THERE is nothing more important than protecting the green spaces of Cheshire East.
I feel every appeal decision, and I have to say that national priorities for housing need are making Cheshire East vulnerable to speculative housing as a presumption in favour of growth overrules many of our committees’ planning refusals.
Since March 2013, when I first announced we had a five-year supply of housing land, I have followed every appeal.
We have hired the best barristers and our planning committees have given approvals for many thousands of houses to be built.
So, let me make it clear: UKIP and Labour don’t lie, they merely don’t tell you the whole truth.
Recently, Labour said we did not respond to the cross party commons committee inquiry into the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). This is true – but we challenged the NPPF the day after it was issued and we have challenged it 11 times since in meetings with the Secretary of State and the Ministers for planning and housing.
The whole truth is that houses should not be about politics – and we have more appeals by developers against our planning decisions than anywhere else I know.
Some local councillors for Crewe say officers disagree with the council leadership saying we do now have five-years’ housing supply – yet again, they are not telling the whole truth. I can tell you the latest position by officers – including new consultants we have on board to advise us specifically on the five-year housing supply – is far stronger than any local councillor could deliver.
So let me make it clear to Labour, UKIP and the developers: we will not support unwanted, unplanned and unsustainable development.
Moreover, I am happy to tell you that, since March 2013, planning permission has been granted for 7,367 homes and we also have up to 2,500 outstanding permissions, which are subject to completion of legal agreements. On top of that we have applications for more than 2,000 homes, which are due before planning committees in the near future.
These numbers do not include new National Planning Policy Framework guidance on including student accommodation and care home accommodation.
We will also be driving forward progress on development of our strategic sites and those other sites identified in the Local Plan as suitable for development.
So I say to Labour and UKIP: stop talking half-truths and support our five-year housing supply and support your communities by backing our Local Plan – and get on board with our ‘residents first’ neighbourhood plans, which we have introduced and are moving forward with several parishes.
Other parties want to make planning and housing a political football – but we want to take the politics out of housing and put our residents first. Another way the council is supporting sustainable housing growth is by focussing on developing brownfield sites – with its ‘brownfield first’ policy.
Indeed, we are writing to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ask him to make Macclesfield as a brownfield ‘exemplar’ – highlighting it to other authorities as a model of good practice for using brownfield sites first for development.
Our desire to have Macclesfield become a designated ‘brownfield exemplar’ is clearly to enhance the viability of developing brownfield sites and allow the council to remove sites from the greenbelt.
I refer to George Osborne’s announcement of High Speed Rail 3, which we are told will miraculously solve the problems of the North.
Big projects grab the headlines. But what really is needed is lots and lots of small, local projects. Improvements in rail and road travel infrastructure will create local jobs, will create access to jobs available in local regional hub towns and cities and will boost and grow the local and regional economies around the whole UK.
I’m in favour of ‘the 14 years of weekend disruption’ to up-rate and update our present slow and suffering rail network and sometimes poorly engineered or un-engineered rail network, inherited from the Victorians.
This network is still moving passengers and freight at less than the top speed of Stephenson’s Rocket – 29mph. If you take the train from my local station of Lostock Gralam in Northwich (and in George Osborne’s Tatton constituency) for the 22 miles to Manchester the journey takes an hour and six minutes on a two carriage and crowded diesel train with only an hourly service available.
A plea to those in ‘power’. Please update, speed up and smarten up the local and regional rail services on offer to the satellite towns and villages around all of the UK’s regional employment, commercial, cultural, medical and educational town and city hubs.
This will show that the Westminster Parliament is not London-centric.
The benefits and the logic of lots of local small and focussed travel infrastructure improvements will certainly be readily appreciated by MP’s constituents throughout the UK, and make headlines in local news media but of course not grab the all-important national headlines that seem to influence policy.
Finally I noted GO on the radio news on Monday, June 23 only mentioned improving England’s rail has he already let Scotland go and forgotten Wales?
Clr Michael Jones Leader of Cheshire East Council