Frequently Asked Questions
On this page we have set out a number of frequently asked questions about the North Essex Garden Communities Project. This page will evolve as the project progresses, but in the mean time if you have a question then contact us.
What is being proposed?
Braintree District Council, Colchester Borough Council, Tendring District Council and Essex County Council) are exploring the potential for creating three ‘Garden Communities’ – new settlements based on Garden City principles.
The three sites are based west of Braintree, on the Braintree / Colchester border and on the Colchester / Tendring border, and could deliver up to 43,000 new homes along with significant employment opportunities and transformational new infrastructure over the next 50 years.
Why do we need new housing?
Essex, in common with many areas of the UK, faces a real challenge to deliver the number of homes needed for its growing population, and the question of where our children and grandchildren will live is a question we must all consider.
Across the county 130,000 new homes are needed over the next 15 years. If the current rate of building continues, there will be 77,000 too few homes by 2036. Without new homes, house prices and rents will continue to become increasingly unaffordable.
This means looking at a variety of types of development options, maximising the use of ‘brownfield’ (former industrial) land and public sector (owned by Councils, the NHS or other public services) land. There are however only limited sites of this type available so other types of development are being explored.
Importantly in creating homes for our future generations, this can have a much wider positive impact. By creating well designed, sustainable housing with the infrastructure to support them this can act as a catalyst for economic growth,
Why are you proposing the creation of Garden Communities?
There are planning, social and economic advantages to the Garden Community proposals.
Councils must ensure enough land is allocated within their districts to meet projected needs. New development is therefore not optional; it is a legal requirement. The exact level of development that needs to be planned by Councils is based on the requirements set out in national policy.
The Councils must plan for this growth within their Local Plan, if it does not then housing developers can apply for planning permission wherever they see fit and whilst the Councils could refuse such proposals in the first instance, the applicants can appeal to the Planning Inspectorate to overturn the decision and grant permissions.
There are numerous examples of this ‘planning by appeal’ taking place within north Essex in recent years, and this generally means on-going urban sprawl of existing towns and villages.
The Garden Community approach with the Councils taking a more active role would enable them to have more control over this growth – They can take a holistic approach controlling the speed, design and type of housing, they can ensure the services and required infrastructure are in place at the right point and importantly focus on ensuring that the land value is used to the benefit of the community (see why this is this different to traditional development).
Creating good quality homes in the right location is also a catalyst for economic growth. Businesses are attracted by good infrastructure and transport links, and ensuring that employees can live nearby. The Garden Community proposals offer the opportunity to unlock the economic potential of north Essex.
What is a Garden Community?
A Garden Community is a “holistically planned development which enhances the natural environment, tackles climate change and provides high-quality housing and locally accessible jobs.”
Effectively it’s a purpose-built, self-contained community which includes homes, business space, green spaces, community and health and leisure facilities. They are developed with good design, innovation and technology in mind. They are also designed to put residents at the forefront through community stewardship of assets.
It’s an idea that dates back to the late 19th century when Ebenezer Howard proposed Garden Towns as a greener alternative to urban slums. This led to Letchworth Garden City, the world’s first, to be founded in 1903 and Welwyn Garden City in 1920.
Examples of Garden Cities/Towns can now be seen across the world from Canberra in Australia to Cite Moortebeek in Belgium. As the concept has developed, the Town and County Planning Association have set out design principles to guide Garden Communities
Our ambition through North Essex Garden Communities is to go beyond the principles and the immediate need to deliver homes and jobs; addressing the aspirations of our population, not just meeting their needs. This means:
- Creating opportunities for businesses to grow in a supportive environment;
- A better-educated and skilled workforce;
- Improved mobility helping people to connect with places across North Essex
- Meaningful investment in social development to create real, resilient and self-reliant communities, not just dormitory
estates and commuters.
- Ready access to our natural green spaces – the “Gardens” of North Essex.
- A new approach to stewardship where local communities will take direct responsibility for community assets through
innovation in governance, ownership and management.
Why is this different to traditional development?
A significant issue with traditional development is that it is often privately led by commercial developers, so ultimately are designed and delivered in a way that maximises profits for landowners and the developers.
Development is also often small-scale with homes tagged onto existing towns and villages. This piecemeal development can have an impact on services and infrastructure, and often does not bring with it investment into infrastructure.
The approach proposed by the Councils would see a more holistic approach with them stepping into the role played by the developer and so ensuring the focus is not solely on financial return but what is required to create sustainable functioning communities. This means that key infrastructure such as health centres, schools and leisure facilities will come alongside the homes as will business space and social and cultural facilities.
One of the key aspects of the new approach being taken is the idea of capturing land value. When land is developed the value of it rises. This would traditionally go to the developers, but the councils are proposing to capture this land value and invest it back into the communities so helping to pay for infrastructure that we know the communities will need.
Will all of the land highlighted on the map be developed?
No, at this early stage land has been identified which could accommodate the Garden Communities but the extent of development has not yet been determined. As the plans progress and are developed further a more defined boundary will be created and eventually a detailed masterplan for each site will show the amount and location of land designated for different land uses, such as residential, employment and green infrastructure.
It’s also important to stress that the development boundary incorporates all aspects of the development including green space, and the use of generous amounts of green space is an integral part of what a Garden Community is.
Will schools, health and leisure services be provided?
Yes. One of the main reasons for approaching future housing provision in a different way is the opportunity to ensure that suitable infrastructure is put in the right place and at the right time.
And the term ‘infrastructure’ covers a wide range of things from roads through to schools , health centres, parks and leisure facilities.
What is NEGC Ltd?
In order to ensure the new communities adhere to the North Essex Garden Community Charter the Councils will take an active role in their delivery. This will enable them to ensure that an holistic approach is taken, with a focus not just on new homes, but how north Essex grows over years to come.
More control over the development will also ensure that infrastructure is delivered at the right time to support the new homes.
To do this they have joined to form a company, North Essex Garden Communities Ltd (NEGC Ltd), to oversee the evolution and delivery of the Garden Communities.
The company is one quarter owned by the four partner Councils. Ultimately the company will act as the ‘master developer’ for the communities, meaning it will control the type, design and speed of build, so ensuring the principles to which the Councils have committed are upheld.
Can you explain the planning process?
It is the role of the district councils as the ‘planning authorities’ to develop the policies and rules to which development should adhere.
As part of their Local Plans (plans showing where, what and when development across the district should be) the District Councils have set out the principle of taking a garden community approach to future development and set out evidence as to why the three locations chosen are suitable (and others are not).
The next stage of the planning process is to create an individual plan for each of the three communities, known as Development Planning Documents (DPDs). DPDs, are planning documents that are used to inform large scale development within a set area. They are similar to Local Plans in that they must be prepared in consultation with statutory stakeholders and local communities, and are subject to independent examination, but differ in the fact they cover a focussed development area rather an administrative district. Like Local Plans, DPDs must contain the strategies, policies and proposals required to guide the development they were designed to deliver.
In the case of NEGC, DPDs are being prepared for each of the Garden Communities and will therefore need to contain strategies relating to transport, housing, green infrastructure, design, and a variety of other issues that are relevant to the planning and delivering of a new settlement.
Once the Garden Community DPDs are adopted by the Councils (Braintree, Colchester and Tendring), all planning proposals within the Garden Communities must be determined in accordance with them – therefore they are very important documents and will carry substantial weight in respect of future planning decisions.
How will the DPDs develop?
In preparing the DPDs the district councils will follow a set process involving three stages of formal public consultation, as follows:
Issues and Options – This first stage of consultation ran through December and January. The purpose of this early stage consultation was to highlight the planning issues which will need to be covered in the Garden Community Plans and the planning options for addressing these issues. The responses provided are currently being worked through and will help to inform the future options.
Preferred Options – This is the next stage in the evolution of the Garden Community Plans and takes forward preferred options for addressing the planning issues identified in the Issues and Options consultation. As such the Preferred Options will set out the strategies, policies and proposals needed to address transport, green infrastructure, design, housing, and other issues in the Garden Communities. Importantly this version of the plan will justify the preferred options taken. Responses to this consultation will refine and finalise these strategies, policies and proposals. This consultation is likely to take place in late 2018.
Publication Draft – This is the final stage of producing the Garden Community Plans. It will set out the final strategies, policies and proposals for each Garden Community. Responses to this consultation will go to the Planning Inspectorate which will decide, through separate public examinations, if each of the Plans are sound, legally compliant and in accordance with national policy requirements. This is likely to take place in 2019.
When is development going to start?
The delivery of each of the new communities is dependent on the planning processes that each Council must independently go through.
It is likely that development could commence on one of the sites around 2021.
How is this being paid for?
Central to the plans is the ability of the Councils, through their company, to maintain control of the Garden Communities, so ensuring that the new communities continue to adhere to Garden City principles as they develop.
Developments of this scale will need a mix of different funding approaches. the Councils are well positoned to work alongside private deevelopers on the basis that they will be developed in a holistic way to the principles they have committed.
Do the Government support these plans?
Yes. North Essex Garden Communities is part of the Government’s Garden Towns Programme. To date the Councils have been awarded almost £2million pounds in Government funding to take forward and asses the viability of the proposals.
WEST OF BRAINTREE - What is Uttlesford District Council’s involvement?
NEGC Ltd is owned by Braintree, Colchester, Tendring and Essex County Councils, and it is this partnership that has taken forward the proposals since 2015 (with the company formally launched in 2017).
Their partnership has involved aligning their Local Plans (their plans for where future development will go), of which the Garden Community proposals form part.
However part of the proposed West of Braintree site falls within Uttlesford’s geographic boundary. This means that they are a close partner, and while their own Local Plan process is at an earlier stage, they are supportive of the West of Braintree site developing within the model and principles the other Councils have committed.
Ultimately, as with each Council the decision on taking forward the proposals sits with the councillors within their respective governance structure (cabinet, local plan committee etc).
COLCHESTER BRAINTREE BORDERS - Why is this being called West Tey and also Colchester Braintree Borders?
Landowners along the A120 have been advocating development on part of this site for a number of years. A number have joined to form Gateway 120 and promote what they have called ‘West Tey’.
The area of land which the Councils are looking at incorporates this, but also land from other landowners. As such at this point it is referred to as Colchester Braintree Borders in recognition that it crosses the boundary between Colchester and Braintree.
COLCHESTER BRAINTREE BORDERS - What is happening with the A12 / A120?
The proposed development will clearly be impacted by future decisions made on improvements to the A120, however, the case for a new improved A120 does not solely rest on decisions around the garden settlements.
Essex County Council as the local highways authority has recently undertaken a consultation on route options, with the aim of submitting a proposal to Highways England later this year for consideration. You can find out more at http://a120essex.co.uk/timeline/
Highways England is also charged with developing a scheme to widen the A12 between junction 19 (Chelmsford) and junction 25 (Marks Tey). The scheme is identified in the Governments ‘Road Investment Strategy’ and has funding allocated to allow a start on construction by 2020/21.
They put forward a number of options around this which would see the road either kept on its current line or moved off-line and this went through consultation in 2017.
Highways England is currently deliberating on a Preferred Route Option based on their consultation and an announcement on this is expected soon.
From a planning perspective the, the Planning Inspector’s report and recommendations on the District Council’s Local Plan are expected in the summer.
Assuming the Garden Community is confirmed this would however mean that Highways England would need to consider how their preferred route alignment (when chosen) would cater for the Garden Community proposals. If Highways England was of the view that it needed to change its design there would need to be further detailed engineering work and more public consultation.
Representatives from the Councils, NEGC and Highways England are in close discussions to ensure a joint-up approach and to ensure the final decision on the route best support the ambitions to create a great new community to Garden Community principles
TENDRING COLCHESTER BORDERS - Will there be housing south of the A133?
No. The Councils have been clear that new housing will not be located south of the A133. The only development proposed south of the A133 is the growth of the University and a park and ride facility – although the concept plan is only a first iteration and feedback provided through the previous consultation will influence the next iteration of the plan.
TENDRING COLCHESTER BORDERS - Will a link road be created between the A120 and A133
Yes. The initial concepts have started to look at the infrastructure requirements for each site and it is recognised that a new link road would be integral to being able to support housing.