The future of Wilmslow’s Neighbourhood Plan will be decided by a local referendum on Thursday, October 10th.Transition Wilmslow has produced this brief guide to the Plan and what it can do for our local area.
Hard copies are available at the library and you can also access it on line at https://www.cheshireeast.gov.uk/planning/neighbourhood-plans/neighbourhood-plans-n-z/wilmslow-neighbourhood-plan.aspx
Aim of the Plan
The aim of the Wilmslow Neighbourhood Plan (WNP) is ‘to sustain and enhance a dynamic community within Wilmslow which protects its special built and natural character and which promotes a user friendly and green environment with an increasingly attractive and thriving Town Core.’
The WNP contains policies for the Natural Environment; Townscape and Heritage; Transport, Access and Infrastructure; Community, Leisure and Recreation; Housing; Employment and Retail; and the Town Centre (called the Town Core in the Plan at the insistence of Cheshire East!).
The policies sit alongside the Cheshire East Local Plan and are intended to guide future development through to 2030. They also include aspirational policies to safeguard the countryside, improve access and regenerate the town centre which will be taken forward by Wilmslow Town Council. If the WNP is approved by the referendum it will carry full weight in planning law. Cheshire East Council will have to take proper regard of the WNP in all planning decisions affecting Wilmslow.
How was the Plan prepared?
The WNP has been produced independently by a team of volunteer local residents, with the support of Wilmslow Town Council and the planning consultants Urban Imprint. The WNP and its policies have been shaped by considerable input and feedback from the local community through an extensive consultation process, beginning in 2016 with an initial questionnaire sent to every resident in the town. This produced some 1,200 responses.
Transition Wilmslow commented on the Plan at each stage and held a major consultation exercise in July, 2017 to consider the emerging policies (Emerging Policies Document). A comprehensive landscape assessment of Wilmslow’s countryside, begun by Transition Wilmslow in 2014/15, was taken forward by the WNP team and published as the Wilmslow Landscape CharacterAssessmentto support the Plan and its policies.
The full consultation draft of the WNP was published in July, 2018. The final version of the plan reflects feedback during consultation and scrutiny by an Independent Examiner, appointed by Cheshire East Council who reported in June, 2019. The Examiner approved the plan subject to certain modifications. Despite these changes, a comparison of the Consultation Draft with the final Referendum Version shows that the Wilmslow Neighbourhood Plan has survived substantially intact.
Fundamental concern for sustainability
The WNP is distinctive because it demonstrates a real concern with sustainability and begins with three interlinked policies for Sustainable Construction, Sustainable Spaces and Sustainable Transport. These Local Strategic Policies must be considered by all planning applications submitted within the WNP area. They reflect the community’s vision for Wilmslow to be a sustainable town where people are encouraged to use sustainable modes of transport (seamlessly integrating new development into existing and new walking and cycling routes), where development is undertaken in a way which limits its impact on the environment (meeting and where possible exceeding national standards for energy efficiency and construction quality) and where the surrounding landscape and green assets are protected and enhanced (incorporating sustainable drainage, protecting green infrastructure and enhancing biodiversity).
Transition Wilmslow’s core objective is to safeguard and improve the sustainability and liveability of our local area. These policies give real practical effect to that objective.
Policies for the Natural and Built Environment
Highlights from these policies include:
- Safeguarding landscape character, ecological structure and historical and cultural features from inappropriate development (especially in river valleys and gateways to the town)
- Maintaining and enhancing ecological connectivity and countryside access by working closely with neighbouring Town and Parish Councils, strategic landowners (e.g. the National Trust) and other partners (e.g. farmers and landowners)
- Encouraging the development of a Parish wide network of green links between town and country
- Strengthening the public rights of way network with proposals for new footpaths, footpath improvements and safe crossing points (e.g. Vardon Bridge)
- Protecting existing wildlife assets and seeking biodiversity net gain in association with new development
- Seeking to minimise damage and loss of green assets through development affecting residential gardens (this policy was weakened during consultation but the Examiner resisted further change to it)
- Recognising (for the first time in a planning document) the special importance of Lindow Moss as a historic and cultural landscape, with strict development control policies to protect the area’s landscape character and ecological integrity
- Protecting the town’s heritage assets (including non-designated sites/buildings of local importance)
- Safeguarding the character of the Three Wilmslow Parks (Fulshaw Park, Pownall Park and Wilmslow Park)
Policies for Transport, Access and Infrastructure
Highlights from these policies include:
- Working with service providers to protect existing train services to and from Wilmslow
- Setting out residential parking standards for new development
- Seeking to minimise congestion caused by new development, especially at key junctions
- Increasing capacity for long stay car parking through re-development and reconfiguration of designated car parks and sites around Wilmslow
- Working with Cheshire East to ease traffic congestion, including parking enforcement and potential residents parking schemes
- Ensuring safe and well-lit footpaths and cycle ways to link major new developments to schools
- Making sure that new development includes provision for cyclists and setting out a cycling strategy for Wilmslow, with priorities for new and improved provision specified
- Working with Cheshire East Highways to reduce the impact of traffic through the town centre, especially east-west movement
Policies for Community, Leisure and Recreation
Highlights from these policies include:
- Welcoming development which strengthens community provision and supporting proposals for a new ‘Community Hub’ within the town
- Supporting proposals for new indoor leisure facilities, especially at Dean Row
- Designating 23 sites in and around Wilmslow as Local Green Spaces including Public Parks and Gardens (2), Natural and Semi-natural Urban Green Space (2), Outdoor Sports Facilities (1), Amenity Green Space (5), Provision for children and teenagers (8) and Allotments (5). This designation is a specific provision within Neighbourhood Plans and it provides long term security to these green assets. The list includes many notable sites e.g. Memorial Gardens, Carnival Field, Rectory Fields, Village Greens at Morley Green and Dean Row, Romany Memorial Garden and the Temp. The Examiner did not accept that some larger sites proposed by the WNP team met the strict criteria for LGS designation e.g. Wilmslow Carrs – a number of policies, including Green Belt, provide a strong level of protection to these larger sites.
- Supporting proposals which increase the effectiveness of existing health centres and encouraging the development of a new general practice health centre on the north side of the town.
Policies for Housing
The consultation draft of the WNP included a policy on the approach to housing delivery (H1) which sought to prioritise Brownfield opportunity sites and restrict the development of Greenfield Sites; this reflected very strong feedback during consultation about the loss of Green Belt to development within the Cheshire East Local Plan (CELPS). The examiner required this policy to be deleted because of duplication with national planning guidance (NPPF) and the CELPS and because the policy on Greenfield development was ‘over prescriptive and more onerous than the policy set at national or local level’.
Highlights from the remaining policies include:
- Setting out design guidelines for new residential development and ensuring that all developments comply with the Policies for Sustainable Construction, Spaces and Transport
- Seeking to ensure that new development provides an appropriate housing mix – the WNP identified a shortfall of suitable housing for first time buyers and people wishing to downsize.
Policies for Employment and Retail
These policies are designed to provide guidance for existing and growing business and employment uses within the town. It’s worth noting that the daily commuter flows out of Wilmslow are pretty much balanced by the inflow of people to work in the town. Feedback from the WNP consultations demonstrated support for smaller start-up businesses and new technologies coming to the town and the vibrancy that they bring. Highlights from these policies include:
- Supporting applications for re-use of employment land, especially for smaller businesses and start-ups.
- Setting out design criteria for new shop frontages and providing a Wilmslow Shop front Design Guide
- Improving access and vitality of Wilmslow’s four Neighbourhood Centres (Chapel Lane, Davenport Green, Dean Row and Lacey Green)
Revitalising the Town Centre
During consultation many residents expressed their appreciation of Wilmslow Town Centre (referred to as the Town Core in the plan) and its facilities, especially the Wilmslow Library. But residents also had concerns about the state of the Town Centre and need to ensure its continuing viability.
Many changes are taking place in town centres and high street retail is changing due to increasing on-line competition. It is anticipated that future centres will become an increasing focus for community-based interaction as pure retail functions are modified. The work of the Rex Revival Group and the reopening of the Rex cinema point the way forward. The WNP provides an integrated set of policies and proposals for revitalising the Town Core which include:
- Working with potential developers to establish a multi-purpose facility ( a Community Hub) in the centre of the town, focused on the existing library site, with flexible spaces for performance, arts, music, and community activities together with teaching, display and meeting opportunities
- Promoting the development of a Transport Hub at the existing railway station with a series of measures to improve facilities and functioning for passengers and proper integration with bus services, footpaths and cycle routes
- Supporting applications for new overnight accommodation along key bus routes or close to the railway station
- Supporting applications within Wilmslow’s Shopping Core for Shops, financial and Professional Services, restaurants and Drinking establishments, including evening activity
- Supporting conversion of upper floors of retail and office development for residential use
Improving the Public Realm
The public realm of the Town Core is the public space between its building and landscape frontages which contain the centre’s roads, on-street parking, street furniture, footpaths, cycle ways and public spaces. The WNP proposes the development of a comprehensive Public Realm Strategy with proposals for:
- Improved accessibility and parking for the disabled
- Pedestrian friendly schemes
- Integration of proposed green routes and cycle ways
- Protection of existing and creation of a new network of linked public spaces and pedestrian routes, with nominated priorities
- Safeguarding and strengthening the green infrastructure
- Improvements to retail servicing
- Working with partners to enhance Wilmslow’s digital economy
Key Opportunity Sites in the Town Core
The WNP has identified 6 Key Opportunity Sites and prepared a developmentbrief for each. The Examiner strongly supported this policy and had this to say:
‘The six Key opportunity Sites have the potential to deliver some 200-250 new dwellings within the Wilmslow Town Core. They have been chosen for several reasons, which include the potential for the site to become vacant or changeits use over the lifetime of the NP and/or the desirability of a redevelopment to improve the contribution made by key sites to the quality of the townscape.
The policies provide a positive framework for the potential of sites which could make a sustainable and valuable contribution to the future character of the town.’
If approved the Wilmslow Neighbourhood Plan will form part of the development plan for Wilmslow and will sit alongside the Cheshire East Local Plan in the assessment of future planning applications. The Wilmslow Town Council and its partners will take forward the aspirational policies for both town and countryside, including the Town Core. They may establish an implementation team to help bring that about.
Examiner’s conclusions on the WNP
The Independent Examiner, Wendy Burden had this to say by way of conclusion:
‘The WNP is a comprehensive and detailed document, clear in its intentions for the future of Wilmslow. Its production has undoubtedly required a high level and standard of work by a group of committed volunteers from the local community. I commend the Town Council and the Neighbourhood Steering Group for producing a neighbourhood plan which seeks to fulfil the wishes and aspirations of their local community whilst recognising the requirements of national and local plan policy. With the modifications appended to my report the WNP should provide an effective Plan for the management of the future planning of Wilmslow.’