Following the consultation events associated with the Knutsford Neighbourhood Plan in November and December 2017, there were a number of questions raised by the local community. Many of the questions were based on a misunderstanding of the role, scope or even responsibility. As a result, the steering group have asked their consultants to prepare the following answers to 10 of the most frequently asked questions.
Questions about the Emerging Policies Consultation
1. What is this consultation all about?
This consultation was all about the Knutsford Neighbourhood Plan. This is a land use planning document which is being prepared specifically for Knutsford and must be led by the local community. Once finished, the Neighbourhood Plan will be used to assess, where relevant, the acceptability of any planning application in Knutsford. The plan is being prepared by the Knutsford Town Council who, following feedback from the community, have taken this opportunity to seize more control and involvement in local planning matters. This latest consultation asked the people of Knutsford if they felt all the important topics and issues had been considered.
2. There isn’t much detail available, so how can we comment?
This consultation isn’t asking for detailed responses on the plan; it is simply asking whether the framework that is set up is correct and reflects the communities wishes. This specific consultation happens approximately mid-way through the process of making the Neighbourhood Plan. It is the first time the topics and the matters that will be covered by the plan are introduced to the community. There will be further rounds of consultation on this plan as it progresses – each time with more detail based on the feedback received. Developing plans is time-consuming and expensive, and the group responsible for this plan did not wish to undertake abortive work against the communities wishes.
Relationship with the Local Plan and Planning Decisions
3. Is this a replacement for the Cheshire East Plan?
No, it’s not. This plan works alongside the Cheshire East Local Plan. The Local Plan is necessarily strategic and based on broad principles but does set the general location and number of new homes and employment sites throughout Cheshire East. The Local Plan also sets out Knutsford’s role as a Key Service Centre, meaning it provides retail, employment, leisure, and other services for a much wider rural area. The Neighbourhood Plan has to work alongside this but is able to provide specific detail at much more localised level. Many of the topics covered by the emerging Neighbourhood Plan are barely touched upon in the Local Plan (heritage, trees and hedgerows, local character) so it’s important that the Neighbourhood Plan provides this detail.
4. How much weight will the Neighbourhood Plan have – is it worth the effort?
At this point the emerging Neighbourhood Plan has some weight in the determination of planning applications. As it progresses towards the formal adoption it will continue to gain in weight. Once adopted (or ‘made’) the Neighbourhood Plan will have the same weight as the Cheshire East Local Plan. Any planning application would be required, in accordance with planning law, to demonstrate how it had complied with the plan or why there were strong reasons against following the plan.
The Neighbourhood Plan’s Relationship with Proposed Housing
5. Why have many houses been allocated in Knutsford?
As mentioned, the Neighbourhood Plan has not been responsible for the number of houses coming forward in Knutsford. This is set by the Local Plan which is required to deliver 36,000 homes throughout Cheshire East over the next 14 years. The number of houses for Knutsford was agreed following an examination in public by an independent inspector in autumn 2016. As a Key Service Centre (as befitting its market town status) Knutsford was considered as a location that should accommodate growth of housing and employment. The housing growth is roughly based around ensuring a proportionate growth across the Borough with Macclesfield and Crewe, as the largest settlements, taking the majority of the growth.
6. Where are the houses going?
The Cheshire East Local Plan has allocated sites for 925 new homes on allocated sites between now and 2031 (approximately 65 per annum). These are split across five sites around the town, including sites for 200 homes at Parkgate and 225 homes south of Longridge, both to the east of the town. A collection of sites to the north and west of Knutsford totalling 500 new dwellings along Northwich and Manchester Roads. The total number of houses and these locations have been set by the Cheshire East Local Plan which was adopted in summer 2017 and cannot be changed. Additional dwellings have been approved or may come forward on previously developed sites or as a result of plot subdivision elsewhere in the town. There are no current plans to release further greenfield land.
7. Why are there no plans for the housing sites around the town as part of this consultation?
The housing sites around the town are being brought forward by private owners or development organisations and will not form any part of the Neighbourhood Plan. It would be wrong for the Neighbourhood Plan to support (or otherwise) the work by these private interests bring forward as they may change or be modified over the course of the plan. The schemes that each organisation / owner bring forward will be subject to separate planning applications and as a result – government guidance dictates that they should have separate consultation and engagement exercises.
Neighbourhood planning and Infrastructure
8. What can the Neighbourhood Plan do about the traffic in the Town?
The Neighbourhood Plan authors are very well aware that traffic, congestion and queues within Knutsford are a key issue for the community. Whilst the planning system has some role to play in reducing traffic congestion, it is only part of the solution. Traffic and congestion issues are controlled by the local highways authority, who will implement highways improvements to ease congestion (often funded through new developments). The Neighbourhood Plan has a much wider role to play, insofar as it must ensure that planning prioritises walking, cycling and public transport to reduce overall car use. The plan includes a number of proposed policies to tackle this issue.
9. It’s all very well, building more houses, but what about schools and healthcare?
It is acknowledged by service providers and the Local Authority that further healthcare and education provision will need to be made before 2031. There will be a requirement for increased provision of schools places but, at this time they have no confirmed projects that we can include and support. Likewise, the Clinical Care Commission Group (who are responsible for local healthcare) are investigating projects in the town but have no firm plans. Therefore, the Neighbourhood Plan has taken forward policies to ensure that when community infrastructure is proposed, it is well connected to the new and existing communities it will serve. Should any decisions be made on these proposals prior to finalising the plan this will be reflected in the plan.
10. So, what’s the next step to producing the plan?
The immediate next step is to collect and collate all the feedback obtained from the consultation. Work on this will begin in January 2018. Following that, the local community champions involved in each of the topic areas and the consultant team will begin to prepare the first full draft of the Neighbourhood Plan. This will include policies and explanatories for all the outlines that obtained support during the consultation. It is anticipated that a first draft will be subject to the next round of consultation in spring 2018. This consultation will be a formal process and will be the final opportunity to share your thoughts with the group preparing the plan – after that all engagement will be through an examination by an independent qualified examiner in late 2018.