The government-appointed Planning Inspector examining the joint part of Braintree, Colchester and Tendring councils’ Local Plan has said the plan can be made sound and the proposed Garden Community on the Tendring/Colchester Border can proceed, but two others should be removed.
The Planning Inspector, Roger Clews, said in a letter to the North Essex Authorities (NEAs) that he agreed the garden communities could be supported and the policies in the plan rightly set high standards for delivery and infrastructure. However he said the Colchester / Braintree Borders and West of Braintree Garden Community proposals are not, in his view, deliverable.
Mr Clews, appointed on behalf of the Secretary of State, described the authorities’ Shared Strategic Section 1 Plan as consistent with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which sets out government’s planning policies for England. He also said sustainable development can be achieved through the development of garden communities and recognised the NEAs have “appropriately high aspirations for the quality of development at the proposed garden communities”.
He said the financial viability of the proposed Tendring / Colchester Borders Garden Community is very strong. However, in his opinion the proposed Colchester / Braintree Borders Garden Community would not achieve a viable land price, and the proposed West of Braintree Garden Community at best at the very margin of, financial viability and sustainable access cannot be achieved. He said on this basis neither garden community is deliverable.
The Planning Inspector said there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate the Rapid Transit System is feasible but he did not think that route 3 (linking Braintree and the proposed West of Braintree Garden Community) and route 4 (linking Braintree to Colchester) were deliverable in financial terms.
He reiterated the Local Plan has met the legal requirements including the Duty to Co-operate and that the housing targets for each district are sound. This means that 716 homes need to be built each year in the Braintree District, 920 homes need to be built in the Colchester borough and 550 homes each year need to be built in Tendring.
He concluded that the NEAs have two options.
- To propose and consult on main modifications which will include the removal of the Colchester / Braintree Borders and West of Braintree GC proposals from the Plan;
- To withdraw the Plan.
If the NEAs decide to take option 1, the planning inspector will have to recommend main modifications to make the plan sound. These would need to be considered by each of the three councils and also have to go out to consultation. The Inspector would then consider any representations before making his final decision.
The NEAs remain committed to the principles that made the garden communities so beneficial to the community. .The NEAs are saddened this approach to sustainable strategic growth over the long-term often struggles through the current relatively short-term focused local plan system.
Cllr Neil Stock OBE, Leader of Tendring District Council, said: “We welcome the scrutiny given by the Inspector to our proposals, and while it is a shame that he does not find all of the proposed garden communities viable at this time it is good that he recognises our high standards and approves the garden community method. It is also a clear mandate for the Tendring/Colchester Borders project and we will continue to work with our strategic partners to deliver both sections of our Local Plan.”
Cllr Graham Butland, leader of Braintree District Council, said: “Clearly the decision of the Inspector is a huge disappointment and one that will adversely impact on the district for years to come. I am proud that, together with Colchester and Tendring councils, we brought forward imaginative and far-sighted plans for meeting the housing needs of our communities both now and in the future. These plans would have fundamentally shifted the balance of decision making from developers to local communities. Unfortunately the Inspector’s decision means that we will have to consider whether additional sites around our existing towns and villages for both the additional housing and for gypsy and traveller sites will now be required. This is something we wished to avoid but unfortunately the concept of further urban sprawl is now a real threat.”
Cllr Mark Cory, Leader of Colchester Borough Council, said This decision is obviously a mixed bag for Colchester and North Essex as a whole and one that we will need to consider carefully both individually and collectively. There are clear positives to take from the work carried out jointly by the Councils. The Inspector was thorough in his work and has given all authorities detailed responses of what is sound and what cannot be found sound at this time. I sat in on some of the hearing and heard his scrutiny of the evidence first-hand.
“This administration believes it is better to plan new developments to deliver infrastructure first, as the four councils have been trying to do. Leaving it to developers to provide the necessary physical and social infrastructure is not good enough. The Inspector does back our approach and has outlined a clear way ahead in his letter.”
The plans for the Garden Communities were supported by Essex County Council.
Cllr David Finch, Leader of Essex County Council, said “We share the disappointment of our district colleagues that the ambitious plans for sustainable growth contained within all three garden community blueprints have not been supported. We have worked closely with Government departments and agencies including MHCLG, Homes England, Department of Transport and Highways England in developing these proposals, and all of them have supported the schemes both financially and through their expertise.
“This will make it more difficult to deliver infrastructure such as roads and transport before homes are built, but nevertheless, we remain as committed as ever to working with our partners to deliver developments which offer the highest possible quality of life, sustainability, green space and employment opportunities.
“We are pleased the inspector has supported the county council’s Housing Infrastructure Fund bid for improved and sustainable transport links for the Tendring/Colchester Borders development, and we are looking forward to delivering this project which will be an integral part of this garden community.”
The four councils would all like to thank all partners, parish councils and staff and members for their time and effort during the local plan process.