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 meantime if you have a question then please contact us.
What is North Essex Garden Communities?
North Essex Garden Communities is a project led by four local Councils – Essex County Council, Braintree District Council, Colchester Borough Council and Tendring District Council, who are working in partnership to oversee and create new communities based on Garden City principles as a way of meeting future housing, job and infrastructure needs.
In order to ensure that the future developments are created in line with Garden Community principles, the Councils have created NEGC Ltd, a limited company, owned equally by the four Councils with a remit of acting on their behalf, stepping into the role traditionally taken by a ‘Master Developer’.
Development is dependent on the planning process, but work on the first site could start by 2021/22 and would be phased over many decades.
Who are NEGC Ltd?
The new communities will be created to a series of set principles.
Taking an active role in their delivery means that the Council can focus not only on new homes, but on ensuring that infrastructure, jobs and services are delivered.
In order to this the four Councils have created a company, North Essex Garden Communities Ltd (NEGC Ltd) to oversee the delivery of the Garden Communities. The company is one-quarter owned by the four Councils. The company will control the type, design and speed of build to ensure the principles to which the councils have committed are upheld.
What are the Garden City or Garden Community principles and how will they be applied?
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 they are a stand-alone planned development, which have an emphasis on how design and layout is used in a way that creates healthy, green, vibrant new communities where people can live, work and spend time.
There are a series pf core Garden Community principles. One which differs from traditional development is the idea of stewardship. This can take various forms but would mean certain community assets being put into community ownership, and also that there would be long-term legacy arrangements put into place to ensure the community is managed on an ongoing basis beyond its completion.
More information on the key principles are set out in the North Essex Garden Community Charter
Why are the Garden Communities needed? There aren’t 40,000 families in North Essex.
In the 20 years to 2018 the North Essex population grew by almost 20% to 580,000. Between 2018 and 2045 it is estimated this will have increased by around 139,000. Across the area there is an urgent need for more homes and jobs for the local area. If the current rate of building continues, it is estimated that there will be 77,000 too few homes by 2036 and, as a consequence, house prices and rents will continue to become increasingly unaffordable.
The reality is that the majority of North Essex’s housing need and demand is generated locally. More and more people are wanting to live in smaller households, often alone, and people are living longer than ever before. This all means that the availability and affordability of new housing is at an all time low. Inevitably some people will move into the Garden Communities from outside North Essex as it is already an attractive place to live and work, however we recognise that there is a need to provide housing that is affordable for existing residents.
Braintree, Colchester and Tendring collectively need to allocate land for 2500 homes each year, but equally need to consider how those homes will come with jobs and the infrastructure and services to support them.
The proposed communities could take around 40-50 years to complete. Over this time the Garden Communities would constitute around half of the housing growth alongside some sensible growth that would also be needed across existing villages and towns.
Critically however, the progression of Garden Communities would mean that less development would be needed within and around our existing towns and villages.
Are the red ‘red lines’ or blobs on the map the development boundary?
No. the Local Plan process identifies where future growth should go and shows the Garden Communities sites in terms of an ‘area of search’. This ring on the map shows the area where the new development will be located but is not the boundary for the development. The ring includes all of the green and open space that would be allocated. By their nature Garden Communities are at least 50% open and green space, so a large percentage of the area of search would remain either as agricultural land, or become a more accessible managed open space.
What types of homes will be created? How will you ensure you reach the level of social housing required?
Our core objective is to provide homes local people can afford in places they will want to live, work and play. A diverse mix of homes across a range of dwelling sizes, tenures and housing types, including provision for self and custom-built homes, lifetime homes and affordable and starter homes, will be provided.
The Garden City principles were founded on an understanding of the importance of decent homes in high-quality environments for everyone, irrespective of their income. The Garden Communities present an excellent opportunity for the public sector to have a say over the type of housing that is built in the area, ensuring that the needs of North Essex residents are provided for and not simply building whatever types of housing is most profitable for the developer.
Additionally, local housing companies can manage a proportion of new homes in the Garden Communities, ensuring housing costs are truly affordable for local people. These local housing companies will be partly funded by endowments resulting from the land value uplift (as explained in the question on infrastructure).
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 about Jobs?
For any new community to be successful, jobs need to be provided with homes, and the right community infrastructure must be delivered upfront. This is exactly the approach being taken forward by NEGC Ltd, and why the Councils are exploring the opportunity to take a more active role in the development, retaining overall control in what comes forward by working alongside the private sector in a way that is not traditionally seen.
The Councils have set a target of ensuring at least one job is created per home (much higher than traditional development)
Within each new community land will be allocated for commercial use, and NEGC Ltd is currently working with local, regional and international business organisations to ensure it has the opportunity to influence where and what type of business space is needed.
Good quality housing is one of the biggest barriers to business growth in the area, and taking a holistic approach, working with the business community to bring forward the right sort of space and supporting infrastructure is important.
The Garden Communities will also go hand in hand with planned regeneration of the existing town centres and their creation will be planned in such a way as to complement our towns, stimulating the local economy and driving investment into North Essex
How will infrastructure support such a huge development project?
We recognise that North Essex road and rail systems are already overloaded, resulting in daily delays. We also know that homes are unaffordable for most and there is a growing demand for more homes and jobs for the local area.
Doing nothing is not an option because the current model isn’t working. When housing is delivered, it is often piecemeal, tagged on to existing villages or exacerbating the urban sprawl of Colchester and Braintree. The problem with this approach is that it never creates the critical mass needed to deliver the infrastructure to support it, and consequently existing residents suffer a negative impact on their local roads, and education and health services suffer under the increased strain.
All new development creates value ‘uplift’ as a result of land changing from a lower value (e.g. farmland or former industrial land) to a higher value (i.e. residential or commercial use). Garden Communities use this same process (albeit on a larger scale) but rather than all the value uplift going to private landowners and developers, the value is prioritised to pay for new infrastructure like new public transport systems, schools and country parks.
Major infrastructure such as road and rail links fall within the remit of the Government and funding will be required for the A120, A133-A120 link road and A12 to enable the Garden Communities to come forward. These pieces of infrastructure are all currently subject to funding bids currently being considered by Government.
How will you ensure there are enough local jobs for all the new residents of the Garden Communities?
When housing is built, it is often piecemeal. The problem with this approach is that it never creates the critical mass needed to deliver the infrastructure to support it.
The Garden Communities have been embraced by the councils because they offer a new approach based on creating communities.
This means homes, but also the conditions, technologies and spaces required to support businesses in the future.
Our strategic location means businesses want to be here, but we are let down by our infrastructure, and our lack of good quality homes.
To support the new communities a North Essex Economic Strategy is being developed.
How is a project like this paid for?
The Garden Community proposals represent a different way of approaching development but while the Councils are exploring a more public sector leading approach, this does not mean that the Councils are exposed to financing the build of all the homes. Traditionally, Councils allocate land for future residential development and then a private developer builds the housing. In allowing development to take place the Council will ask the developer to make contributions for infrastructure provision. This can often be limited as developers work to a specific model requiring them to ensure a level of profit for their shareholders.
The NEGC approach is looking in the middle of this spectrum creating a ‘joint venture’ approach which would see the Councils (through NEGC Ltd) working in partnership with the private sector and land owners, retaining overall control over what comes forward, but enabling the developers to do what they do well. For this to come forward and the Garden Communities to be built the developers and land owners as well as each of the constituent Councils will be required to agree this approach.
One of the key aspects of the new approach is the idea of capturing ‘land value’. All new development creates value ‘uplift’ as a result of land changing from a lower value (e.g. farmland or former industrial land) to a higher value (i.e. residential use). Garden Communities use this same process (albeit on a larger scale) but rather than ALL of the value uplift going as way of profit to private landowners and developers, the value is used to pay for new infrastructure like new public transport systems, schools and country parks.
Additionally, the long-term nature of Garden Communities offers an attractive proposition to investors, particularly pension funds who are looking to invest in housing and infrastructure over a long period of time.
Are Garden Communities low-density?
There is no specified density for the Garden Communities, and with the opportunity to plan new housing around new centres, neighbourhoods can be created with excellent walking, cycling and public transport connectivity to essential services and facilities. Garden Communities are in fact the exact opposite to sprawling, ‘bolt-on’ housing estates that may be seen elsewhere.
The best way to create any new community is through a mixture of densities and through the masterplanning process there are likely to be areas of high and low densities reflecting the layout of the settlement, the location of essential infrastructure (e.g. pubic transport hubs) and making sure local landscapes are properly protected. Overall the goal is to provide a range of sustainable and attractive transport measures that reduce traffic congestion in North Essex whether that be residents using the transformational rapid transit system or using fast and safe cycling paths to reach their destination.
What about impact on the environment?
Housing and the environment are interlinked, and we all face the significant challenge of how we provide homes whilst protecting our future world. Through the NEGC programme, the latest innovations in housing design are being explored, particularly how modern methods of construction and modular builds can provide carbon-neutral homes, built on site and embracing the latest green technologies. The scale of the project also allows for exploration of how energy will be created and used on a more local level, for example through the creation of energy centres fuelled by energy capture and reusable initiatives.
In terms of biodiversity, the proposed sites are predominately made up of heavily farmed agricultural land. While agricultural land is important for food production, farmland usually only accommodates very few species compared to managed natural environments. Therefore there is an opportunity to provide high quality and abundant natural habitats for wildlife in North Essex.
Ultimately the Garden Communities, as with other development taking place in the future should aim to be carbon neutral and ensure a substantial net-gain in biodiversity.