Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Local Plan Working Group - Gypsies and Travellers, Housing and Employment land

CWaC's Local Plan Working Group had to manage a mammoth 560 page agenda at its meeting last night.  Notwithstanding the abundance of paperwork (handily all read on iPads) there were only two substantive items on the agenda.

First we considered the approach to the creation of new Gypsy and Traveller sites in the Borough.  Then we considered housing and employment land allocations.

If you want to watch an informal video of the meeting (it lasts 1:44hrs so it won't be for everyone) click on this link .  If you want to read the lengthy agenda - then click on this link.

The Local Plan Working Group can't take decisions - it can only make recommendations to the Council's cabinet.  That might suggest that the working group has little influence - however I suspect in this case the recommendations will be profound.

The Working Group and a smaller task group that had been set up had been wrestling with finding suitable sites for Gypsy and Travellers to meet the need that had previously been identified.   The council had previously invested in new purpose built sites for the Gypsy and Travellers to use - however those public sites were not to their liking.  Smaller privately owned sites are preferred by the Gypsy and Traveller community in our Borough.

The council has now allocated the pitches at the public sites - and we still need to find further sites and ideally we should allocate them in our Local Plan Part II.

However the process has proved fraught.  Suitable sites have not been identified.  Personally I think the council has wasted the money it spent on Consultants specifically tasked to find the sites.  I also think the Council made terrible errors at the start of this process by trying to 'sneak' the initial report without the appropriate publication or advance notice.

The working group considered the issues long and hard again.  The consensus that we reached was that the council needed to do more work - and that, as matters stood we couldn't recommend policies for the emerging Part II of the Local Plan.  The council will look to produce a separate policy document covering Gypsy and Traveller sites in due course - probably in 2019.  The hope is that the Planning Inspector who will need to examine the draft Part II Plan will accept that the council has exhausted what it could achieve now - and that it will work towards new 'G&T' policies in 2019.

In the meantime there is a risk that as the council may not be meeting the demand for new pitches that planning applications seeking permission for new sites in open countryside may have permission granted - either by the council or on appeal.  The council will still look to resist any new sites in inappropriate locations such as greenbelt.  Frodsham is surrounded by greenbelt.

The second part of our meeting looked at housing and employment land allocations.  Frodsham already has all its houses either built or with planning permission granted to achieve the planned increase in numbers between now and 2030!   The implications of this on Frodsham will be profound I'm sure.  Just think of the demographics and who can or cannot afford to live here.

One of the sites we specifically discussed was land to the east of the Protos waste/incinerator site at Ince.  In the old Ellemere Port days this land was earmarked for potential expansion of any of the oil and gas industries in the location.  No development is expected on this land before the end of the plan period in 2030.  I enquired of the officers which option would give the council more control over the land in planning terms.  Were we better leaving the land unallocated, or having it 'washed over' by open countryside policies.  I'm pleased to say I was able to persuade my collegues that the old allocation by Ellesmere Port and Neston Council be done away with - and thus our recommendation was that the draft policy should show this land as open countryside.