This week I confirmed at our Full Council meeting that Braintree District Council would be continuing to support the proposals for three new Garden Community developments across North Essex, to help meet the significant housing and infrastructure needs for our region.
While separately our partners in Colchester and Tendring must come to their own conclusions, I want to explain why this route was chosen, and why the Garden Community approach is the best way of ensuring we have more control over our inevitable future growth.
Firstly, the challenge. Braintree as a district needs to build at least 716 new homes every year until 2033 supported by the employment space needed to ensure a thriving community. This number of homes is required to address the current housing crisis and to ensure we meet future demand. This is an evidenced figure set in stone, approved by the Planning Inspectorate.
So how do we ensure we’re delivering not just quality housing for our growing population, but creating real communities for future generations to thrive? Over the next few years we will continue to make use of existing brownfield sites and former industrial land, but these spaces are limited. Traditionally we would see homes tagged on to existing communities, but this brings with it a number of issues and risks, exacerbating the urban sprawl already suffered by Braintree and Colchester. Unfortunately, this sort of development doesn’t pay for a new road, create a new school, doctor’s surgery or leisure centre, so it simply adds strain to inadequate existing infrastructure. This is a problem for all of us.
The answer for us is the opportunity offered by Garden Communities. This concept of a holistically planned and purpose built community which grows over many years and is built at a scale that creates the critical mass to pay for key infrastructure is attractive. It effectively gives us more control over housing growth for a generation and means we can ensure the right sort of homes are delivered to meet the needs of our residents.
This is what housing must be about – creating places that residents want to live, work and play, not just as a figure we need to meet. We must ensure that we meet the needs of our children and grandchildren whilst also protecting what makes North Essex such a special place to live for our residents now. In Braintree it now costs over eight times the average salary to purchase a home. This is the reality our young people face and one we must plan for and tackle head on.
The Planning Inspector has come back with robust challenges to the Local Plan; in some ways this is not unexpected. Garden Communities are built over a longer time period and will last for much longer than traditional planning accounts for – ours will be built over 50 years or more. The Inspector set out three clear options: continue with the Garden Community proposals, remove them and effectively look to place the housing elsewhere, or scrap the Local Plan altogether.
The latter is not an option. The second option, moving away from Garden Communities, means continuing with building housing estates tagged onto villages and towns and no infrastructure to support it, rather than building communities for future generations.
This is not the future any of us want.