In the last few days we have seen the Government’s Planning Inspector back the approach set out by the Council on how we take forward our Local Plan, with a view to going back to examination on the Garden Community proposals next year.
There is much work to do and several deadlines that must be met. This is recognised by the Inspector and following discussions with the Leaders both at Colchester and Tendring Councils, we have opted to add in additional time to the timetable, meaning we will now likely go back to examination on the Local Plan next autumn rather than the summer. This will enable us to undertake the required work, ensure a full consultation period, and that each Council can take any revisions to the Local Plan through their various committees.
It is important that we give ourselves as much time as possible to ensure that we make the best possible case – but importantly, we have the green light to move forward.
One of the pieces of work being undertaken at the moment is a ‘sustainability appraisal’. This is quite a technical piece of work which effectively looks at the environmental impact and how sustainable a particular development is and then compares it against other potential sites which have been put forward.
It is this piece of work which generated the recent headline in the Halstead Gazette regarding the potential for ‘8000 new homes in Halstead’. This is not something we would support, but the appraisal must look at this objectively and compare our proposed sites with other sites being put forward.
This story does of course set out the challenge that we face. If the Garden Community proposals put forward were to be abandoned, we would need to look at alternative sites elsewhere. Our housing requirements alongside Colchester and Tendring is over 2000 new homes a year. This is an evidenced figure approved by the Planning Inspector.
We cannot put our heads in the sand and ignore this need, deny it exists or claim it’s for someone else. The reality is that the vast majority of new homes are being purchased by us – people living here in North Essex.
So how we approach tackling this need is more important than ever. We simply can’t afford to continue to tag more homes on to existing towns and villages, increasing the strain on services and infrastructure.
That is why we want to see a new approach that uses the creation of homes to help bring forward infrastructure and support new jobs.
The Garden Community proposals being developed offer this opportunity. Through taking a community first approach which moves away from typical developer-led development and instead sees investment into high quality infrastructure paid back when the homes are sold, we have the opportunity to create something which puts people’s needs at the very forefront.
To the recent letter writers in the BWT challenging whether there will be school provision, health and leisure services – Yes we will see all of those things, and that’s the point. We want to move to a model where we can ensure that those things are deliverable alongside or ahead of the homes, rather than as a negotiation with a developer who holds all of the cards under the existing system.
And the simple truth is this. The best way of ensuring that social and physical infrastructure is delivered as we want and expect it, is through the creation of larger-scale developments creating enough critical-mass to pay for and make it viable.
Of course, we are several years away from work beginning, and we must first go through the planning process demonstrating these types of development are viable and deliverable, and of course we must consider the findings of the sustainability appraisal being undertaken, but if we are serious about tackling housing now for future generations, we must look at doing something different.
Graham Butland, Leader, Braintree District Council