Castle Point members back progressing delayed plan in 'last chance' vote

An Essex council threatened with intervention by central government over its failure to adopt a local plan has finally voted to approve a draft version of the document for consultation, ahead of its submission for examination.

Hadleigh Castle in the borough of Castle Point. Image by Bex Foreman, Flickr
Hadleigh Castle in the borough of Castle Point. Image by Bex Foreman, Flickr

Castle Point Council formally withdrew its draft local plan from examination in April 2017 following an inspector's conclusion that it had failed to meet the duty to co-operate.

In March 2018, former housing secretary Sajid Javid named the authority among three councils that would face further scrutiny to determine if central government intervention in their local plan-making process is required.

In November last year, the council refused to authorise a consultation on its draft plan ahead of its submission for examination.

Now, at what council leader Norman Smith said was the sixth attempt, a full meeting of the council yesterday voted by 20 votes to 16 to proceed to a pre-submission consultation on the plan.

The latest version of the plan includes proposals to release around 220 hectares of green belt land for new development – an issue which had led to previous rejections of the plan.

Speaking to Planning this morning, Smith said: "I am delighted that we have got the plan through and it gives us the opportunity to plan our borough in the way we wanted to."

Smith said he had been summoned to a meeting with the government’s chief planner Steve Quartermain three weeks ago, who warned him that this was the last chance to avoid government intervention.

"He told me that this was our last chance and that if we didn’t pass the plan then he would have no option other than to take over its preparation.

"That would have meant that members had no say in the shape of development of the plans, or in discussions with developers. Members understood that."

However, he added that the council would have preferred not to have had to meet central government targets.

He said: "There wasn’t a single member, including myself, that really wanted to vote it through. We were between a rock and a hard place."

The approved draft of the plan provides for 5,295 new homes over the 15-year period of the plan, equating to 353 homes a year.

This is higher than the 342 homes a year required by the government’s standard methodology for calculating housing need, which Smith said would provide a buffer.

A report to last night’s meeting said: "Some 2,750 ha of the borough is currently designated as green belt."

"The only changes to the green belt being made in this plan are for new housing and employment sites, and the redesignation of schools currently within the green belt.

"These changes result in approximately eight per cent of the green belt being re-designated."

Of the 5,295-home target, 2,775 have been allocated to sites outside of urban areas, although the council has so far been unable to confirm how many of these are on sites currently within the green belt.

The council last night also agreed plans to set up a working group to prepare masterplans for large sites allocated within the plan.

Smith said this would enable members to oversee mitigation measures, such as tree planting around site boundaries, to ensure existing residents were protected from harm caused by new development.

The plan will now undergo eight weeks of consultation from December, with a final version set to be submitted for examination by June next year.

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