‘Say no to every question on the questionnaire, an unequivocal no’ Wilmslow shows how not to respond #NPPF

Often campaigners against development are their own worst enemies because they recommend actions to residents which actively weaken the weight that will be given to responses.

A classic case is campaigners against the Draft Wilmslow Vision Document to inform Cheshire East’s Local Plan – joint work with Wilmslow Town Council.  As often happens awareness and opposition only gathers towards the end of the process - locals networks and tell their friends and neighbours – so the consultation has been extended by a month.

In many ways the Wilmslow Vision document is best practice.  It attempts to derive a settlement specific vision for the place, a key aspect of the place shaping role of local plans for large settlements.  Rather than Cheshire East doing this it is working with the Town Council jointly.  And the work could set a firm foundation for any later neighbourhood planning.  There can be no arguments about conformity if this kind of consultation takes place.

The problem of course is how much development and where.  Cheshire East has not yet finalised its housing numbers and settlement split.  And cannot of course until it consults on key options around towns, required if submitted as SHLAA sites and failure to do so could lead to legal challenge.

Cheshire East has lots of Green Belt.  Under the NPPF Green Belt Districts now have to meet ‘objectively identified needs’  it wont be dispersed elsewhere in a regional plan.  So unless they are to have planning by appeal they are forced to consider Green Belt development options to get any kind of plan through.  Residents of Wilmslow might wish to ask their Mp George Osbourne why he so strongly pressed to changes to planning policy in the NPPF and through revocation of the North West RSS that will force far more development into the Green Belt in towns in his constituency, and why he has supported Policy Exchange Reports, including being the host of one meeting launching a report calling for weakening of Green Belt boundaries and expansion of cities and towns in the Green Belt.  Though like most MPs he will probably reply that this should happen in every other constituency other than his own.  As Tatton is being abolished at the next election I would not be surprised if he is seatless at the next election as local selection committees discover his true views on the Green Belt and planning.

Back to Wilmslow.  Of course any suggestion of even options to develop in the Green Belt will generate huge opposition.

Over 200 people, including both Cheshire East and Wilmslow Town councillors, gathered at the leisure centre on Thursday, 26th April, to demonstrate the strength of feeling over draft proposals for how the town should develop in the next 18 years.

Manuel Golding said “The numbers here have surpassed all we expected…“The advice we are giving is to say no to every question on the questionnaire, an unequivocal no.

“We need to be united under one banner so we have one voice for Wilmslow. It is important we have one voice, there is no place for nimbyism.”

Manuel sorry that is a very very stupid thing to say.  One of the questions concerns an aim which includes:

To encourage ever-increasing community involvement in the life of the town, fostering a sense of common purpose and civic pride

What is Cheshire East to make of a consultation response which had perhaps a 90% no response to that statement

Ok we can see that Wilmslow has no sense of common purpose and civic pride – sounds like a good place to put some some dreadful developments then

I jest of course but what message is that intended to communicate.  Saying no to every question is simply a message that all plans for the town should be kicked down the road, which makes the town much more vulnerable at planning appeal.  Without plans in place it wont be able to meet its five year supply so under the NPPF this becomes a six year supply, so developers will be able to get much more development at appeal.  It is entirely stupidly counterproductive.

Indeed to be statistically meaningful an authority receiving lots of no to every question responses might simply filter these out to find the true level of support on the less controversial issues.  So what this tactic does is lower peoples voices not raise them.   Indeed what councillors don’t understand is that plans are assessed by inspectors on evidence not numbers of placards or numbers of petition signatures.  Governments own guidance is that that the level of public opposition by itself is not material, what matters is the strength in planning terms of the argument put.  So one good argument can outweigh 10,000 bad ones.  Wilmslow needs good arguments.  So it it doesn’t want to build greenfield housing for its residents squeezed by verey high house prices it needs to say where else these houses should go.  Under the NPPF and the NPPF system this will have to be shown.

Cheshire East is 38% Green Belt.  So if you dont want development in the Green Belt looks for sites outside it, as the Prime Ministers recent speech suggested.  Sandbach — err if you want to find a place where planning issues are  even more controversial than Wilmslow it would be Sandbach.  Crewe, its already planning for Crewe to have most development but because of its size urban extensions here are likely to be car orientated peripheral estates rather than smart growth.  How about a Garden City perhaps on one of the two westwards running lines from Crewe.  North of Ashton Juxton Mondrum looks perfect, an old Station that could be reopened, no important wildlife sites or ancient woodlands for miles, massive sewerage infrastructure (Crewe’s main sewage works is here), canal, railway and the easy links can be made to Crewes Hospital and main industrial estates, and proximity to Crewe and Winsford make  potential bus links too to Crew and Nantwich nearby, and the Local B roads are hardly congested and can easily be improved if necessary, the landscape is flat as a pancake with large fields, so there would be no reason to lose trees, indeed well planned a Garden City could massively enhance tree and water cover and local wildlife.

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About andrew lainton

International Urban Planner

Posted on April 28, 2012, in National Planning Policy Framework, urban planning. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Putting aside the green belt issue, the main lesson from Wilmslow is that the old style core strategy process generates maximum opposition. This will always occur when there has not been an open process of consensus building.

    Consultation should never be confused with consensus building. Consultation tests opposition and support for options and proposals. Consensus building, a harder process by far, aims to build common ground for proposals. If neighbourhood plans are to work then they must be rooted in consensus building (note – note that I deliberately emphasise the process, it may not always be possible to reach actual consensus).

    Cheshire East is in trouble over its lagging core strategy process. This will inevitably lead to presumption in favour of sustainable development becoming a presumption in favour of sprawling development across the district. But the best way of solving the coming planning crisis is by adopting the principles of localism, not by staggering onwards and dressing up the old local development framework system in the clothes of localism.

  2. It would have been better had Cheshire East, like many other areas, worked with its town on developing consensus on vision and objectives by place before it started on detailed discussion on housing numbers and locations. Now the two issues have become cuaght up. However once you start talking about housing at any scale on green field let alone green belt sites you will never get consensus.

    Also it is important to understand that localism – especially neighbourhood planning – requires local plan strategy in place before it can begin. Trying to stitch together local visions into a strategy covering more than one town has not worked anywhere,Look at places like Aylesbury Vale and Winchester – because those local visions dont add up to the amount of housing needed so there is always a quantum of housing that needs to be decided strategically. Here in Wilmslow locals are even advising residents to say no to questions on brownfield sites – how counterproductive is that. .

  1. Pingback: Green Belt ‘Swaps’ Must Individually Meet the ‘Exceptional Circumstances’ Test #NPPF « Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

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