On Evidencing Garden Communities – on The Uttlesford Local Plan Unsoundness Finding


Apologies for not havong on time to comment on this before.

are not persuaded that there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the Garden Communities, and thus the overall spatial strategy, have been justified. We therefore cannot conclude that these fundamental aspects of the plan are sound.es no time to blog on this before.

This of course is the second time a local plan here, based on a Garden Community, has been found unsound.  And is a bitter blow to them.  After all they decided tio carry on with the plan despite electoral changes and rise of indpendents calling for it to be scrapped.  These voices of, lets face it, psudo-green numbyism must seem vindicated.  However in a district without ANY large towns and numeroud small villages, and including Stansted, any viable plan must surely include Garden Communities.  The acid these ten of Garden Communities being capable of being built within the current local plan and non strategic no centrally led development coroprations has shifted to Essex.

The plan contains three Garden Communities which are known as, Easton
Park, North Uttlesford and West of Braintree. They are relied upon for the
delivery of much of the new housing in the remainder of the plan period,
and well beyond. In total they are expected to deliver around 18,500 new
market and affordable homes.
In general terms we are concerned about the lack of evidence before us to enable us to conclude these parts of the plan are sound. Whilst we realise it is the Council’s intention to lay down much of the detail of the proposed Garden Communities in further Development Plan Documents (DPDs),
following the adoption of the plan, it is this examination which must
determine whether the Garden Community proposals are properly justified
and realistically developable. This is of major importance in this case given
the large scale and long-term nature of the Garden Community
developments, combined with the fact that they would be the primary
source of housing in the district for the next 30 to 40 years.

Lets not forget that Uttlesford is a small and poorly funded rural authority.  The three garden communities are all consortium led. and one only accepted at the last possible moment by Cllrs.  There was no democrically and techncially led process or methodology for examing locations, options and alternative for Garden Communities and the sometimes radical infrastructure measures to make them happen.

Landsecs bone headed greed and stupidity, arguding against an LLDC. didnt help.

Furthermore, whilst it is understood that the Delivery Board for North
Uttlesford has already been established, ED66 also highlights disagreementbetween the Council and the site promoter at Easton Park in relation to the  terms of the Delivery Board that will oversee the plan making, delivery and implementation of that Garden Community. All these matters cast some doubt as to whether these vital Garden Community Principles would be met in Uttlesford. Without assurances that the necessary mechanisms outside the plan would be put in place, we cannot be content in principle that the new proposed settlements would be true Garden Communities, or that the plan’s stated vision for these new settlements would be met. This is aserious concern.


We are concerned that the boundaries of the Garden Community site
allocations are not shown on the Policies Map. This is not a matter to be
left to DPDs. We cannot find the plan sound based on vague blurred
annotations of broad locations, especially for something as significant as
three large new communities.

Spot on, as with NEGC, you cant allocate Garden Communities with furry vague blobs, you need lines on maps.  The Sine-qua-non of planning.

The proposed trajectory is even more optimistic if the promoters of the
Garden Communities do not intend to submit planning applications until the DPDs have been adopted (as indicated by the promoter for Easton Park). The Council’s timetable assumes promoters would twin track outline planning applications alongside the DPD preparation and examination process.

This is a problem we know how to fix.  For example at Rugby Radio Mask (Houlton)  the masterplanning and DPD were wisely combined into a single process, with outline application/S106/parameter planning work running in paralell.  Rather than throwing objections at large scale site delivery PINs should be more proactive, learn from best practice, and promote it at examinations.  A task for Homes England and PINS to work on together I think.

The promoters of Easton Park argue for the details of the Garden
Communities to be dealt with by Supplementary Planning Documents
(SPDs) rather than DPDs, to speed up the process. However, since SPDs
cannot set policies and are not subject to independent examination,
proceeding down the route of SPDs would require the plan to contain far
more detail than it does at present. Additionally, SPDs carry less weight in
future decision making as they are not part of the development plan. With
something so fundamental as large new Garden Communities it is our firm
view that the key details need to be committed to DPDs which would be
examined and adopted.

It would also be unlawful for an non stsutory doument to define a policy boundary such as a Garden Community Boundary.  The relevent caselaw is in the very long judgement of Lord Scarmen in  Great Portland Estates V Westminster. [1985] AC 661, [1984] 3 WLR 1035

Overall, we strongly believe that the Garden Communities will not deliver
the quantum of housing in the plan period that the Council’s housing
trajectory shows. Consequently, the housing requirement for the plan
period would not be met.

The appropriate response of the inspectors here is to step the trajectory further not find the plan unsound.  Of course the LPA can simple ask with main modifications are necessary to make the plan sound.

if the three Garden Communities allocated in the plan are
granted planning permission and then work is commenced on site, it would
be very difficult to deviate from this strategy. To do so, and to leave the
intended Garden Communities effectively uncompleted, could potentially
result in relatively small pockets of residential development in the open
countryside that would not have the sustainability credentials of Garden
Communities and would not ordinarily be supported. The Framework
recognises that it is crucial that Local Plans should ‘allocate new sites to
promote development and flexible use of land, bringing forward new land
where necessary…’ (paragraph 157). The current strategy which relies on
the Garden Communities to deliver 4190 dwellings in the period 2023/24 –
2032/33 (the end of the Plan period), against a target in this period of 7190
dwellings carries with it significant risks and a lack of flexibility.

Here I think the inspectors are mistaken. In a large plan area with several large towns it is good practice to have potential plan B sites.  Here is rural essex the plan B would be large unsustainable estates car based around small villages increasing them potentially many times in size,  Rather plan A has to be made to work.

With reference to ED13 (Bus Rapid Transport fornUttlesford Supplementary Technical Study), the Council confirms that in the early phases the Garden Communities would be served by a conventional bus service, with a RTS only coming online when there is population tosupport it, (2029–2033).
The Council also advises that it is not necessary to delay the housing
delivery to allow for the delivery of the RTS. Whilst appreciating the
difficulties in providing a full RTS service from the outset and recognising
the role of incremental improvements, in our view, the lack of a RTS until
towards the end of the plan period would mean the modal shifts anticipated
would not be realised. Moreover, the use of less sustainable modes of
travel could have become engrained in the habits of residents living in the
homes built within the early phases of the Garden Communities.

The inspectors were right here.  The developers simply didnt want to pay for early years subsidy for frequent services and for dedicated off road paths.  However government policy needs to shift to facilitate BRT at early phases as the single biggest contributer planning can make towards Zero Carbon and minimum impact development – such as tax breaks.

It should be noted that delivery and RTS concerns were also raised over NEGC, and were fixed (and west of Braintree is a shared project with this site.)

a revised VA based on the residual valuation appraisal method would need to be supplemented with a discounted cashflow assessment (a valuation method used to estimate the value of an investment based on its future cash flows), in order to provide a more complete and robust analysis.

How can you not do a DCF calculation (with financing and peak debt) these days.  Its is standard and a simple spreadhseet (such as the HYAS model/AECOM Garden Communities Cost model as used at NEGC).

We are very conscious of the considerable work that has been undertaken
over several years by the Council and the promoters of the Garden
Communities in developing them as proposals. We are also aware of the
in-principle support afforded to them as a concept by the Government and the funding that has been provided. However, for the reasons given, the Garden Communities are insufficiently justified and have not been shown to have a reasonable prospect of being delivered as submitted. Moreover, the unsolicited documents referred to in paragraph 4 above do not deal with these matters.
. Consequently, as things stand the strategy set out in the plan is unsound.
In summary, our main concerns are:
• The lack of clear mechanisms to ensure the Garden Community
Principles will be met;
• The need to define precise boundaries and to show these on the
policies map;
• The proposed housing delivery trajectory is overly optimistic;
• There is unlikely to be a 5 year HLS on adoption;
• The stepped trajectory unreasonably delays addressing the housing
affordability problem;
• The Garden Community approach predetermines the strategy long
beyond the plan period and so is unduly inflexible;
• As part of the assessment of reasonable alternatives the SA does not
consider a smaller number of garden communities, in combination
with more housing in existing sustainable settlements, nor does it
have regard to the evidence in the HIA;
• The lack of certainty about the delivery of employment uses
undermines the potential for the Garden Communities to be
sustainable places;
• The costs, viability and deliverability of the RTS are uncertain and
any benefits would be realised too late to help ensure the Garden
Communities at Easton Park and West of Braintree would be
sustainable places;
• Realistic infrastructure costs have not been established meaning it is
uncertain whether the Garden Communities will be viable and
• The North Uttlesford Garden Community is flawed in terms of
landscape and heritage impacts and the potential for the A505
improvements and public transport infrastructure are uncertain,
undermining the potential for this Garden Community to be a
sustainable place;
• The Easton Park Garden Community is flawed in terms of heritage
impacts, the potential for highway improvements to M11 junction 8
and the M11 between junctions 8 and 13 are uncertain pending
further investigations by Highways England and the unknown
implications of the gas pipeline crossing the site on its capacity for
built development;
• The West of Braintree Garden Community is flawed since the
sustainability appraisal and viability assessment only considers the
part of the site within Uttlesford despite it being dependent of the
delivery of the larger proposed site allocation in Braintree District.

Lets be clear the inspectors are not saying scrapp all three Garden Communities and start again.  Indeed the conclusion is much clearer than the NEGC report.  An SEA may find an alternative more small sites replacement for North Utllesford less sustainable than a North Uttlesfiord awith proper RTS connections to Cambridge.

Overall not enough local authority led planning had been done.  Like several small authorities in Essex proactive planning was underfunded and they drowned.  I think the solution in Essex, given the South Essex Plan is floundering, is for the County to take over, and do a proper methodological nstudy of alternative locations for Garden Communities, test them, concept mastrerplan them, and lead on a Countywide delivery body that would oversee quite a number of LLDCs.  This also requires a proper methodology for assessing and testing alternive locations for Garden Communities and other strategic sites.  Something im lectoring on at several places last week and this whilst im in England (book coming later on this year I hope).

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