Stopping the housing speculators

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An AudlemOnline Chatbox message from Archimedes last Saturday said:

"I'll make a prediction. Gladman applies for outline planning. Cheshire East refuses. Gladman appeals. Gladman argues Cheshire East has no strategic housing plan (it doesn't) and offers to cut the housing density after their 'local consultation'. Cheshire East admits the strategic development plan is still in the draft stage (it really is) so the planning inspector has no legal option but to allow the appeal. Gladman gets planning for 60 new homes and Audlem gets a sewage problem for decades. Now then, who wants a bet?"

The original Archimedes was a very wise man who first laid down the principle that when a body is lowered into a bath, the phone rings. But this time it's not the phone: it's a very loud and persistent alarm bell.

The likes of Gladman, and probably other circling speculators out to make a quick buck by exploiting a planning loophole created by the actions (or inaction) of local and national government, need to be stopped now — and politicians at all levels need to act immediately.

Dereliction of duty

If inappropriate housing developments get passed simply because Cheshire East has yet to complete its local plan, that will be a serious and unforgivable dereliction of duty by government at all levels.

Local MP Stephen O'Brien, in an email published on AudlemOnline, suggested what could be a timely solution. He said about the reorganisation of local government in Cheshire: "The imposition of the two unitary Authorities.....means that we have lost at least 18 months, if not more of the time, needed to secure clear housing provision numbers to supersede those contained in the old Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS). Until the due process has produced the new numbers the Government will not accept that the RSS numbers be revoked."

Remove loophole

As Cheshire was reorganised by a national Act of Parliament, and as Cheshire East claim it was that reorganisation that has caused them not to have completed their strategic housing plan, surely the Secretary of State for Local Government, Eric Pickles, should rule that no major developments in Cheshire East are passed purely because of the exploitation of a legal technicality, i.e. a loophole.

People locally are not against development — the Audlem Parish Plans produced in 2005 and 2010 showed that — but it must be appropriate. For speculators to damage permanently local communities simply by exploiting loopholes is so inappropriate that politicians and officials at both local and national level should never be forgiven if they fail to act now and stop such nonsense.

Act now

Cheshire East Council should formally ask the Secretary of State to act now and, hopefully, our local councillors will ensure this happens. Stephen O'Brien MP should press Eric Pickles to act to create reasonable time for Cheshire East to complete its housing plan for the area's villages, including Audlem. Surely that should not take too long as Cheshire East has already had four years to complete that work.

In the meantime, run of the mill planning applications can be handled as normal: speculative, inappropriate, large-scale ones should be delayed and then judged on their proper merits when the housing plan is in place. Surely this is the sensible way to prevent potentially long-term housing disasters overtaking Cheshire's villages and changing them for ever for the wrong reasons.

Response

Cheshire East has responded to this article, saying: "Councillor David Brown, Cabinet member in charge of strategic communities, said: "This Council works vigorously to deter unplanned, unsustainable and unwelcome speculative developments. You only have to witness the high court action we have taken to appeal applications in Congleton and Sandbach to see how determined we are to stop them.

"We have made good progress in that we are now only a few months away from having a finalised Local Plan ready for submission which will provide a blueprint for areas which need our protection.

"We have said before that Cheshire East had to endure a particularly disruptive model of local government reorganisation (LGR) in that both the county and district councils were destroyed. So, unlike other areas where the county simply absorbed the districts, we had to start from scratch.

"Secondly, the three districts had made good progress with their own plans — but this had to be abandoned due to imposed LGR and, unfortunately, they had used different methodologies so much of the work had to be re-written.

"The task of preparing a completely new plan should not be underestimated — Cheshire East is one of the largests councils in the country with diverse and challenging issues. Many smaller councils who have not endured LGR still have no plan in place.

"The Council has identified a seven-year supply of housing land and so this provides 'breathing space' to allow the plan to be prepared. Cheshire East Council is fighting for the best interests of our communities here and that will not change."

Watching

We will watch with interest and AudlemOnline will report on progress, or lack of, at every stage of this unfortunate saga. With so much at stake, to be handbagged by opportunistic speculators would be a disgrace.


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