Straining every sinew to try and influence the local plan

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AUTHOR: CLLR LILLIAN BURNS, MEMBER OF NALC'S SMALLER COUNCILS COMMITTEE


As statutory consultees, all parish councils spend excessive time considering and commenting upon planning applications (i.e. development planning).

But not all local councils take an active part in their Local Plan process (ie. spatial planning). This is not because they don’t care about what is the most important land-use policy document for their area, it is because many find it too complex or overwhelming to take on. The main Local Plan document alone can be a few hundred pages in length and the supporting documents amount to thousands of pages of evidence written by technical experts. Small parish councils feel at a particular disadvantage in trying to properly engage with the consultations and the examinations in public that come at the end of the process.

Knowing this, I am proud of the conscientious and thorough way that my parish council, Prestbury in Cheshire, not only engaged with our Local Plan process (at one point we teamed up with three other parish councils to pay a QC for his opinion, which was then included as part of our submissions) but how we kept residents fully informed.

The population of my parish is about 4,000, and the age profile is high. The parish council rarely has an entire constituency (12) for long. None of us has a professional planning background. However, I have done planning policy work for the Campaign to Protect Rural England for many years. We only employ a part-time clerk and part-time responsible financial officer. We are typical of many thousands of other small parish councils around the country in these respects. But we have demonstrated a dogged determination to try and influence our Local Plan.

Regardless of whether we have succeeded or not (at the time of writing, we are awaiting the inspector's report), we can hold our heads up high and say that we 'gave it our all'. No other town or parish council in our local authority area participated in so many sessions in last year's examination hearings. (We engaged on Green Belt/ safeguarded land, housing requirements, and density and design principles). Those were into Part Two of the Local Plan, the Site Allocations and Development Policies Document, which ran over three weeks online. We also engaged in a similarly intensive manner in Part One, the Local Plan Strategy, which was endorsed in 2017 after two examination hearings.

My principal authority, Cheshire East Council, was only established as a unitary borough in 2009. This Local Plan, which is it's first, has been based on hugely ambitious predictions for economic growth. These, in turn, have driven large allocations of land for employment and housing, including swathes of the Green Belt.

My parish had already lost over 50 acres of Green Belt to new private school development. Even before the proposals came forward, it objected to sequestering more Green Belt to be 'safeguarded' for housing development during the period of the next Local Plan. Land which Cheshire East's consultants rated as making a 'significant contribution' to Green Belt purposes and which is wholly unsuited for various reasons for the development.

My parish council responded in detail to every consultation stage (two iterations of both Parts 1 and 2) and attended all relevant meetings. We held residents' meetings of our own, paid a consultant to represent us in the most recent hearings, and worked with him on proofs of evidence.

Details of the Plan's progress and all our engagement with it have been reported in our Parish Council newsletter, delivered twice a year to every household and made available in various locations around the parish and on our website. We have answered numerous enquiries from residents and done our utmost to represent their views, including referencing our Village Design Statement and our Parish Plan. When we did the consultations for these supplementary planning documents, the support for Green Belt from residents was around the 90% mark on both occasions.   

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