Frequently Asked Questions

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 45,000 new homes along with significant employment opportunities and transformational new infrastructure over the next 30 years.

To support this work the programme successfully bid for funding from Government to assist in supporting feasibility work.

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. Without new homes, house prices and rents will continue to become increasingly unaffordable.

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.

This means looking at a variety of types of development options, maximising the use of ‘brown field’ (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, meaning councils face the issue of piecemeal development, or expansion of existing sites without the infrastructure to support it.

Importantly it is also necessary to create the right sort of homes in the right areas with both market and affordable housing needed.

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.

To support our vision, a North Essex Garden Communities charter has been created.

What’s different about this project?

Traditional approaches to new housing development have led to problems with both delivery and sustainability.

While small numbers of housing can be added to existing communities, the relative size of these developments often mean that they do not come with significant infrastructure investment (like road improvements, schools, new leisure facilities etc.), or the infrastructure is not provided in a timely manner and often lags behind the rest of the development.

The Garden Community proposals would see the Councils themselves acting as the lead developer, giving them the ability to control the design, type of housing, build speed, and vitally the infrastructure requirements.

The large scale nature of the proposed Garden Communities will allow infrastructure improvements to come alongside, or in advance of the development

Is this type of development needed to meet Government targets?

Within their ‘Local Plan’ each council must set out plans for where housing is going to go over the coming years.

Within the plan the Council has a duty to demonstrate it can provide a five year supply of housing based on its ‘assessed’ need. This assessed need is based on evidence produced by leading consultants in line with planning guidelines.

While the Garden Communities being proposed would be longer-term and would not be part of the current five year supply, this is a rolling process and without them other sites would need to be allocated when the local plan is reviewed.

Without planning properly for our future planning need, the Local Plan risks being found unsound when it goes before the Independent Planning Inspector.

How will you make sure the principles are adhered to?

In order to ensure the new communities adhere to Garden City principles the councils will take an active role in their delivery.

A newly formed company, North Essex Garden Communities Ltd (NEGC), made up of representatives from each council will oversee the evolution and delivery of the Garden Communities.

In addition and central to the principles of Garden Communities is community stewardship.

This involves residents of the communities taking an active role in the management of the community areas across the sites, with ring-fenced resources, thereby allowing them to key role in helping to shape the plans.

When will a final decision be made about the three developments?

The three district councils have outlined their plans to support the Garden Communities within their ‘local plans’. These planning based documents will shape the future of North Essex and set the policy framework over the next 15 years.

Following a period of consultation, the plans will be submitted for examination by the Planning Inspectorate in the autumn.

Alongside this, work is ongoing to assess the viability of each of the three sites. This work will continue through 2018.

What makes a Garden Community 'viable'?

Central to the methodology is the concept of ‘residual land value’. Residual land value is the value that can be attributed to land, after the total cost of construction and development activity, including all associated costs (fees, profits, finance, contingency, etc.) is deducted from the end value.

When the residual land value is equal or above that deemed sufficient to provide a competitive return, the project can be considered to be ‘viable’

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.

Effectively acting as the lead developers, the Councils will look to work with other public and private sector partners in order to bring the developments into fruition.

How will this impact the consultation on the A120?

The proposed development on the Braintree / Colchester border will clearly be impacted by future decisions made on improvements to the A120 and A12. 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 preferred routes, with the aim of submitting a proposal to Highways England later this year for consideration.

What is happening with the A12?

Highways England are 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 a funding allocated to allow a start on construction by 2020.

There are also plans to develop a scheme to widen the A12 between junction 25 (Marks Tey) and junction 29 (Crown Interchange, north east Colchester). The scheme is identified in the Road Investment Strategy and has funding allocated to allow a start on construction by 2025.

The NEGC programme is talking to the Highways Agency and each council is individually submitting a response to the proposals.