Cheshire East Council is understandably pleased with the three very recent decisions from central Government that have rejected housing schemes on green-field sites in the Borough. These come after the raft of 2014 decisions where Permissions were granted for just this type of proposal.
The constant across the decisions - both rejections and approvals – is that the Borough hasn’t been able to prove that it has the required five years supply of housing land.
So why the variation in outcome? Isn’t just the case that everyone agrees that Britain needs more houses, and where a Council can’t show it has enough land the default answer to new proposals is ‘yes’? Well, the answer to that is obviously ‘no’.
Those in the development industry might say ‘there just aren’t any rules’ – there’s reams of planning policy, both national (even after the slim down of national guidance a couple of years ago) and local (including that which is now a good number of years old) – but perhaps this doesn’t provide for the consistency that could reasonably be expected by all sides.
The one rule we all know and understand is Green Belt – but that doesn’t apply to many of the sites around the very towns where developers are keen to build.
The step down from Green Belt is ‘Green Gap’ and on recent form the Minister thinks that this land should be protected (at least in Cheshire East until its new Local Plan is more advanced).
In the meantime, ‘Countryside’ essentially covers the other fields: and the test here often (but not always) comes down to where development is ‘sustainable’: a phrase that can mean different things to different people, hence the possible perception of ‘no rules’ in these locations.
In the past we’ve had formal ‘sustainability’ checklists, with quantified measures of numbers of schools, bus stops, pubs and the like. While such an approach had its detractors, at least it provided some measureable benchmarks. Perhaps a return to such an approach would bring some rules to guide everyone?