Inspectors allow two Cheshire East appeals, paving way for 246 new homes

Out-Law News | 15 Aug 2014 | 4:15 pm | 3 min. read

Planning inspectors have allowed two appeals from a housing developer against decisions by Cheshire East Council to refuse permission for housing schemes that propose the construction of 246 new homes in the district. Both inspectors concluded that the Council was unable to demonstrate a five-year supply of housing land.

Developer Richborough Estates appealed against the Council’s decisions to refuse permission for a 100-home development on the outskirts of Sandbach and a 146-home development in the green gap near Willaston.

The proposed Sandbach scheme adjoins the Saxon Lea site, at which Richborough has already commenced work on a 269-home development following permission from the secretary of state for communities and local government (SoS) in 2012. In his consideration of the Saxon Lea application, the SoS had concluded that development at the site was sustainable, considering nearby facilities and sustainable transport links and the benefits of supplying new housing and supporting infrastructure.

In a decision letter (22-page / 187 KB PDF) dated 1 August, inspector David Richards said that "very similar considerations apply to the current site" as applied to Saxon Lea, despite the slightly increased walking distance to Sandbach town centre. The inspector found that the benefits proposed by the scheme through the provision of homes and construction and maintenance jobs, as well as a proposed linear park along a stream, would outweigh the harm caused to the open countryside and the loss of high quality agricultural land.

The Council had said that it was able to demonstrate a supply of housing land of six or seven years, assessing the local need to be 1,150 homes per year based on figures from the revoked North West Regional Strategy. Richards disagreed, noting that the Council's figures did not take into account recent household formation figures and relied on "favourable assumptions" in relation to the speed at which homes could be delivered at eleven strategic sites identified for development.

The inspector said the evidence provided to him at inquiry was not "sufficient for a full objective assessment to be made", but that he was "confident that a five-year supply cannot currently be demonstrated by the Council". Richards allowed the appeal, attaching weight to "the urgent need to boost housing supply including the delivery of 30% as affordable housing", which he said was "emphasised by the continuing absence of a demonstrable five year supply of housing land in Cheshire East".

In an appeal decision (27-page / 227 KB PDF) in relation to Richborough's proposed Willaston scheme, issued on the same day, inspector Alan Boyland was also critical of the Council's housing supply figures. The inspector said that the Council's estimate of a housing need for 1,150 homes per year was not based on the most recent projections, that it was "a constrained one rather than a full, objectively-assessed one" and that he attached "little weight to the Council's five-year supply based on it".

Boyland noted the developer's argument that, even without accounting for forecast economic growth in the district, household formation figures identified a requirement for 1,300 homes per year. "I find little objective and up-to-date evidence to support any need figure significantly below 1350 dwellings per annum," wrote the inspector, concluding that "the local planning authority has not demonstrated for the purposes of this appeal that it has a five-year housing supply".

The inspector attached little significance to the proposed loss of high quality agricultural land under the scheme, noting that "it seems likely that development of some such land will be required in the area around Crewe in any event". While the proposals would lead to the erosion of the green gap between the village of Willaston and neighbouring Rope, the inspector concluded that there would be "no significant harm to the wider functions of the gap in maintaining the definition and separation of these two settlements".

Allowing the appeal, Boyland found that the proposals would "make an important contribution to housing requirements in an area where there is not a demonstrable five-year housing supply".

The decisions follow the SoS's refusal of a request by the Council in July to recover five planning appeals for determination, after several cases in which planning inspectors came to different conclusions about the five-year supply of housing land in the district.

The Council's draft local plan core strategy is currently under consideration by PINS, having been submitted for examination in May. The appointed planning inspector, Stephen Pratt wrote to the Council (4-page / 52 KB PDF) on 11 June raising concerns about "the adequacy and methodology of the Council's objective assessment of housing needs in terms of the requirements of the National Planning Policy Framework"