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Braintree District Council to continue with its garden community work to protect its towns and villages

Braintree District Council to continue with its garden community work to protect its towns and villages

Local Plan Next Steps

Braintree District Council will continue with its work on garden communities to protect existing towns and villages from urban sprawl.

Following the examination earlier this year of the joint Local Plans of Braintree and Tendring district councils, and Colchester Borough Council, a Planning Inspector recently decided more evidence was needed to make the “innovative and ambitious” plans for three garden communities in the region sound.

He set out three options for the authorities in taking section one of their Local Plan – a blueprint for development up until 2033 – forward.

Option one suggested removing garden communities from the Local Plan and identifying alternative sites to meet housing targets, while option two would see the councils continuing their work and developing the further evidence required to make the garden community plans sound. A third option was to start a fresh section one of the Local Plan – a move which would set the councils back several years and could subject the authority to a higher housing number.

After careful consideration of the next steps following the inspector’s letter, leader Cllr Graham Butland used delegated powers to go for option two. The option was discussed at a meeting of Braintree District Council’s Full Council this evening (July 23).

Cllr Butland said: “The Planning Inspector has agreed with us that we need to build 716 homes each year. The question is where and how? After careful weighing up of all the options and the risk associated with each we’ve concluded that option 2, which is a continuation of our current local plan and examination, is the best way forward for the people of the district.

“It is the option which best protects our existing towns and villages from urban sprawl and helps us meet our long term growth needs in the region. The alternative is adding large scale housing estates to our towns and villages in bigger numbers than most will have ever seen before. We know that this isn’t the future that many of our residents want, and we also know that this piecemeal approach is having an increasingly negative impact on our services and infrastructure.

“The residents of this district tell me time and time again they need better roads, more public transport, easier access to healthcare and quality school places for their children, I firmly believe the garden communities are the best way of delivering this.”

Cllr Butland’s speech to Full Council can be read below. 

The speech was broadcast live via webcast www.braintree.gov.uk/webcast and the recording can be watched back on the same link once it has been archived.

Tendring District Council’s Local Plan Sub Committee will meet on August 9, and Colchester Borough Council’s Local Plan Sub Committee will meet on August 13.

LEADER’S STATEMENT TO COUNCIL – 23rd July 2018

I want to take the opportunity to address Council on the situation with the Local Plan, our response to the two Inspector’s letters we have received and advise you of the next steps which we intend to take.

In October 2017 the Council submitted its Local Plan for examination.  The Plan is in two parts, section 1 has been written together with our North Essex partners; Colchester Borough Council and Tendring District Council and contains 10 policies which deal with cross border strategic issues.  They include infrastructure and place shaping as well as proposals to build three new garden communities at West of Braintree, Colchester Braintree borders and Tendring Colchester Borders.  Together these could deliver up to 43,000 homes in the very long term and 7,500 new homes in the Plan period between now and 2033.

Following the submission of the Local Plan, the Planning Inspectorate, an independent body tasked by the Government to examine Local Plans, appointed an Inspector to examine the Section 1 Strategic Plan.  He held examination sessions in January this year, with a further session being held in early May.  These provided a thorough consideration of all elements of the Plan and included invited attendees from Parish Councils, campaign groups and infrastructure providers amongst others to put forward their views.

Following his examination, the Council has now received two detailed letters which have set out the Inspector’s views on the Plan.  I am delighted that the Inspector has said that he believes we are planning for the right number of homes and jobs in the District for the next 15 years, two huge areas of importance which many a Local Plan has failed to adequately provide for.

This means we now know that, here in Braintree District, we need to build at least 716 new homes every year until 2033 and we know the minimum levels of employment land we are providing to meet our needs.  The Inspector has also concluded that we have met our Duty to Co-operate which means we have appropriately engaged with our neighbouring authorities and key stakeholders on the Plan.  In fact on 8 out of the 10 chapters of the Section 1 Local Plan, the Inspector has provided positive comments or no comments. 

However the Inspector is also challenging in the letter on a number of issues.  The areas where the Inspector has indicated we need to do further work are all related to the Garden Communities and can be broken down into three key areas;

The first is transport infrastructure – The Inspector has raised his concerns about the certainty of funding for the A120 and for the routing of the A12 as it travels north eastwards from Feering around Marks Tey.  This is something that we are in discussions with Essex County Council, Highways England and the Department for Transport about; it is not an issue that the three Councils can resolve by ourselves as it relies on national infrastructure funding programmes.

However, we are telling Government in the strongest possible terms – if you want local authorities to provide long-term certainty for large scale housing delivery then the national infrastructure needs to be provided in the same timescales. To quote the recently published National Infrastructure Assessment published by the National Infrastructure Commission. “Housing and infrastructure should be planned together: new housing requires new infrastructure.”

The second area the Inspector raises is viability – He has asked that we include various other contingencies and sensitivity modelling for the garden communities so that he can be assured that they are a long-term viable and deliverable project.  We believe that they are, and that the additional testing can be done.  And as we have made very clear on several occasions, if any of the communities are shown to be unviable then they will not happen.

The third main area is the Sustainability Appraisal.  The Sustainability Appraisal or SA is required to accompany a Local Plan and provides an assessment of the spatial strategy and policies in the Plan as well as their reasonable alternatives. The Inspector has asked us to consider whether other scenarios for growth are reasonable to be considered within the SA and to look at the scoring of those options.  To do this with fresh eyes the Inspector has suggested that it may be better to appoint new consultants and so this is what we intend to do.  As part of the process for undertaking this work there would be engagement with local groups and statutory bodies as well as a formal period of consultation on the completed piece of work.  The SA work could result in changes to the Local Plan and therefore would also need to be considered by Council.

So, following on from those comments, the Inspector included three potential options for the way forward.  The last option, option 3 is to withdraw the Plan and start again.  This is not an option we are going to pursue.  To do so would lead to a considerable further delay in the production of the Local Plan and would come with a considerable cost.  It would also require us to comply with the new standard methodology for housing numbers which for Braintree means we would need to plan for an even higher annual housing target than we are already have.

This would substantially increase the pressure on our existing towns and villages with more houses but without the step change in infrastructure provision that the garden communities can achieve.

Both option 1 and option 2 allow for the continuation of the current Local Plan.  Both will delay the final adoption of the Local Plan; in option 1 by an estimated 18months, depending on how quickly we can identify and consult on new sites and in option 2 by around a year.  Both options also include some of the same risks, the continuing resource implications for planning policy teams, legislative or policy changes which could affect the Plan and the longer period in which the District doesn’t have a Local Plan and so can only give the policies contained within it limited weight.

Option 1 from the Inspector proposes to remove the Garden Communities from the Plan and to continue to adopt the rest of the section 1 and section 2 Plan before coming back to the Garden Communities under an early or focussed review of the Local Plan in 2-3 years’ time. Setting aside the work that would be needed to bring the Garden communities back into the Plan later, this option is not as straightforward as it might sound.  Other parts of the section 1 Plan such as the spatial strategy and infrastructure expectations would need to be rewritten, new sites to meet the housing expected from the garden communities would need to be considered, consulted upon and included within the section 2 Plans and a new sustainability appraisal would need to be completed to consider the revised spatial strategy.

Whilst garden communities would come out of the Plan for the time being, they could be reconsidered at a later stage. If this was the case then the proposals could include a higher level of detail, negating the need for the separate Development Plan Documents, however they would only start delivering houses later than is currently proposed and we would lose the opportunities that currently exist to influence major infrastructure schemes in the District to deliver the best solutions for the garden community.

Option 2 from the Inspector proposes a pause in the examination whilst new evidence is provided on the areas which he has considered further work is needed.  This would then need to be considered by the Inspector in further examination sessions.  The work would follow the Inspector’s requirements set out in his letter and would aim to answer all his queries.  The revised SA as well as some of the other evidence gathered could lead to changes in the Local Plan, either large changes or small changes and these would need to be considered by the Councils. 

We consider that this work can be undertaken in around 3 months, at which time it would be considered by Members, alongside recommendations to make any changes to the Plan and then a public consultation would take place around the end of this year.  This evidence and consultation responses would then be submitted to the Planning Inspector in the early part of 2019.  However the risk here is that the Inspector does not find the evidence compelling on Garden Communities and the Council is left without a Local Plan for a longer period of time.

After careful weighing up of all the options and the risk associated with each I have concluded that option 2, which is a continuation of our current Local Plan and Examination is the best way forward for the people of the District.  This is the option which best protects the existing towns and villages in the District from urban sprawl and offers the best way to meet long-term growth needs and economic aspirations for in the region.

The alternative is adding large-scale housing estates to the towns, and to our villages, big or small in larger numbers than most will have ever seen before.

We know that this isn’t the future that many of our residents want, and we also know that this piecemeal approach is having an increasingly negative impact on our services and infrastructure.

The residents of this District tell me time and time again they need better roads, more public transport, easier access to healthcare and quality school places for their children, I firmly believe the garden communities are the best way of delivering this.

I have spoken in planning terms, but what matters beyond what we need to do in terms of housing numbers is ensuring that the needs and requirements of our residents are catered for, both now and in the future. 

It now costs over 8 times an average salary in Braintree to purchase a home. That is the reality our young people face, and why we must ensure that the right sort of homes in the right places come forward. But this can’t be at the detriment of our existing communities, and we must ensure that we do not lose the very thing that makes North Essex such a great place to live.

In my view Garden Communities is the most appropriate way to deliver long term housing growth whilst at the same time ensuring we collectively have more control over the way our districts grow, maximising economic growth and providing the right mix of housing in the right locations, supported by the right infrastructure.

As the new Secretary of State, James Brokenshire MP, said in his speech a couple of weeks ago at Policy Exchange

“sadly, when it comes to delivering homes, these things are often the last consideration – when they should be the first.

We need to change this – and remind people that when they’re building homes, they’re also building communities.

So it’s vital that these homes and places lift our spirits when we live in them and when we pass through them.

And that, in years to come, become strong and well-loved communities that can truly thrive.

Design and style matter, and while we in government certainly won’t be dictating to local areas what good design looks like, it needs to create a strong sense of belonging.

A sense of identity.

A sense of home and comfort.

Somewhere people can identify as their place.

Community-led housing – in all its forms – is an important part of this.”

I remain totally committed to this objective and I believe that the majority of members do so as well.