Agenda item

Public Speaking Time/Open Session

In accordance the Council Procedural Rules, a total period of 30 minutes is allocated for members of the public to speak at Council meetings. Individual members of the public may speak for up to 2 minutes, but the Chair will have discretion to vary this requirement where they consider it appropriate. 


Due to the location of this meeting, members of the public will be able to speak or ask questions via Microsoft Teams from one of the Council offices. If any member of the public wishes to do so, please contact Katie Small.


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 and should include the question with that notice.  Questions should be submitted to: or


Sandbach Town Councillor Tim Wheatcroft stated that any introduction or increase in car parking charges would discourage lower paid workers from taking town centre jobs, and any volume employer without adequate parking considering locating in the town was discouraged from setting up due to the additional cost and difficulty in attracting staff.  He asked what sort of businesses did Cheshire East see moving into the towns to grow the local economy, given the economic obstacles the Council were implementing with their car park proposals, and how would existing town and village centre businesses benefit and produce the growth the country needs to happen by the introduction and increase in parking charges? 


In response Cllr C Browne, Chair of Highways and Transport Committee stated that when developing the parking plans, which had recently been out to public consultation, the Council had aimed to ensure that the parking offer in each town met the needs of businesses, shoppers, and visitors.  The Council had tried to reflect the range of different needs when establishing tariffs; zoning parking between short stay and long stay and making seasonal permits available to users.  The proposals for car parking would be considered in detail at the Highways and Transport Committee in January but he was sure that the parking tariffs would remain competitive compared to the neighbouring councils.  These considerations had to be balanced against the Council’s prevailing financial circumstances and the inconsistency and unfairness of the legacy arrangements for parking charges, where some towns pay whilst others were subsidised to provide free parking.  All 111 car parks operated by the Council incurred costs in the form of maintenance, enforcement patrols and business rates.  As parking was a discretionary service, the Council’s policy was clear that parking was provided on a “user-pays” basis.  Any surplus revenues from the parking service were used to provide other transport projects including supported bus services, which were essential for those residents, including workers, who did not own a car.  


Holmes Chapel Parish Councillor Diane Tams asked whether the Council had considered the concerns expressed by health professionals in Holmes Chapel on their ability to deliver services to their patients if parking charges were introduced?


In response Cllr C Browne, Chair of Highways and Transport Committee, stated that all responses received by the Council during the 6-week statutory consultation on the proposals for car parking in the Borough were being carefully analysed to inform the next steps.   The Medical Centre had its own car park, which was already reserved for use by patients and staff.  This would not be affected by the Council’s proposals for Cheshire East operated car parks. The Council’s proposals for its car parks in Holmes Chapel intended to retain a balance between long-stay and short stay parking places, whilst ensuring that the costs of maintaining and operating these car parks were met by the users rather than the general council taxpayer.  Since the last time Cheshire East Council reviewed its car park charging strategy, which was in 2018, inflation had risen by over 25% whilst interest rates were also five times higher now than they had been then. Both factors had contributed to the increase in the costs of running the car parks over the intervening period.    If the Council was not able to recover its costs, then this would impact on the Council’s ability to deliver its services including things such as Flexi Link or other supported bus services.


Congleton Town Councillor Suzy Firkin stated that Congleton had long been a net contributor to Cheshire East car parking income having lost the free car parking many years ago and shared the concerns of many about the loss of free car parking and the impact it had on small towns and villages on the footfall and town centre economy. She said that Congleton had attracted investment into the town centre and the high street had started to take on a different feel, this being the reason why the Town Council strongly opposed to the huge increase in parking charges that were being proposed for Congleton. The charges would have a significant impact on those businesses who based their business case on staff and customers being able to park at reasonable prices. She urged the Council to heed Congleton Town Council’s detailed response to the consultation and compromise on a modest price increase rather than a huge hike in fees that jeopardised the hard work of many seeking to revitalise Congleton town centre.


In response Cllr C Browne, Chair of Highways and Transport Committee stated that the Council’s approach to its current review of car parking provision and tariffs in towns aimed to make arrangements more consistent and equitable across all of our towns.  The Council had aimed to ensure that the parking offer in each town met the needs of business, shoppers, and visitors.  The Council had tried to reflect this range of different needs when establishing tariffs; zoning parking between short stay and long stay, and making seasonal permits available to users.  There were a large number of attractive town centres with growing businesses, situated in centres with parking charges.  Recently there had been business growth in the local towns, with Congleton as an example, where 8 new businesses had located into Congleton Market Quarter this year. The market quarter had received another 150 enquiries for space with the Council working with employers to consider transport and parking needs for staff.  Parking was one of many factors that influenced town centre attractiveness and business viability.  The Council aimed to strike the right balance to make businesses in Congleton, as well as other towns, successful for business.


Mr Brian Bugeja asked how, what and when would Cheshire East respond to the objections raised by the residents of the Audlem village, ward and the surrounding hamlets, in response to the consultation about the Audlem Community car park and the addition of yellow lines on two of the adjacent roads. He asked whether the Chair of the Highways and Transport Committee would agree to visit Audlem so that they could see for themselves the logistics of the car park to the village, how the car park operated, the importance of the car park and the impact of the charges would have on the community?


In response Cllr C Browne, Chair of the Highways and Transport Committee, stated that all responses received by the Council during the 6-week statutory consultation on the proposals for car parking in the Borough were being carefully analysed to inform the next steps.  At the Highways and Transport Committee in January 2024, a series of recommendations setting out the proposed responses to the consultation would be considered by Councillors. The information available for councillors would include options to respond to the consultation outcomes, analysis of costs and benefits arising from the proposals and consideration of mitigation measures that may be necessary to support the introduction of any new parking arrangements.  He was sure that the Committee would decide the way forward mindful of the consultation responses, the Council’s budget position and the Council’s strategic priorities.  The Council needed to ensure that the parking service was fair, financially sustainable and contributing to the wider integrated transport strategy for the whole Borough.


Mr Thomas Eccles asked that, in full knowledge of the vast scale and urgency of our task to survive climate change and biodiversity collapse, would the Council commit to urgently introducing local planning policies to ban future developments on peatlands?

In response Cllr M Warren, Chair of the Environment and Communities Committee stated that the Council had committed to preparing a new Local Plan which, once adopted, would replace the current Local Plan Strategy and Site Allocations and Development Policies Document. It would take several years to complete, and it would be a new style Plan prepared under emerging national planning reforms. The urgent need to tackle the climate crisis and the need to enhance biodiversity would be key drivers for the new Plan. To pass independent examination, policies and proposals in the Plan would also need to be consistent with national planning policy, which was expected to be comprehensively updated over the coming months. As the new Local Plan was prepared there would be several opportunities to feedback views on emerging policies and proposals and he would encourage residents and organisations to get involved in helping to shape these.   In the shorter term, as required by law, any planning applications would continue to be determined in accordance with the adopted Local Plan, which was the statutory development plan, unless there were material planning considerations which indicated otherwise. Other material considerations could include national planning policy. The development plan already contained a range of policies designed to address climate change and promote biodiversity enhancement. From next year it would also become mandatory, with some limited exceptions, for development schemes to provide at least a 10 percent net gain in biodiversity. In terms of major road schemes, these were being delivered for several reasons including to support regeneration, enable the development of new homes and employment opportunities, so were integral to the current Local Plan and its policies. Potential changes to policy would, similarly, be considered as part of the preparation of the new Local Plan.   Over 10% of land in the UK was peatland and there were ongoing activities to re-wet some peat areas at Pastures Farm near Gawsworth. Currently the Biodiversity Net Gain Supplementary Planning document was out for consultation which closed on Friday 22 December 2023. At the same time an Environmental Supplementary Planning document was also out for consultation which closed on Friday 15 December 2023. These documents would put Cheshire East Council at the forefront of action in this field.


Mr Stuart Redgard asked the following questions:

1)           Why was the Dean Row Community Centre closed?

2)           How many bids did the Council receive when they offered it for open tender?

3)           Who where they from?

4)           Why hasn’t a decision been made yet as to which tender was acceptable?

5)           When would a decision be made?


In response Cllr M Goldsmith, Chair of Economy and Growth Committee, stated that the Dean Row community centre had been successfully operated by a community group since the 1990s.  Unfortunately, the last remaining member of the group recently passed away and as a result, the entity managing the building ceased to exist.  Cllr Goldsmith reported that four bids had been received when offered for open tender, but could not share who they were from as this was commercially sensitive information.  The decision on the tender had been made on 15 November 2023 with all parities being informed of the final decision shortly.


Wilmslow Town Councillor Elaine Evans stated that the Wilmslow neighbourhood plan recognised the importance of trees to health and wellbeing in an urban environment. She referred to the decision on 2 March 2023 by the Highways and Transport Committee to unanimously approve a Notice of Motion regarding a report on tree planting, a report on the adoption of a new policy for highway tree maintenance inspections and a code of practice for highway tree safety inspections.  She said that the Highway Tree Safety Inspection Policy stated that tree planting would rely on 13 stringent criteria. The Town Council had checked existing highway trees in the main green corridors of Wilmslow against 2 of the criteria and found that 86% of over the 400 planted tress did not meet these 2 criteria and if the other 11 criteria were also audited it wouldn’t be surprising to find that almost all tress standing in Wilmslow today did not comply with the proposed new inspection policy. On behalf of Wilmslow Town Council, she requested that the Highways and Transport Committee make an amendment to the stringent criteria, to reflect where they did not apply to replacement of existing trees. In the case of replacement, the Town Council requested that a new tree of suitable species be planted at the same location as the tree to be replaced or that the Town or Parish Council were consulted on the new placement.


In response Cllr C Browne, Chair of the Highways and Transport Committee, stated that Cheshire East Council fully recognised and supported the important role that tree planting had to play in both place-making and addressing climate change. The highways network had developed and evolved over time. Many highway trees had either self-set or were planted before current highway design standards and would not be installed under current standards.  In such circumstances, the Council therefore consider new installations with reference to current standards and practices. This was not unique to trees as an asset; it applied equally to other assets.   When considering tree planting, a number of factors must be considered. These factors ensured the longevity of the trees planted and the safe operation of the highway network and were necessary to support the Council’s statutory role in managing highway infrastructure assets. It was important to note that saplings must be provided with sufficient space to develop and thrive.  Cheshire East Council was keen to work with 3rd parties, such as Wilmslow Town Council, to encourage appropriate tree planting on its land.  It did however have to be recognised that Cheshire East Council holds certain statutory duties and responsibilities for assets that it was required to consider when reviewing such requests. As noted, the Council would be developing a highway tree planting policy during 2024 which would provide further clarity.


Congleton Town Councillor Robert Douglas stated that the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee had stated that “healthy rivers are vital for biodiversity and to human health and well-being.” Furthermore, it stated that “rivers provide habitats for a range of wildlife, protect against flooding and provide beautiful places for recreation and reflection.”  Yet in figures provided by the Environmental Agency, the House of Commons committee report stated that only 14% of English rivers met good ecological status and no river met good chemical status.   The Wildlife and Countryside Link had warned that the water quality of rivers in England was the worst in Europe.   Yet the Government had been putting forward proposals to weaken the pollution regulations in order to build additional homes under what was termed as a “Brexit Bonus”. He asked if the Leader of Cheshire East Council could confirm that the Council would take every step within its powers to ensure that the quality of water courses would not be adversely impacted by any new developments whether it be for housing, commercial, industrial or silica sand quarries?


In response, Cllr M Warren, Chair of Environment and Communities Committee, stated that the effect of new development on water quality could be an important material planning consideration.  The Council had put in place robust policies within its up-to-date statutory development plan to make sure that this matter was carefully considered when planning applications or planning appeals were decided. Policy SE13 (Flood Risk and Water Management) of the Local Plan Strategy required development of all types to avoid an adverse impact on water quality. This was reinforced in Policy ENV17(Protecting Water Resources) of the Site Allocations and Development Policies Document which underlined that development proposals would not be permitted that were likely to have a detrimental impact on the quality of surface water. Designated nature conservation sites were also afforded appropriate protection relative to their significance through Policy SE3 (Biodiversity and Geodiversity) of the Local Plan Strategy, including sites of national and international importance. The Habitats Regulations provide additional legal protections to RAMSAR and other designated sites of international importance. 


Mr Stephen McDermott stated that before anything was put out to survey, please could the Council ensure the information contained within it was accurate. In many cases he was finding it was not. He did not believe this would stand up to external scrutiny.