Why Basildon Took so Long to Submit its Local Plan – Its all About Essex Tribalism

No debate at all about teh merits or otherwise of rival sites or startegies you see – all about one group accusing the other of dumping on them – lowest form of debate.

Basildon Advertiser

BASILDON’S Local Plan has been passed by a majority vote after a heated five-and-a-half hour meeting at the Sporting Village which pitted Basildon and Billericay against one another.

The Local Plan is the council’s policy document which allocates land to accommodate almost 20,000 Government-ordered new properties by 2034. Under the plan, Basildon will take 9,220 new properties, Wickford 3,624 and Billericay 3,292.

Councillors traded insults as Tories tabled a litany of amendments which meant the Local Plan debate itself did not even begin until around midnight – four-and-a-half hours after the meeting commenced.

But all of the amendments failed and the Labour, UKIP and independent administration eventually approved the Local Plan – by a majority of 22 to 16 – at around 1am. It will now be sent to a Government planning inspector to be scrutinised.

Councillors on all sides said they agreed that the borough urgently needed a Local Plan, as once it was in place the borough would be protected from ‘rogue developers’.

With a Local Plan in force, the council can firstly reject planning applications on land which isn’t included and secondly refuse planning permission on allocated plots of land until infrastructure is provided.

Councillors said the new houses would also improve the chances of residents being able to afford properties in the borough.

Tory councillor Andy Barnes said that in 1998 the price of an average flat in Basildon had been £48,000, whereas now it was £290,000. He said the price of a semi-detached house had risen from £71,000 in 1998 to £341,000 now.

He said: “That’s nearly five-fold… You would need a deposit of over £100,000 to afford that semi-detached.”

But Conservatives rejected the plan presented by the administration, accusing rivals of ‘doing deals behind closed doors’ to ‘push through’ an ‘unsound’ plan.

Tory councillor Andrew Baggot described the Local Plan as a ‘Frankenstein monster of a policy’ and ‘an absolute travesty’.

The administration countered that Tories were simply playing to their heartland of Billericay, where a large campaign had been set-up to protest against the amount of proposed development.

Labour, UKIP and independent councillors insisted that the amount of new properties allocated to each town was calculated in line with the former Tory administration’s ‘spatial strategy’, which divided the dwellings based on each area’s existing population.

Under that formula, they said, Basildon took 63 per cent, Wickford 18 per cent and Billericay 17 per cent.

Labour leader Gavin Callaghan said Tory leader Phil Turner was pushing the line that Billericay was being ‘dumped on’ because its housing allocation had gone up – but described the suggestion as ’nonsense’.

He said: “What part-time Phil doesn’t tell you is that 17 per cent of 20,000 is more than 17 per cent of 15,000. All year long, not a single member of the Conservative party has come forward and said that they want to revise the percentages for where the new houses go. It’s the 11th hour. Where has this been? We haven’t had this all year, but now that we’re in a room with Billericay residents…”

Mayor David Harrison made a similar suggestion, saying: “My belief is that we need a Local Plan. This one is fair across the borough. I know people from Billericay don’t like it and I’m sorry to say the Conservatives have supported Billericay NIMBYism gone mad.”

Independent Kerry Smith also rejected any suggestion the administration was being unfair to Billericay. He said his ward, Nethermayne, was one-third of the size of Billericay but was getting 2,225 new dwellings, equivalent to more than two-thirds of Billericay’s allotted development.

Cllr Turner responded: “Far from just representing Billericay, we are not here to do that tonight. We have members all over the community. Unfortunately, you don’t have any members in Billericay and that’s why you target Billericay.”

He claimed the administration had ‘bullied and intimidated’ officers into putting together an unsound plan which could be rejected by a Government planning inspector.

Conservatives said that although the new plan halved the amount of green belt that would have to be sacrificed (compared to their own draft plan in 2016), it did so by squeezing more houses into less space, increasing the density of homes from 30 dwellings per hectare to 40.

In a committee meeting about the Local Plan on Monday, council officer Amanda Parrot said this meant the density would still only be the same as it currently is in Noak Bridge – but Cllr Barnes claimed the plan would ‘force people to live on crowded, unsuitable estates’.

Conservatives also pointed out that the plan was several thousand properties short of meeting the borough’s ‘Objectively Assessed Need’ (OAN) – the number of new properties Government says Basildon must build.

Tory Carole Morris said: “Clearly, the inspector will not pass this plan, so voting for this plan increases the chance of intervention.”

The spectre of Government intervention in Basildon’s planning loomed over the meeting. In January, the authority received a letter from Government’s housing and communities minister Sajid Javid, accusing it of making insufficient progress on its Local Plan and threatening to intervene in its creation if it didn’t speed up.

Cllr Callaghan said evidence showed that in areas where this had happened before, the Government imposed housing numbers between 20 and 30 per cent higher than the OAN.

But Cllr Turner called Cllr Callaghan ‘the doctor of fake news’, saying: “What we are being told is Sajid is outside waiting to beat us up because if this plan doesn’t go through immediately, there’s going to be hell to pay. That’s simply not true.”

Cllr Callaghan replied: “That ignores the evidence. We’ve all seen the letter.”

Tory councillors tabled one amendment calling for the Local Plan to be sent back out for another consultation, saying it was ‘significantly different’ to when it was consulted over in 2016.

The same point was raised at Monday’s meeting, where planning officer Matt Winslow said there was no duty to hold a consultation every time the plan changed, or else the Local Plan would never move on to the next stage.

Cllr Allport-Hodge told the meeting it was similar delays – caused because the Tories had been ‘too scared to push it forward’ – which had left the council facing the scale of development it currently did. She said that in 2012 the council’s OAN had been 6,500, rising to 11,900 in 2013, 15,260 in 2015 and 19,560 ‘mid-range’ in 2017.

She said: “By July 2018, when we are being asked to adopt the Government’s formula, that will push the numbers up to 21,600… You just need to basically show some leadership. To just keep putting it back on the shelf and doing nothing is not an option.”

Cllr Turner claimed it was equally possible that something else would push the numbers down as had happened in the past. Council officers confirmed at Monday’s meeting that during the global banking crash the numbers had shrunk, but had been increasing ever since.

UKIP councillor Stephen Ward accused the Conservatives of engaging in ‘complete gutter politics’ and trying to ‘protect Billericay at all costs but dump on Basildon’.

He said: “This is just nothing but complete and utter rubbish. We are here to represent the people of Basildon. We are here to ensure that there is an equal spread across the borough.

“This plan is an excellent plan. Not perfect – but better than anything we’ve ever had before.”

But Cllr Baggott said: “It’s a complete disgrace to the members of the public. It’s a complete disgrace for democracy. Now the public have a history of how this shambles has been created.”

St Albans Local Plan ‘Your at it Again arn’t You’

I don’t think St Albans could ever be accused of haste.

Herts Advertiser

A meeting of the district’s planning policy committee debated the possibility of accelerating the Local Plan programme so it is completed within six months after the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is implemented.

If that is achieved, St Albans district would only need to accommodate its own housing calculation of 700 homes yearly rather than 900, which is a number forced on SADC by central Government.

The current schedule sees the Local Plan submitted a couple of months after the six month deadline, in March 2019.

However, SADC’s head of planning, Tracy Harvey, said that tactic could risk the document being rejected by planning inspectors again.

She said rushing would mean abandoning crucial work essential for the soundness of the plan and weakens the relationship with other councils – who may object on duty to cooperate grounds.

The former Strategic Local Plan was dismissed at High Court because SADC did not cooperate fully with neighbouring councils, who argued SADC’s housing projections were too low.

Portfolio holder for planning, Cllr Mary Maynard, said: “I spoke with one of the [neighbouring council] portfolio holders today, I won’t say which one, and I said ‘How would you feel if we escalated our plan and come in with lower numbers?’ and there was a very long silence, which I bit my tongue so I didn’t interrupt, and the response came back, ‘You’re at it again aren’t you?’”

She added: “In the best possible world we would like to bring it forward. We are not in the best possible world, we are in the real world.”

Cllr Iain Grant added: “If we fail twice at examination on duty to cooperate it would take a very tolerant Government to say have a third go and if we lose control locally that would be a real shame.”

Cllr Jock Wright asked if a lower figure was even preferable: “Perhaps this is a devil’s advocate view, that we are talking about reducing the number of houses we need to build being a good thing, but what if those homes were social rented houses that we lost. There are people in this district who can’t afford to get a house.”

Cllr Maynard agreed to monitor officers’ progress and revisit the issue in the future.