Prestbury Parish Council & Planning
Prestbury Parish Council is not unusual in giving the priority it does to planning issues. For most Local (Town and Parish) Councils, planning is the major ongoing topic of concern – both development planning and spatial planning.
Local Councils are statutory consultees on planning matters but they are not the deciding body, the principal authority is. Local Councils can only represent the views of their residents, give their opinions based on local experience and planning knowledge and make recommendations. (They can also appear at planning appeals and examinations in public). In the case of Prestbury Parish Council, its comments on planning applications are directed to one of the following: (1) a planning officer delegated to deal with an application, (2) to the Northern Planning Committee of Cheshire East Council (CEC) or (3) to CEC’s Strategic Planning Board. None of these decision-makers are obliged to accept the Parish Council’s recommendations, but they are obliged to take them into consideration.
The Local Plan, which is the long term planning document that governs land designations, takes years in the making and is handled by a specialist principal authority spatial planning team backed by consultants. It has to go through a number of statutory stages and consultations. Once adopted, it determines what type of development (residential, commercial, employment, sport, leisure) will be allowed where and which areas are not to be built on. Some Local Plans include policies on minerals and waste, but Cheshire East Council is preparing a separate minerals and waste plan.
Particularly large and/or controversial planning applications and spatial planning issues around the Cheshire East Local Plan tend to be considered by the whole Parish Council but most planning applications and matters relating to change of use, tree preservation orders and liquor and entertainment licenses are normally dealt with by the Parish Council’s Planning Committee. This meets every three weeks and has delegated authority to speak on behalf of the full council. The meeting dates, minutes and agendas of the Planning Committee are available on this website under ‘Documents, Minutes and Agendas’. Members of the public are entitled to attend and speak at meetings of the Parish Council’s Planning Committee, just as they can with the full Council. Ideally, however, they are asked to notify the Clerk in advance of their intention to attend.
Prestbury’s stance in relation to planning has always been to be protective of
- its listed buildings and its buildings of special local interest
- its conservation areas (it has two – the village centre and Butley Town)
- the Green Belt (well over 80% of residents supported this approach in the Village Design Statement (VDS) survey and in the Parish Plan survey) and
- existing densities in the various parts of the parish – as identified in the VDS.
The design and masse of new properties, including rebuilds, and of extensions are also of major importance to the Parish Council as are impacts on landscape, the environment and neighbours. We also concern ourselves with transport planning issues and with rights of way although, here again, we are not the responsible body.
The Cheshire East Local Plan
Prestbury Parish Council believes it is vitally important to fully engage with the evolution of the Local Plan because how land is utilised and where infrastructure is located affects everyone. It has taken part in all consultations and hearings on the Plan since CEC came into being in 2009.
CEC decided to produce its Local Plan for the period 2010 to 2030 in two stages. Part 1, the Local Plan Strategy (LPS), was adopted in July 2017 following two examinations in public. (Prestbury Parish Council was represented at both). The LPS dealt with the major over-arching strategies and policies and with strategic sites. No strategic sites were allotted to Prestbury.
Part 2, the Site Allocations and Development Policies Document (SADPD), has had two iterations and reached its final stages in late 2021. This document deals with the designation of smaller sites and issues such as housing density and design and it has a focus on Local Service Centres, of which Prestbury is one. There are 13 Local Service Centres (LSCs) in Cheshire East and they are required by the LPS to supply a minimum of 3,500 houses between them during the plan period.
There is no proposal in the revised publication version of the SADPD for there to be any new, designated, housing sites in Prestbury before 2030, but there is a proposal to remove two wedges of land from the Green Belt to accommodate two small housing site allocations after 2030, ie. during the period of the next Local Plan. Such parcels are referred to as ‘Safeguarded land’. These are not safeguarded from development, they are safeguarded for development.
One proposed future residential site, PRE 2, occupies nearly two acres of land to the south of Prestbury Lane. The other, PRE 3, occupies about two and a half acres of land between the west side of Heybridge Lane (part of the A538) and the West Coast main railway line. The Parish Council objected to both based on a number of arguments. The principal ones have been:
- The housing figures were not justifiable as predicted growth levels for jobs, the economy and the population were not materializing. Figures should be adjusted downwards.
- The National Planning Policy Framework requires a ‘special circumstances’ case to be proven before Green Belt is sequestered. This has not happened for Prestbury’s Green Belt parcels, both of which received high ratings when originally surveyed by consultants Arup for CEC. (CEC subsequently – and inexplicably – downgraded the ratings for both).
- Despite the fact that the Local Plan period had nine years to run, the housing quantum for CEC in the Local Plan Strategy (35,000) had already been exceeded by 7,000, ie. the units had already been built, were being built or had been given planning permission.
- As of Spring 2021, the 13 LSCs had almost reached their housing requirement of 3,500 units. Based on past performance, the 307 left to supply would easily be delivered by 2030 by windfall sites. Hence, there was no need for further specific land allocations.
Prestbury's Participation In The Most Recent Local Plan Hearings
The hearings/examination in public on the SADPD took place virtually between October 12th and November 5th 2021 before the planning inspector Mike Hayden who will subsequently make recommendations to the secretary of state as to whether the Plan should be adopted or not.
Prestbury Parish Council appeared at more hearing sessions in the recent examination in public into the SADPD than any other Town or Parish Council. It was represented at them by planning consultant Peter Yates who, prior to retirement, was head of planning at Macclesfield Borough Council for many years. The sessions took place virtually and were all recorded.
The recordings can be found HERE
At each session the inspector addressed a series of questions he had pre-published and which participants had had the opportunity to make pre-submissions on, albeit the number of words was limited. Prestbury’s hearing statements are here:
Planning for Growth
In the ‘Planning for Growth’ sessions, Mr. Yates emphasised how much circumstances had changed since the examination in public on Part 1 of the Local Plan took place in 2017. In 2017, when the figures for 2016 were under discussion, there was a remaining requirement for nearly 900 additional houses to be provided in the LSCs. But, there had been a serious under-estimate of how quickly housing delivery would take place in Cheshire East and of the number of houses that would come forward as windfalls. (The Housing Monitoring Report showed that, at March 31st, 2021 the LSCs were only 307 houses short of 3,500). The remaining number could easily be delivered by windfalls. Prestbury, he said, had delivered 89 new housing units during the Plan period up to the end of March and, since then, permissions for a further nine had been granted.
Developer representatives attempted to cast doubt on the housing figures by suggesting that some replacement dwellings had been counted as extras but this was proven not to be the case by evidence supplied by CEC planners. Replacements had not been counted as extra dwellings.
Another issue emphasised by Mr. Yates was how the huge growth in home working had affected the demand for employment premises. He estimated that, in villages such as Prestbury, the number of employed people working from home could be as high as 30%. This meant that many more employment premises could be realistically turned over to housing – as could more retail units in failing centres. The policies in the SADPD, he argued, did not reflect the changes that had taken place in recent years and approaches to housing need did not sufficiently take into account neighbouring areas. Settlements should not be viewed in isolation, he contended.
On safeguarded land, Mr. Yates referred to policies PG3 and PG4 in the LPS which state only that additional safeguarded land may be necessary and to a similar phrase used by the inspector in charge of the hearings into Part 1 of the Local Plan. That inspector stated in his report that, whether or not safeguarded land would be necessary would depend on the prevailing circumstances and evidence at the time Part 2 of the Local Plan was being considered. Peter Yates also referenced the advice received by Prestbury Parish Council and three other Parish Councils from barrister Ian Ponter on the same issue. The conclusion being that there was no evidence to support safeguarded land being identified.
CEC had quoted as its supporting evidence for taking Green Belt land a distribution report which Mr. Yates explained had nothing to do with the case for housing need. He drew attention to the large scale housebuilding aspirations of Greater Manchester, as expressed in their spatial framework. This was relevant, he explained, as Prestbury had a boundary with Greater Manchester (at the former Woodford Aerodrome site).
In the discussion on housing density, Peter Yates criticised the fact that previously successful low density policies had not been carried forward from the Macclesfield Local Plan. Nor had new work been carried out to define housing areas of different densities. The need was for a far more detailed policy and a map defining where low density areas were. He also pointed out that there was no reference in the SADPD to Supplementary Planning Documents (SPDs).
The inspector asked whether the design policy was necessary. Mr. Yates argued strongly that it was, pointing out that there was no reference to heritage assets in the LPS, whereas there was in the SADPD. He also re-emphasised the point he had made in the ‘density’ session – that there needed to be a reference to the 100 plus SPDs, including the Prestbury Village Design Statement.
Inspector’s Closing Remarks
In his closing remarks, the inspector, Mr. Hayden, described Cheshire East as a “substantial borough” with “some unique and challenging development pressures, attractive settlements, landscape and countryside, a high volume economy and strong communities”. He also referred to the step change in building since Part 1 of the Local Plan had been adopted.
Mr. Hayden listed 27 key issues he had identified which he would be addressing. These included: the soundness of the approach in Policy PG8 to meeting the residual development needs of LSCs without further disaggregation, whether further site allocations would be consistent with the LPS, whether exceptional circumstances remain for the alteration of Green Belt boundaries, the soundness of the approach to housing density, whether the boundaries to Local Landscape designation areas were justified – including those in the Bollin Valley to the south of Prestbury – and whether the monitoring framework was sufficiently robust.
He said he would be writing to CEC in the next few weeks, hopefully before the end of November, and his correspondence would be available to the public on the examination website. He also confirmed that there would be a main modifications stage to the process which would be consulted upon.