In accordance with paragraph 2.24 of the Council’s Committee Procedure Rules and Appendix on Public Speaking, set out in the Constitution, a total period of 15 minutes is allocated for members of the public to put questions to the committee on any matter relating to this agenda. Each member of the public will be allowed up to two minutes each to speak, and the Chair will have discretion to vary this where they consider it appropriate.
Members of the public wishing to speak are required to provide notice of this at least three clear working days’ in advance of the meeting.
Mr. Jonathan Smith attended the Committee to give a brief statement and ask a question in respect of agenda item 9, Local Plan Strategy Review. Mr. Smith advised the Committee that he had been supporting the local community group, Save Longridge Greenbelt since 2019 with their effort in preventing the development of 225 houses on rewilded land that was a valued local amenity. Mr. Smith was in favour of the officer recommendation contained within the report to commence an update of the Local Plan Strategy and noted a key driver for the recommendation was the climate emergency, the council should reduce any environmental impact, with climate change and environmental concerns being at heart of any update. Mr. Smith requested that the Council saved the land east of Longridge and did not allocate for housing to conserve this space as a green asset for generations to come.
Mr. Smith asked for details of the arrangements for members of the public and local groups to participate in, and influence, the proposed Update of the Local Plan Strategy.
The Chair responded to the question and advised that there would be the opportunity for the public, residents and Members to feedback their views through the preparation of any Local Plan update. Consultation was a statutory requirement to the Local Plan and these views would be published on the Council’s website.
The Chair highlighted that Central Government was taking forward reforms to planning system including the way the Local Plan was prepared. Changes to the Local plan update would be brought forward under revised legal and national policy requirements, notably two rounds of community engagement would be required before plans were submitted for independent examination.
In addition, new national guidance on community engagement in planning was promised and described the different way in which communities could get involved and highlighted best practice.
Mr. John Finnan attended the Committee and spoke in respect of agenda item 9, Local Plan Strategy Review, specifically a site within the current Local Plan.
Mr. Finnan advised the Committee that no provisions were in place to remove LPS 38, Longridge, Knutsford out of the greenbelt. The Government Planning inspector did not know about a covenant that barred direct access to the site. Mr. Finnan explained that the council plan was to sell part of the adjoining land which would then create site access. The fields and woods at Longridge had been used for the last three generations of the local community in an area where there was deprivation. Usage of this space increased during the pandemic. Should any development go ahead, 500 trees and 50 years of rewilding would be lost impacting on 92 species of birds. Biodiversity offsetting would have to happen offsite. Knutsford Town Council did not constitute this area to be sustainable development, and a Landscape Officer at Cheshire East Council had said the development could not be supported. Cheshire Wildlife Trust confirmed the site met the standards for local wildlife across eight different criteria. Longridge was an area of high habitat and distinctiveness. Three years ago the Leader of Cheshire East Council was asked to remove Longridge from the Local Plan, during this time, Esther McVey MP confirmed the Council could remove if and when a decision was made to review the Local Plan.
Mr. Finnan asked the Committee:
1) if the Local Plan would be reviewed;
2) if so, could provision be included to examine a wildlife site like Longridge;
3) would any planning applications for Longridge be paused until the Local Plan review was completed; and
4) upon consideration could Longridge be removed from the Local Plan and returned to the greenbelt.
The Chair confirmed the consideration to review the Local Plan was before the Committee today, and changes to policy and scope would be matters for future determination through a Local Plan update process. The Longridge site was a Housing Allocation in the adopted Local Plan strategy and was the subject of a live planning application. Decisions on planning permission would be determined by the Strategic Planning Board (SPB) in due course. Any pauses to planning applications would be neither possible or appropriate, this Committee had no jurisdiction over the planning application and had no remit to interfere with any determination. The detailed scope and content of future proposals were matters to be determined when any updates to the Local Plan were prepared.
That the public speakers be thanked for their attendance and contribution to the Committee meeting.