Skip to main content

Why the Middlewich Neighbourhood Plan failed

Middlewich Neighbourhood Plan rejected at referendum
News that the Middlewich Neighbourhood Plan was rejected at referendum has spread rapidly across social media and has even been picked up by local and national press - see BBC article.

The story has garnered a lot of attention as it is highly unusual for a Neighbourhood Plan to be rejected. The Middlewich Neighbourhood Plan is only the third Neighbourhood Plan not to be supported by residents.

At the referendum held on 14 March 2019, the Neighbourhood Plan was rejected, albeit by a very slim margin of just 22 votes.

'No' Campaign

Prior to the referendum, Labour town councillors led a campaign which encouraged local people to vote against the Neighbourhood Plan. 

Based on the literature shared by the campaign group, opposition to the Middlewich Neighbourhood Plan appears to be pointed at three key issues:
  • Impacts on the town and its infrastructure of the overall scale of growth Middlewich is expected deliver
  • Disagreement with the individual sites identified by the Neighbourhood Plan
  • Lack of involvement and engagement with residents and opposition councillors during preparation of the Neighbourhood Plan

Amount of growth

The Middlewich Neighbourhood Plan appears to have been a comprehensive document with policies which sought to address a wide range of issues, particularly relating to revitalising the town centre.

Middlewich is a location for strategic growth. The Cheshire East Local Plan Strategy identifies a requirement for 1,950 dwellings at Middlewich and 75 hectares of employment land, with much of this growth being delivered through strategic sites to the south of the town.

The basic conditions require Neighbourhood Plans to be in general conformity with the strategic policies for the area. It is possible that some people who disagreed with the scale of growth Middlewich is expected to accommodate did not understand the constraints within which a Neighbourhood Plan must operate. Their dissatisfaction with the overall scale of growth perhaps should have been directed at the Local Plan, but instead they chose to punish the Neighbourhood Plan.

Sites

Strategic growth at Middlewich appears to be a matter principally dealt with through the Local Plan. However, the Middlewich Neighbourhood Plan identified two sites which would include an element of housing development. One of which, a canal-side and marina development, is the subject of an emerging Supplementary Planning Document currently being worked-up by Cheshire East Council, and therefore may well be developed despite the Neighbourhood Plan being rejected - now without the input of the Neighbourhood Plan. 

Community engagement

Whilst there were accusations from the 'No' campaign that the process wasn't sufficiently inclusive, the examiner was satisfied that the necessary procedural requirements had been followed. The examiner's report notes that the plan was prepared by a Steering Group comprising town councillors, local residents and members of the local community and business groups.

In addition to the formal consultation stages, the Steering Group took over a vacant shop in the town centre, held drop-in sessions, delivered questionnaires to every household through a local magazine, and promoted the plan at a Classic Car and Bike event, Makers Market and other events.

There may well have been some challenging local politics at play. However, the case highlights the importance of getting the wider community to 'buy-in' to the Neighbourhood Plan, and illustrates what can go wrong where people do not feel they have been included, whether founded or otherwise.

Opportunity for review

It is possible that local people may have directed their frustrations with the high demand for growth at the Neighbourhood Plan. However, the Middlewich Neighbourhood Plan could not realistically avoid strategic growth in its area, else it would fall foul of the basic conditions.

The Neighbourhood Plan contains a number of positive aspirations, particularly around supporting the viability and vitality of the town centre. By rejecting the Middlewich Neighbourhood Plan, there could be an element of 'throwing the baby out with the bath water'. 

A more pragmatic solution may have been to support the Neighbourhood Plan, and commence an immediate review to produce a document which better reflects the aspirations of the local community.

Exceptional

Writing a Neighbourhood Plan (or for that matter, a Local Plan) is inherently constrained by external factors, such as national policy, legislation, and other plans and strategies. Plan-making requires taking difficult decisions and there will always be people who are disgruntled.

What is perhaps most surprising is just how few Neighbourhood Plans have been rejected at referendum. Overwhelmingly, residents turn out and support the plan at the ballot box.

In March 2018, the government published a report which showed there have been well over 700 Neighbourhood Plan referendums.

Including the Middlewich Neighbourhood Plan, there have been only three Neighbourhood Plans rejected at referendum.

The unfortunate case of the Middlewich Neighbourhood Plan is, therefore, very much an exception. Prospective neighbourhood planners should take comfort in the fact that the vast majority of Neighbourhood Plans are successful at referendum.

Comments

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Where do you get your information?
    It was hardly publicised. You only have to ask the residents of middlewich who knew nothing until a polling card came through the doors. You mention a questionnaire being delivered in a magazine? I throw my junk mail away so would not think to look through a magazine for such a important thing. There has been no mention of this questionnaire by councillors only the 59 that were filled in at a car rally that made be a ssurprise to you but all residents do not attend. Where and when was this shop opened? If your referring to the church shop yes that is where middlewich first target all the vunerable older people with biscuits and cakes and false promises.
    I believe the plan was put together by the majority ruling party middlewich first, a independent councillor and a resident who used to be a MF member. Some of these councillors could also have a financial interest in the NP sailing through. Middlewich first have lost all credibility around the town. So why would anyone vote for something they have put together.
    We also have a borough councillor on the group who's attendance rate is dismal. He basically leeches of the taxpayer. He never goes to meetings although only this year as its coming up to election he has made a little more effort. Previous years attendance would get any normal worker sacked!!!
    There has also been police investigations about missing chains and accusations made about the cemetery all of which the middlewich first council have covered up. They have had to pay £30.000 out over these allegations.
    We have also been waiting for a bypass which was half built then it had funding for a pointless m6 relief bypass then didnt have funding then it's not happening until 2024. We don't want anymore houses until we can move around the town.
    Roll on May 2nd when we can get rid of them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Paul, thank you for your comments. My main sources for writing the blog post were the Middlewich Neighbourhood Plan and the Examiner's Report. I found the referendum results on the BBC article which I've provided a link to at the top of the page.

      I found a pamphlet on the No Campaign's Facebook page which I summarised the key issues in the ''No' Campaign' section.

      Where I have referred to the community engagement process, I found this info in the Examiner's Report.

      Delete
  3. Hi, there are a couple of inaccuracies in your blog. The steering group was made up of 1 true Independent Councillor, 1 resident that is an ex-Councillor of Middlewich First and the rest were Middlewich First Councillors. A non Middlewich First resident asked to be on the steering group but was refused. They did not take over a shop nor did a questionnaire appear in a local magazine. Most of the community knew very little if anything about the NP, some voters even turned up thinking that they were voting for Labour or Conservative. I sent an email to the Town Clerk asking for some amendments to be considered and never got a reply or any feedback.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your comments. I found the description of the steering groups' membership and the methods of community engagement in paragraphs 1.2 and 3.5 of the Independent Examiner's Report.

      The report is available from Cheshire East Council's website: https://www.cheshireeast.gov.uk/pdf/planning/neighbourhood-plan/middlewich/middlewich-np-examiners-report.pdf

      Delete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Housing Delivery Test 2019 Results Published

The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has now published the latest results of its Housing Delivery Test (HDT), based on the number of new homes built in the period 2016 to 2019.

The HDT 2019 measurement for each council area is provided in the searchable table below.
How the Housing Delivery Test is calculated The HDT calculates the number of new homes built, as a percentage of the number of homes needed over the past three years. MHCLG re-calculates an HDT figure annually for every council area in England. The new 2019 measurement replaces the previous 2018 measurement.
Consequences of the Housing Delivery Test The purpose of the HDT is to hold local authorities to account over the supply of new housing.

Where the HDT shows the delivery of new homes has fallen below 95% of the district or borough's housing requirement over the previous three years, the council should prepare an Action Plan to assess the causes of under-delivery and identify actions to…

Exciting changes to the Plan Finder...

I've given the Neighbourhood Plan Finder a major upgrade, transforming it into a fully fledged web app!

Loyal readers will know that this site provides the most comprehensive directory of made Neighbourhood Plans on the web. However, the original Plan Finder was a little 'clunky'.

The new and improved Plan Finder offers better results and improved functionality, enabling users to perform a simple search to locate made Neighbourhood Plans. For example, with the new Plan Finder you can search for Neighbourhood Plans by:
Name or location of Neighbourhood PlanLocal Planning Authority e.g. district or borough councilCountyNational ParkReferendum date, in format "YYYY-MM-DD" e.g. a search for '2019-12' will return plans which passed referendum in December 2019. This directory of Neighbourhood Plans is intended to raise the profile of Neighbourhood Plans by helping people to find plans more easily. For example, helping developers and agents to locate plans which…

Neighbourhood Plan Review: Plans made in July 2019

Neighbourhood Plans provide a bespoke planning framework for the local area. No two plans are alike, although many have similar characteristics and address common themes. This post provides a short summary of those Neighbourhood Plans which successfully passed referendum in July 2019, highlighting the elements which make each plan locally specific and unique.

The purpose of this post is to celebrate the achievement of those communities in successfully preparing their Neighbourhood Plans, and to share the interesting ideas and policies for the benefit of others who are currently writing their plans. Links to the Neighbourhood Plans are provided throughout the post.
Navigate this post using the map July was a busy month, with a whopping 24 Neighbourhood Plans successfully passing referendum. To  make it easier to navigate this post, the location of the areas covered by each new Neighbourhood Plan are shown on the interactive map. Click on a marker to reveal a link to the plan's su…

Secretary of State overturns Planning Inspector's decision due to density concerns

Normally, planning appeals are determined by Planning Inspectors, but in some circumstances appeals may be 'recovered' for determination by the Secretary of State (SoS). The current SoS for Housing, Communities and Local Government is James Brokenshire MP.

In December 2018, the SoS issued a decision on a recovered appeal at Woburn Sands, Buckinghamshire. The proposal for residential development of up to 203 dwellings, a doctor’s surgery, open space and landscaping, together with pedestrian, cycle and vehicular access, was initially refused by Milton Keynes Council, and following appeal, granted permission by a Planning Inspector. However, the SoS recovered the appeal and overturned the Inspector's decision, dismissing the appeal.

Details of the case are available on the Planning Inspectorate's website, using case reference: APP/Y0435/W/17/3169314.
Appeal site & Neighbourhood Plan The appeal site is a 15.2 hectare, greenfield site, located outside the development bo…

Just how big is an infill site? Appeal decision: Chinnor, Oxfordshire

An appeal decision initially caught my eye due to its surprising interpretation of 'infill development' -  but also raises some concerning issues around how Neighbourhood Plan policies are applied during the decision-making process.

The appeal relates to an application for the construction of up to 140 dwellings, new public open space, associated landscaping and site infrastructure on a 3.9ha site at Chinnor, Oxfordshire. The application was made by Persimmon Homes and initially refused by South Oxfordshire District Council. The appeal was allowed, meaning the Planning Inspector went against the district council's decision grant planning permission for the scheme. Details of the appeal can be found using the following reference APP/Q3115/W/17/3187058. Neighbourhood Plan & Development Plan Chinnor is a large village in Oxfordshire. The Chinnor Neighbourhood Plan (CNP) was 'made' in October 2017. When the appeal commenced, the Neighbourhood Plan was less than one…

Appeal granted in countryside despite Five Year Land Supply - Shinfield Neighbourhood Plan

Through a recent appeal decision, a Planning Inspector has granted outline planning permission for up to 55 dwellings and 'Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace' (SANG) at land at Parklands, east of Basingstoke Road, Spencers Wood, Wokingham.

The decision was issued on 28th February 2019, under appeal reference APP/X0360/W/18/3204133.

The appeal site is located between two villages, Three Mile Cross and Spencers Wood. The scheme proposes two areas of development adjoining each of the villages, separated by an area of open space - a 'SANG'.
Shinfield Neighbourhood Plan The Shinfield Neighbourhood Plan (SNP) was made in February 2017. Policy 1 of the SNP addresses the location of development:

In Shinfield Parish, development within the Development Limits..., will be supported; development adjacent to the Development Limits will only be supported where the benefits of the development outweigh its adverse impacts. 

'Development limits' are a very common planning …

Essential reading for Neighbourhood Planners

Through my site neighbourhood-planning.co.uk I have attempted to explain the neighbourhood planning process, and provide regular blog posts on the latest issues affecting neighbourhood planning. But where can you go to find out more?

In this article I attempt to summarise where you should go for the most useful information and guidance, and where you can find funding and support for writing a Neighbourhood Plan.
Locality Toolkits and Guidance Locality administer the government's current programme of support for neighbourhood planning groups, and Locality's neighbourhoodplanning.org site should be your first port of call when writing a Neighbourhood Plan.
Locality has produced an excellent series of 'toolkits & guidance' on a range of issues to assist the preparation of neighbourhood plans. It is difficult to understate how valuable Locality's guides are for budding neighbourhood planners. Be sure you don't miss: The Neighbourhood Plans Roadmap 2018 by Dave …

Neighbourhood Plan Review: Plans Made in September 2019

This post explores Neighbourhood Plans which successfully passed referendum in September 2019, highlighting elements which make each plan locally specific and unique. The following Neighbourhood Plans passed referendum in September 2019:
Bawtry Neighbourhood Plan (Doncaster Council)Brackenfield Neighbourhood Plan (North East Derbyshire District Council)Chelford Neighbourhood Plan (Cheshire East Council)Congresbury Neighbourhood Plan (North Somerset Council)Glentworth Neighbourhood Plan (West Lindsey District Council)Hanslope Neighbourhood Plan (Milton Keynes Council)Hullavington Neighbourhood Plan (Wiltshire Council)Huntingdon Neighbourhood Plan (Huntingdonshire District Council)Misterton Neighbourhood Plan (Bassetlaw District Council)Moreton, Bobbingworth and the Lavers Neighbourhood Plan (Epping Forest District Council)Sedgefield Neighbourhood Plan (Durham County Council)Sedgeford Neighbourhood Plan (Kings Lynn & West Norfolk District Council)Sid Valley Neighbourhood Plan (Sidmo…

"Presumption-proofing" Neighbourhood Plans

Planning law states that applications for planning permission must be determined in accordance with the development plan, unless material considerations indicate otherwise. Therefore, where a planning application conflicts with an up-to-date Local Plan or any Neighbourhood Plans, permission should not usually be granted unless there are material considerations which indicate that a departure from the plan(s) would be appropriate.

In July 2018, government published a new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) replacing the previous 2012 framework. The NPPF is potentially one form of ‘material consideration’. The current (and former) NPPF includes a 'presumption in favour of sustainable development'.

The ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ applies where there are no relevant development plan policies, or the policies which are most important for determining applications, including housing development, are out-of-date

Crucially, the NPPF considers plans to be ou…