevance of the Audlem Village Design Statement (it can be given due weight, whatever that means).

The result of the Inquiry clearly hinges on the view the Inspector takes on the Cheshire East Five-year Housing Delivery programme and most of the day was given over to the cross-examination and then re-examination of Mr Fisher.

The procedure is for a question to be asked, followed by a prolonged rustling of papers while all the parties find the relevant document and then a response followed by another paper-rustling while the answering document is found. It could well be a whole day out of the planned six that could be taken up by rustling.

To adopt cricketing parlance (it felt like the second day of a six-day match), the barrister for the appellants tested Mr Fisher with a prolonged barrage of tricky deliveries which he mostly played with a straight bat, just ducking inside a couple of nasty bouncers towards the end.

He had to defend his figures in four main areas:

  • the demand for new houses (and to what extent old figures based on plans dating back to 1993 can be used)
  • the supply of new homes
  • whether earlier failures to meet targets meant that a 20% uplift should be applied to the numbers
  • and lastly whether C2 households (students and elderly people in sheltered accommodation) should be counted or not.

The last point led to an interesting exchange of views about whether three students counted as two households. And if so, with what justification. Was there a written rationale anywhere at which point, with yet more extensive rustling, your correspondent started to wonder whether a well-filed computerised system might work much more efficiently, as well as saving numerous forests.

This, we are told, is Cheshire East's fourteenth Appeal Inquiry in recent months with ten more to come. Where all the paperwork will ever be stored could well be a new issue for the council to address in the near future.

Tomorrow, the Inquiry starts at 9.30am and Geoff Seddon of Audlem Parish Council may well be involved in the afternoon. The morning will include a statement from Stephen O'Brien MP and cross-examination of Cheshire East planner Ben Haywood.


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