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Planning inspector reports on North Essex garden community plans

15 June 2018

Ambitious plans to ensure North Essex is able to meet the housing and infrastructure needs of future generations are praised by the planning inspector for being ambitious and innovative, but require more work before they can be found sound.

The inspector has published his letter of recommendations following an examination earlier this year of the joint part of the Local Plans developed by Braintree District, Tendring District and Colchester Borough councils.

The three Councils created identical sections of their Local Plans – setting out how North Essex will grow over the coming years – the first time councils have come together in this way to look at a long-term approach to how homes, jobs and infrastructure are developed for future generations. 

The ambitious projects for three garden communities, which also involve Essex County Council and Uttlesford District Council, are designed to help tackle the area’s housing challenge while ensuring infrastructure like roads, transport systems, schools and health services are developed as the homes are built.

The independent Planning Inspector has said the plan requires work to strengthen and improve it before it can be taken forward. This will delay the process of adopting the Local Plan.

Further evidence is needed of the financial viability of garden communities, and how the feasibility of transport improvements such as those to the A120 and A12 fits in with the long-term plan.

The inspector praised the Councils’ co-operation, and described the proposed approach as “innovative and ambitious”. Although he said proceeding with garden communities as set out could be “difficult to justify”, he added: “It is possible that when the necessary additional work I have outlined is completed it will provide justification for proceeding.”

Tim Young, Deputy Leader of Colchester Borough Council, said: “I welcome this letter. The inspector’s comments are useful, and we always knew this would not be a simple yes or no to the plans as what we are proposing is without precedent. Much of the work highlighted by the inspector is work that has been ongoing over the last few months since the examination. I am pleased he is effectively calling on Government to give more certainty over its backing for the big infrastructure improvements we know are needed.”

Mark Cory, Leader of Colchester Borough Council, added: “The Local Plan is a very important document. We must get it right. I look forward to the opportunity of more public consultation on the plans and welcome further work on transport solutions in particular."

Graham Butland, Leader of Braintree District Council, said the report shows the innovative partnership approach between the local authorities is fruitful. “The three Councils, working closely with our partners in Essex County Council, the North Essex Garden Communities body and Uttlesford District Council, will continue to drive forward responsible, sustainable development in the region,” he said. “The other option is urban sprawl or piecemeal infrastructure-light development, and that really isn’t an option.”

Neil Stock, Leader of Tendring District Council, stressed the importance of garden communities for future generations. “As a region, and as a country, we need more housing – no-one is questioning that – and it has to go somewhere,” he said. “I believe Garden Communities represent the only realistic way of ensuring that we get the infrastructure in place as the houses get built. I don’t want to see a situation where thousands of new homes are built in North Essex without the new roads, schools and medical facilities that will be necessary or without proper planning for the jobs and employment that will be needed. The questions and concerns the inspector has raised are questions we would always need to answer, and over the coming months we will look to address these.”

David Finch, Essex County Council Leader, said the authority would continue to work with its district and borough partners to help strengthen the plan. “The Inspector’s letter poses some important challenges and questions, not just to the Councils, but to Government who have been clear in their support for looking at innovative approaches to long-term housing delivery, and ensuring the housing crisis is tackled. “The opportunity offered by Garden Communities must continue to be explored, they offer the best opportunity to grow Essex in the right way and we will continue to work with our local and national partners to bring more certainty around some of the key questions raised.”

Discussions have already begun with Government about how its major infrastructure plans can be more directly linked up with garden communities to provide the reassurance sought by the inspector.

The Councils are now considering their next steps, and are continuing to work on developing the evidence and plans for the three proposed communities.

The inspector will report back on housing need at a later date, after consideration of a developer’s late submission regarding Tendring’s housing need projections. 

The inspector’s report can be found here: www.Braintree.gov.uk/LPExamination