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Award-winning independent consultancy finds Garden Communities a sustainable option for North Essex

Award-winning independent consultancy finds Garden Communities a sustainable option for North Essex

Garden communities are a sustainable way to meet future housing growth, an award-winning independent planning consultant has found. 

Publishing their assessment of development options for North Essex LUC, who specialise in assessing the sustainability of new developments, were asked to consider possible options following feedback from the Planning Inspector on the Local Plans put forward by Braintree, Colchester and Tendring Councils. 

The report assessed numerous strategies for growth including a variety of new Garden Communities near Colchester, Braintree, Weeley and Kelvedon. LUC’s work has been supported by input from site promoters, statutory authorities such as Natural England, Historic England and the Environment Agency, as well as feedback from local groups to ensure all realistic options for growth were assessed accurately.

The final Sustainability Appraisal sets out that many of the strategies and options for growth scored similarly against set criteria, including the potential to support sustainable transport measures such as public transport, walking and cycling, and for their potential impacts to the environment. Within these options were the three Garden Communities contained in the councils’ existing plans.

The only strategy the report states is not a sustainable model for new development is ‘proportionate growth’, which would see all towns and villages in North Essex grow at a rate proportionate to their existing size. This option was ruled out for not providing infrastructure such as schools and health centres – because development would be too small to reach a critical mass to pay for such facilities.

LUC has recently been awarded Royal Town Planning Institute Planning Consultancy of the Year for 2019.

Cllr Neil Stock OBE, Leader of Tendring District Council, thanked LUC for their work.

“Although we were confident in the work we had previously done, it was important both our plans and those submitted by others were independently assessed – as the Planning Inspector identified – and the results will inform both our decision making and the Inspector’s scrutiny,” Cllr Stock said.

Cllr Julie Young, Deputy Leader of Colchester Borough Council, said the Sustainability Appraisal was not about deciding which strategy was best. She said: ““The Sustainability Appraisal was never about deciding which approach is the best. There are many other factors to consider, such as viability. But it is an important piece of work, to a high standard, and does ensure that the many factors likely to make for success have been robustly assessed and tests whether all schemes deserve an equal footing.”

Cllr Graham Butland, Leader of Braintree District Council, said the Sustainability Appraisal supported a long-term approach to housing growth. “While it does not pick between different proposals, the Sustainability Proposal does confirm that a long-term strategy for development – one that considers infrastructure alongside housing – is the right way forward, rather than a short-sighted urban sprawl approach,” Cllr Butland said.

The Sustainability Appraisal forms part of the councils’ evidence base for their Local Plans, and will be considered by the authorities at meetings throughout July and August. It can be made available online at: https://www.braintree.gov.uk/localplanevidence