North Essex Decision – Garden Communities are Tough Without a Regional Strategy and a Masterplan



We know how to do a Garden City don’t we

You declare a development corporation.

You prepare a masterplan.

You cost the infrastructure.

You get treasury funding.

The masterplan is approved etc. etc.

That is not a lesson necessarily learned at North Essex Garden Communities – just found unsound.   Though it took a week to get on the website.

This is not a death knell for the scheme.  It certainly is not ‘back to sqare one’ as one campaign group has claimed.  The Inspector did not suggest an alternative strategy, he simply did not consider the evidence to support the plan presented sufficient.  Though it could be amended this seems unlikley and withdrawl and resubmission seems more likley.  The inspector certainty did not back some of the far fetched alternatives presented at the inquiry like expanding 100s of villages in a scattered and unsustainable manner.

The project failed because not all of the basic ground work in terms of infrastructure and spatial distribution was carried out.  The plan was probably submitted a year early before Essex County Council – playing to catch up, was ready.  The County has only just published plans for the preferred alignment of the A120 upgrading and not yet for the widening of the A12, leaving the concept diagrams in the plan out of sync.

I appreciate that the NEAs, ECC and Highways England are working
together constructively to resolve these issues. Nonetheless, greater
certainty over the funding and alignment of the A120 dualling scheme and
the feasibility of realigning the widened A12 at Marks Tey is necessary to
demonstrate that the GC proposals are deliverable in full.

On rapid transit.

A rapid transit system [RTS] for North Essex is an integral part of the GC
proposals. Policy SP7 requires the new communities to be planned around
a “step change” in integrated and sustainable transport systems. The
Concept Frameworks for each GC all include a RTS as a key element of the
movement and access framework. And the Jacobs Movement and Access
Study [MAS] sets a target for 30% of all journeys to, from and within the
GCs to be made by rapid transit, rising to 38% for journeys with an
external origin or destination….It is unlikely that those extremely ambitious targets would be achieved or even approached unless rapid transit services to key destinations are available early on in the lifetime of the GCs. …However, planning of the proposed RTS has reached only a very early stage. The North Essex Rapid Transit Study [NERTS] is a high-level assessment of the costs and benefits of a RTS. It assesses demand, and outlines route options and a range of costs, for an extensive network linking the three GCs to Colchester, Braintree and Stansted. But it is not a
feasibility study which investigates whether such a network could actually
be delivered on the ground. Nor does it recommend which of the modal
options (bus, guided bus, tram, etc) should be taken forward, or identify a
timescale for delivery.

The lesson here is a prefeasibility study should have been followed up with a feasibility study for BRT.  The west of Braintree propsoal could have included Easton Park now in the Uttlesford Local plan and a link to Stansted and Bishops Stortford, without this the scheme would have been unsustainable.  East of Colchester is an odd choice for rapid transit, more at Marks Tey the only site linked to the rail network seems more feasible.

On the relocation of Marks Tey Station

The existing Marks Tey railway station, on the Great Eastern Main Line
[GEML] between London and Norwich, is within, but close to the eastern
edge of, the indicative boundary of CBBGC. In principle, the station would
be a considerable asset for CBBGC. However, its current peripheral
position would integrate poorly with the structure of the GC. The CBBGC
Concept Framework proposes its relocation some 2km to the south-west,
where it would form part of a transport interchange in the new town centre….

The Hyas viability appraisal for CBBGC allows £50M towards the cost of
relocating the station. While work will need to be done to refine that figure
and to identify other sources of funding, it is a reasonable allowance to
make at this stage. However, it appears in the spreadsheet in 2057/58,
30 years into the proposed build period. That is far too late to enable the
station to be integrated into the planning of the new town centre, and for it
to have the beneficial effects envisaged by the Concept Framework. If the
relocation of Marks Tey station is to form part of a proposed GC, the
allocation of funding for it must be made much earlier in the build period.

This seems a silly trick by the promoters to boost viability when it would have been counterproductive in trips generated, mitigation costs and the other cost (over 1 billion) of public transport.

On land purchase assumptions in the viability apprarisal

what ultimately matters forhousing delivery is whether the value received by the landowner is sufficient to persuade him or her to sell the land for development.
I consider it unlikely that most landowners would sell their land for
development without at least a reasonable uplift on its existing use value.
This has clear implications for the deliverability of the GCs.
That does not necessarily mean that a price of £100k per acre would need
to be paid, as is suggested in Volume 3 of the GC Concept Feasibility Study.
Ultimately, of course, the actual land price will emerge from negotiations
with individual landowners. But in order to demonstrate that the GC
proposals can be delivered, the NEAs will need to show through viability
assessment that a reasonable uplift on current use values can be achieved.
85. Alternatively, if the NEAs intend to use compulsory purchase or other
powers to acquire development land at a lower value than could be
achieved through negotiation, clear evidence would need to be provided
that such a course of action is capable of achieving that outcome (and is
also compatible with human rights legislation). That has not been
demonstrated by the evidence currently before me.

Ow how one pines for old Style New Towns before the 1961 Land Compensation Act.  The inspector is too negative here.  The no scheme world here is no new town and no housing allocation.  The value on the basis of that given Olympci CPO caselaw is existing use value + loss payments, as several planning lawyers and the CPO association stressed in evidence to the MHCLG select committee recently.  That is fully HRA compliant.

For the foregoing reasons, it has not been demonstrated that the GCs
proposed in the submitted Plan are financially viable. Further viability
assessment, taking account of all the points above, will need to be carried
out on any GC proposals that the NEAs bring forward. Because of the GCs’
long development timescales, it would be advantageous for the residual
valuation appraisal to be supplemented with a discounted cashflow
assessment in order to provide a more complete analysis.

Fair enough.

On the SA the inspector makes a reasonable point.

I consider that in assessing the chosen spatial strategy against
alternatives that do not include GCs, the authors of the SA report have
generally made optimistic assumptions about the benefits of GCs, and
correspondingly negative assumptions about the alternatives, without
evidence to support many of those assumptions. As a result these
assessments lack the necessary degree of objectivity and are therefore

further work should be an assessment of alternative spatial strategies for the Plan area. The alternatives considered,and the reasons for selecting them, will need to be set out more clearly than the alternatives on pages 79-80 of the 2017 SA report. I suggest that
the alternatives should include, as a minimum, the following:
 Proportionate growth at and around existing settlements
 CAUSE’s Metro Town proposal
 One, two or more GCs (depending on the outcomes of the first-stage

The inspector concludes:

It will be evident from the foregoing discussion that I consider that the
Garden Community proposals contained in the Plan are not adequately
justified and have not been shown to have a reasonable prospect of being
viably developed. As submitted, they are therefore unsound. I…However, this is not to say that GCs may not have a role to play in meeting
development needs in North Essex. I recognise that substantial time, effort
and resources have already been invested in developing the GC proposals,
not only by the NEAs but also by the Government, landowners, potential
developers, infrastructure providers and others. It is possible that when
the necessary additional work I have outlined is completed, it will provide
justification for proceeding with one or more GC proposals – although any
such justification would of course be subject to further testing at

The development plan system sets very high bars in terms of viability etc. for new settlements.  Much higher than regional strategies or strategic plans of the past. Lets put it this way dod you really need a fully costsed design of a rapid tranbsit system before deciding Marks Tey is – in principle – a good site for a Garden City – of course not.

Having said that before determining its capcity and delivery you need a proper joined up transport and design masterplan, which they did not have in the absence of a development corporation.

Though the government is supportive of ‘locally led’ designations, it is local with a lead weight tied to you without the active and full support of Homes England the Highways Agency and the Dept of Transport in providing the necessary infrastructure.

Many authorities could justifiably conclude that without a proper mechanism of strategic planning, government designation and infrastructure planning by a supportive state they are just too much like hard work when compared to just projecting sprawl in the default manner of planning since the 80s.

The government needs to learn the lessons here just as much as North Essex.  It needs a clearer support system, a proper designation system for land value cpature and a joined up system for infrastructure planning of p[projects of national importance without the rigidities of current RIS’s and ‘control periods’.