North Essex Council Agree Garden Cities

Essex Standard

CONTROVERSIAL plans for three new towns across north Essex will be worth the hundreds of millions of pounds in investment to provide homes and services for generations to come, according to council bosses.

Plans to start delivering garden settlements on Colchester’s borders with Tendring and Braintree, and another on the western side of Braintree have been given the green light by council cabinets in Tendring and Braintree, with Colchester due to follow suit last night.

The authorities have set up a company, along with Essex County Council to deliver the towns which provide infrastructure before houses and leaders believe the innovative project is robust enough to work, despite how ambitious it seems.

On the border of Colchester and Tendring, 6,608 homes are planned with new facilities including a link road between the A120 and the A133.

Colchester Council leader Paul Smith (Lib Dem) believes the authorities having control over what is built is key to the success of the scheme.

He said: “This will be development and housing controlled by the councils and not developers trying to outdo each other, building few enough to avoid funding a school or going bust in the middle of the development.

“There will also be a number of jobs and if companies are looking for apprentices there is no reason why we cannot say they need to come from Colchester, Tendring and Braintree.

“These garden communities will have their own facilities and if we were to build 200 on St John’s, 200 on Highwoods and 200 on Mile End there would be no provision for extra infrastructure.”

But critics of the scheme, including the Campaign Against Urban Sprawl in Essex have said the new towns are unsustainable and would eat up green space across the county.

Mr Smith added: “I can understand the scepticism but I think it is far and away the best way forward.

“It is councils working together to provide infrastructure first. The bypasses and school will be there on day one, not just an artist’s impression.

“There will be a clear space between these new settlements and existing ones.”

Tendring Council voted through the plans at a full council meeting earlier this week and leader Neil Stock (Con) said he was excited about the plans.

“Just about every person you speak to is concerned about a large number of people having new housing built right on top of where they live currently live.

“It gets labelled as nimbyism but I think that is unfair, they are valid concerns.

“The biggest concern is about new housing impacting on infrastructure, clogging up the roads, and the doctors’ surgeries, people suddenly find they can no longer get their children into schools in an area they have lived all their lives because of the impact of new housing.

“Houses will probably still be being built in 2060.

“This is not just houses for our grandchildren but for the children of people who are not even born yet.

“It is a risk, there is always risk in doing anything big and bold and this is the biggest project of its kind in the country.

“We are going in with their eyes open, and there would be risks if we did not do it – where would people live?”

What a ‘Once and for All’ Solution to Housing Shortfalls Might look like

Sajid Javid has talked of a ‘Once and for All’ solution for housing and in a speech last week criticised his ministerial predecessors for not making tough long term decisions.

With the Housing White Paper delayed until the new year -lets hope number 10 Spads are not watering it down – hence perhaps his forthright speeches to get the policy message out first on tough issues like Green Belt – there is a chance to refine it.

Quite simply there are two interrelated problems the white paper must tackle – we have not been planning for enough housing in the right places, and secondly not enough of those are being built out.  All other issues including affordability, and the volatility of the housing market to boom and bust, flow from this.

The last four years have seen a failed experiment in trying to devolve responsibility for housing land supply to the lowest possible level. For one brief period the government dropped maintaining a local plans database.  That experiment has failed.  Whilst maximising local and neighborhood responsibility it wont fill a widening gap as local plans fall ever further behind. A ‘once and for all’ solution has to provide a government backstop to ensure enough land is allocated.  The idea of bridging the gap through appeal led planning as a stick to get plans adopted has been tried and failed, it didn’t bridge the gap of land lost through late local plans and simply shifted sites from accessible urban extensions to vast village applications of often 150 units plus in barely accessible locations. Nor did it solve the increasing issue of overspill need from the major cities and Green Belt areas as highlighted in the LPEG report.

A once and for all solution requires universal up to date local plan coverage where plans cumulatively meet all housing needs – ensuring enough land is allocated in the right places.

Currently the baseline is LPAs own assessment of OAN – Objectively assessed need.  However LPAs rarely correspond to housing market areas, and we have seen spectacular plan failures, like St Albans, where LPAs have not even participated in Strategic Housing Market Assessments.

The Housing Corporation could be mandated to:

  • Define HMAs nationally
  • Set out a standard methodology – ensuring in and out migration projection nationally add to zero
  • Produce a starting point figure for OAN for each HMA – it them being for local and subregional partnerships to apportion between themselves or to other partnerships when there are constraints.
  • Require the OAN apportionment agreed by the partnership to be agreed by the HCA before local plan consultation, and then for the matter to be fixed (apart from HCA led updates)

This would drastically reduce the housing numbers game paper chase then slows plans down so much.  It is unapologetically an NHPAU like structure, but with the advantage of being under the wing of a delivery agency. Also it avoids the risk of the current balanced structure of needs not adding up to OAN, inflating numbers always create unnecessary resistance.  If meeting the OAN nationally is a national priority the numbers should not be argued per local authority unless there are exceptional local constraints or opportunities.

But an HMA partnership might struggle to meet all need within its boundaries.  Look at the overspill of need in London, Brum and Bristol.  This leads to the issue of Green Belt.

The Green Belt was never an objective in its own right.  It was always to shape urban form as part of strategies to meet the housing needs of cities in full by diverting need to new towns and expanded towns elsewhere.  As such they had life spans in structure plans of 20-25 years.  With the demise first of new towns (after a temporary demographic blip city populations stopped shrinking in the 1980s) then structure plans and then regional strategies Green Belts became a purely negative measure and hence vulnerable to some government in the future sweeping them away.  If Green Belts are to be saved we have to renew that positive purpose.

Currently national policy says the extent of Green Belts is ‘generally fixed’, however that could only apply when housing land requirements were ‘generally met’.  The White Paper needs to be clear that to ensure the permanency of Green Belt we need to make relatively limited changes to them where they have sustainable locations for housing development.

Currently following the ‘Boles doctrine’ Green Belt can be considered a policy constraint  even if the land has no environmental value.  Quite right as Green Belt purposes are to deliver a housing strategy – including stopping urban sprawl. However the Housing White Paper needs to state that where land has limited environmental value it should only be considered a policy constraint where there is a strategy to meet OAN, and Green Belt is necessary to guide development to sustainable locations in that strategy.  Accessible locations, such as around stations on land of limited environmental value (the valued landscapes test) should be considered as part of such strategies (the green belt purposes test).  This would likely involve relatively small scale loss nationally (less than 5% of Green Belt) and should form part of strategies where existing and new Green Belt are enhanced in terms of public access and environmental quality.  Where new settlements and urban extensions are formed new Green Belt can be considered where it is necessary to protect the setting and secure the form of the new development.  This goes beyond ‘exceptional circumstances’ – if the White Paper sets an rule it is no longer an exception. When Green Belts were drawn up it wasn’t exceptional and also when there is strategic revision – the exceptional circumstances test applies only after Green Belts – fulfilling their strategic planning purpose – have been made again permanent.

In this way there would be a ‘strategic swap’ of Green Belt land – ex-post.  It would be unwise however for the government to require an ex-ante swap as a condition of Green Belt development.  That would be an additional hurdle and because of dispersed implementation bodies where Green Belt swaps have been proposed they haven’t come off (example Stevenage).

We have an issue however in that Inner ROSE authorities and some London Boroughs are considering Green Belt reviews and other are not and the Mayor of London has the power to stop all such in London in the revised London Plan.  Also authorities around London could be looking at accommodating 1.5 million extra housing around London over the next 20 years – where is this to go?

Clearly some kind of political ‘win-win’ deal between Javid and Khan needs to be done.  What might that deal look like?  Currently the Mayor is not bound by the legal requirements of DTC or soundness, meaning he can simply ignore panel reports.

Javid might also be unwilling to resurrect some kind of regional structure for London and the South East – although the area is clearly too large for a combined authority fix.

The LPEG report recommended corridor studies, as has the Infrastructure commission for Oxford-MK-Cambridge corridor.

You could see an arrangement whereby the  HCA and IC jointly commission five corridor studies around London.

  • Western Wedge – The Wedge
  • London-Herts/Cambridge-Peterborough – The Arrow
  • Thames Gateway (inc Essex, Haven Gateway and Northern Kent) – The Gateway
  • London to Gatwick/Brighton, Solent and South Kent – The Kite
  • Oxford-Northampton/MK/Aylesbury-Cambridge-East Coast Ports – The Arc

These would be coordinated by a committee chaired by Khan with Javid as vice chair and as Rose re as another vice chair.  The quid pro quo for this major responsibility would be to put the London plan on the same dtc/soundness level playing field as everywhere else.  London could also be granted the ability to make some London specific variation in NPPF policy providing housing white paper objectives were met.

These corridor studies would be let to consultants with LPA secondees.  The mistakes of previous corridor studies must not be repeated, where the aim wasn’t clearer and consultants looked at almost every plot of land between London and Cambridge for example rather than accessible land around stations and towns.

There could be similar arrangements around Bristol and Brum building on existing tentative LEP work.

With a broad strategy recommended how should it be approved?

The easiest way would be a publish an NPS for Garden Communities under the NPS regime.  That way there would be consultation and a commons vote.

Then you get on to how they would be built?  The easiest way would be to set up development corporations under a refreshed New Towns Act, including a mechanism for them to purchase land at close to existing use value + say 20%, allowing land value capture to pay for them in large part.  We need to learn the lessons of development corporations set up under the 1980 act which couldn’t cover rural areas and hence didn’t have plan making powers – useless.

This would give the HCA a significant land bank, and the ability as originally proposed by Danny Alexander, of the Treasury being able to directly intervene to increase housing numbers when completions are too low, at limited cost.

However the majority of housing will be outside such areas, we need the modern equivalent of the 1919 Addison Act to require recalcitrant authorities such as Worthing to get a move on with direct or commissioned build of affordable housing.

Powers exist to intervene to ensure local plans come forward in due time where LPAs are obstructive.  It is largely a deterrent power but it wont be a deterrent unless a few examples are made – such as St Albans.

There will also be increased attention on higher density and brownfield development including I hope a more comprehensive and considered approach towards a full zoning and subdivision based system.  Perhaps some of the Garden Communities could be used as trials as full form based zoning masterplans – as some of us prepare every day of the week for towns and cities being built around the world.

All in all these measures would constitute a long-term ‘once and for all’ solution for ensuring we return to the kind of build rates we saw in the 50s and 60s.

St Albans Fails Duty to Cooperate – ‘high level’ ‘over-arching’ ‘broad-brush’ ‘unstructured’ meetings

This district has cranked up more posts on this than any other  – letter from Inspector – top of list for plan making to be taken over by government.  Local cllrs (con group – not a political point just fact)  have obstructed every step of way.

There is no clear indication in the submitted SLP as to what the strategic priorities are, particularly those with cross-boundary implications….

A number of local planning authorities that were represented at the Hearing confirmed that in their opinion there was no structure in place in terms of the regularity and frequency of joint meetings and that many of the meetings were ‘high level’ where issues were addressed in a ‘broadbrush’ way, indeed the Council itself described some of the meetings as being ‘over-arching’

There has been engagement between St Albans Council and nearby local planning authorities, particularly in the earlier stages of plan-making, for example in relation to the 2008 Strategic Market Housing Assessment (SHMA) and employment work undertaken in 2009. Constructive engagement in more recent years appears to be less evident and it is difficult to conclude that the Council has approached cross-boundary priorities in a meaningful and positive way….

the Council did not reply to a letter requesting a meeting (dated 11th April 2016) from Three Rivers District Council (on behalf of four south-west Herts LPAs) for over 5 months, despite being sent a reminder via e-mail. The letter also includes a request for housing data to be forwarded4 . 29.The Council’s response includes an apology for the delay but also refers to ‘difficult dilemmas’, ‘past, difficult political level discussions’ and ‘ the technical , political and practical challenges of developing a plan in St Albans’…

The Joint Statement (paragraphs 3.3 to 3.6) provides examples of invitations to St Albans to participate but there appears to have been a reluctance to accept and contribute to the debate. As already stated, there is no obligation on the Council to agree with its neighbours but without even entering fully into the debate, it is difficult to conclude that there has been collaboration….

The references to ‘watching briefs’7 and ‘general liaison’8 do not instil confidence that every effort has been made…

on the evidence before me I am unable to confirm that St Albans City and District Council has given adequate consideration to helping meet the development needs of other nearby local planning authorities. In these circumstances the plan would not be effective and therefore it could not be found to be sound.

3,000 Green Belt Homes Planned in Teresa May’s Constituancy


Theresa May faces accusations of hypocrisy over plans to build more than 3,000 homes on the green belt in her constituency.

The prime minister has repeatedly spoken of the need to protect the green belt in the area but conservation groups say that government policy is pushing councils to permit developers to build on it. The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead proposed 14,000 new homes in a draft 20-year local plan last week, with more than 3,000 on green-belt land in Mrs May’s Maidenhead constituency, including 2,000 homes on the town’s golf course

Housing White Paper to Promote Green Belt Swaps

Telegraph – note as we predicted publican delayed until Jan.  Note however that Brum involved no swap as it was inner Green Belt – no Land to swap – so the polity would withe have to be ‘preferably’ or include strategic planning or include an improve Green Belt purposes of retained Green Belt opt out, o best of all new Green Belt around New Towns outside the Green Belt.

Ministers will next month publicly back building thousands of houses on green belt land despite a growing Tory rebellion and concerns from environmental campaigners.

The Sunday Telegraph understands the Government will encourage the use of “green belt swaps” in a white paper to help solve the housing crisis.

The scheme allows councils to remove protections on one part of green belt in return for creating a new area of protected land elsewhere.

 Critics says the change could transform Britain’s countryside by allowing thousands of homes to be built on protected land and watering down the original definition of green belt.

However ministers believe the swaps are a sensitive way of protecting rural land while giving councils the powers to hit ambitious housing targets.

Sajid Javid, the Local Government Secretary, indicated his support in a speech this week as he called on MPs not to oppose building on green belt outright.

He said the Westminster politicians “should not stand in the way” of councils who propose green belt development, providing “all the options” have been considered.

Green belt swaps allow a council to suggest some protected land is freed up for development, often to help meet demand in the housing market.

In return, a separate area of land is proposed for new protections, meaning the total amount of green belt land does not fall.

The rules already exist but often fail to work in practice, with planning bodies rejecting proposals because the new land fails to meet the definition of green belt.

Industry sources have said that a white paper on housing to be published next month will include measures to encourage the use of such swaps.

Tories hope it will help hit their ambitious housing target – building a million homes by 2020 – while living up to a pledge to protect the green belt.

There is a believe that the demand for housing has grown so severe in parts of the country it should count as an “exceptional circumstance”, giving councils more freedom to act.

Experts say one option would be encouraging the Planning Inspectorate to approve more swaps. The body often rejects proposals because the new area of land fails to hit the “five purposes” of green belt, including stopping urban sprawl.

George Osborne, the former Chancellor, repeatedly tried to encourage councils to swap new areas of Green Belt for land taken out for development, but had little success.

Mr Javid, the cabinet minister in charge of housing policy, indicated his support for the move at a speech on Thursday.

“Where local councils come forward with sensible, robust local plans – and are willing to take the tough decisions – I will back them all the way,” he said.

“For example, Birmingham City Council has put forward a plan to meet some of its local housing need by removing green belt designation from a small area of land.

“They’ve looked at all the options. They’ve considered all the implications. They want to build homes for their children and grandchildren. And Westminster politicians should not stand in the way of that.”

Yet the plans are already being met with significant opposition from Conservative MPs, who are privately warning that they are prepared to vote against the Government in Parliament if the plans are too aggressive.

Andrew Mitchell, the Tory MP for Sutton Coldfield where the green belt homes near Birmingham will be built, said: “We face horrific proposals from the Labour council and are frankly astonished that Sajid Javid has not stood by the Conservative’s manifesto commitment to defend the green belt.

 “He himself said the green belt is absolutely sacrosanct. We are therefore at a loss to know why the Government is unable to protect us from these iniquitous proposals. There is nothing that causes more anger among the electorate than being let down in this way.”

Nigel Mills, the Conservative MP for Amber Valley, said: “We have always said that green belt land is untouchable except in exceptional circumstances, that’s what we should stick to.

“Our promise in the manifesto was clear. There may be parts of the country where there is no alternative. They should be few and far between.”

Paul Miner, planning campaign manager at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said that once green belt land is lost it is very difficult to replace.

He said that while it is relatively easy to give permission for green belt land to be built on, it is far less easy to get permission for new areas to be classed as green belt.

He said: “We are concerned that his could be charter for developers and encourage local authorities to release large swathes of green belt with little justification.

“Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. It’s generally found that the green belt is performing an important function in stopping urban sprawl.”

Earlier this year an analysis by the CPRE found that 5,000 houses a month are being planned for the green belt as councils struggle to find land to meet the government’s target of a million new homes by 2020.

It found that councils are proposing almost 300,000 homes on the 14 rings of land around English cities where development is meant to be strictly limited.

Since June, councils have proposed an additional 22,000 homes for the green belt in their draft local plans. The borough of Poole in Dorset has proposed 5,300; New Forest district council in Hampshire 4,000; Waverley borough council in Surrey 2,400; and Aylesbury Vale district council in Buckinghamshire 800.

More Delay for Last Authority without a Local Plan

Over 40 years and counting

York Press

A MAJOR development plan that should set out where homes can be built and businesses can grow in York faces months of delays.

The shock decision to close York’s barracks and a revised set of housing figures from central government has caused set backs in the Local Plan development.

Early next month councillors will hear the changes could push back the final plan by as much as six months.

The Local Plan draft outlines where 8,227 new houses should be built in York by 2032.

Earlier this year, City of York Council ran a consultation asking residents, landowners and businesses for their views on a list of preferred sites for future development.

More than 2,300 responses were received, and they have now been published ahead of two crucial meetings. Significant amounts of technical data and information given by landowners and developers is still being analysed by the council’s planning teams.

A key Local Plan committee is due to meet on Monday, December 5. A report published ahead of that meeting says that Minstry of Defence’s decision about the barracks, and the government’s revised housing need projections – which came since draft plan was published – mean a significant amount of new work needs to be done.

Cllr Nigel Ayre, chairman the Local Plan Working Group, said: “I would like to thank everyone who responded to the consultation and we will now use the results to move forward with delivering a Local Plan for York.

“As the officer report makes clear, the shock announcement that the Ministry of Defence is planning to dispose of three sites in York could have significant implications for the Local Plan, including potentially altering the current timetable.

“Council officers have held meetings with MoD officials who have indicated that the MoD preference would be for re-development of the sites for residential use with a potential for around 1695 houses on the three sites.

“In light of this, officers will need to evaluate the implications to ensure the Local Plan is compliant with national planning policy. We will also need to have further cross-party discussions on the way forward beginning at the Local Plan Working Group on the 5th December.”

The report also points out that Imphal Barracks is partly inside a conservation area and has several grade-two listed buildings, while both Queen Elizabeth Barracks and Towthorpe Lines include green belt land and are next to a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

An update on progress with the local plan will be presented to the local plan working group on Monday, December 5 and the council’s executive on Wednesday, December 7.

Javid Approves Green Belt Loss in Brum Local Plan

Speech at NHBC

Where local councils come forward with sensible, robust local plans – and are willing to take the tough decisions – I will back them all the way.

For example, Birmingham City Council has put forward a plan to meet some of its local housing need by removing green belt designation from a small area of land.

The plan is supported by the independent Planning Inspectorate.

But it’s fundamentally a local decision made by local people.

They’ve looked at all the options. They’ve considered all the implications.

They want to build homes for their children and grandchildren.

And Westminster politicians should not stand in the way of that.

That’s why, earlier today, we lifted the central government hold on the Birmingham Local Plan.

Court of Appeal on Old Saved Policies

Gladman Developments Limited
 – and –    
  Daventry District Council
The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

significant weight should be given to the general public interest in having plan-led planning decisions even if particular policies in a development plan might be old. There may still be a considerable benefit in directing decision-making according to a coherent set of plan policies, even though they are old, rather than having no coherent plan-led approach at all….

…the metaphor of a plan being “broken” is not a helpful one.

…The fact that the Council is able to show that with current saved housing policies in place it has the requisite five year supply tends to show that there is no compelling pressure by reason of unmet housing need which requires those policies to be overridden in the present case; or – to use Mr Kimblin’s metaphor – it tends positively to indicate that the current policies are not “broken” as things stand at the moment, since they can be applied in this case without jeopardising the five year housing supply objective.