Following on from my last post about site delivery and whether this can be taken into consideration by a Council regarding its 5 year land supply, Cheshire East Council are forging ahead with its strategic aim of getting more homes built within the Borough.  These are 2 such schemes, there is a further scheme being proposed for 250 homes in Handforth.  What do these schemes have in common?  They are close to existing settlements and are all located within the Green Belt.

All look like they are infilling gaps which exist historically due to farming or some other geographical reason which may have become less apparent over time, but what can local residents opposing to such schemes expect to convert these developments from foe to friend? 

All developments have received a  significant number of objections not only from local residents, but from local parish councils and statutory bodies such as the Environment Agency.

Some of the reasons for the objections surround the development situation in the Green Belt, the access arrangements and the protection of the environment.

So what about development in the Green Belt?  The general starting position in planning is that there is a presumption in favour of development, but in the Green Belt this presumption is reversed and the burden of proof the development is necessary to overcome the restriction as set out in the National Planning Policy Framework, is on the applicant. Given this sensitive policy restriction any application approved which goes against the policy principles will be subjected to greater scrutiny. This scrutiny makes applications such as these vulnerable to challenge by way of Judicial Review if the local residents can organise themselves and set up a ‘fighting fund’ to bring a challenge or it could be the parish councils may be able to bring such a challenge.

The NPPF’s objectives of the green belt are:

  • to check the unrestricted sprawl of large built up areas
  • to prevent neighbouring towns from merging into one another
  • to assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment
  • to preserve the setting and special character of historic towns
  • to assist in urban regeneration by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land.

If an application can demonstrate there is a need and there will be little effect on the green belt or the environment then it is likely the application will be granted permission.

So what can make an application acceptable? The Council can control the scale, design and overall massing of the development by way of planning conditions. Conditions can also be used for the control of the development in terms of environmental protection, the safeguarding of protected trees and other such issues.

This is good news, but often local residents are concerned about the effect of the development on the locality in terms of access, infrastructure and the amount of people living who will be residing at the development – where will the children go to school? Where will people seek medical assistance? And what happens if these services are already overstretched.

Councils have the power to secure additional services by way of obligations in a Section 106 Agreement. These agreements are a contractual arrangement between the council and the developer and any landowners which make a development possible which might not have been possible had it not been for the contributions from the developer. The contributions and obligations must be necessary and relate to the development.

In relation to the Handforth development what can the local residents expect from the section 106 agreement? Out of the 250 dwellings, 75 will be affordable housing which is much needed in the South Manchester area. In addition there will be contributions towards the provision of education facilities which may include the funds for an extension to the existing local school, there will be contributions and obligations in relation to access to the development and upgrading such infrastructure in the locality, the improvements to local footpaths and open space as well as contributions towards upgrading the local recreational facilities in open space creation and upgrades to the current leisure and medical facilities.

Many of these obligations and contributions are usually upfront costs meaning that they need to be paid when development commences.

Therefore in some instances, whilst the principle of the development might not be welcomed by the local residents at this stage, when the development has been completed and the contributions have been paid which increases the facilities for all local residents there may be improvements which in the long term have a significant benefit to the local residents and economy.