MHCLG to consider whether plan's Essex garden communities failure 'raises questions for how large sites are examined'

The housing ministry has said it will consider whether a planning inspector's recommendation that a group of Essex councils remove proposals for two garden communities totalling 34,000 homes from their emerging joint local plan "raises any questions for how large sites are examined in the future".

The MHCLG building in central London
The MHCLG building in central London

Yesterday, Planning reported that a planning inspector had backed proposals for a north Essex community of up to 9,000 homes, but told the local councils to drop two other government-backed garden communities from their joint local plan or risk having it found 'unsound'.

The North Essex Authorities group - Braintree District Council, Colchester Borough Council and Tendring District Council – are behind the joint local plan.

The proposed North Essex Garden Communities would occupy sites to the east and west of Colchester, and to the west of Braintree. The plan expects them to deliver up to 43,000 homes in total.

In January, the three proposed schemes were among 21 places identified to receive £6 million of government funding to develop garden communities proposals.

However, examining inspector Roger Clews has now written to the councils advising that proposals for two of the settlements are dropped from the plan.

Clews said that proposals for the new communities on the Colchester/Braintree borders and to the west of Braintree, which included 24,000 and 10,000 homes respectively, should be removed from the document because they were not viable and it could not be demonstrated that supporting infrastructure could be delivered.

However, Clews advised that the financial viability case for the proposed garden community on the Tendring/Colchester borders was "very strong".

Clews advised the councils to consult on main modifications to remove the two unviable garden community proposals from the plan, or withdraw the plan from examination.

In a statement from the  Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) in response to the news, a spokesman for the department said: "The government is working hand-in-hand with local communities to deliver much-needed new homes across the country.

"We remain committed to supporting new garden communities and helping these schemes to get off the ground."

The department said that it "applaud[s] the ambition of the North Essex authorities and will consider whether this plan raises any questions for how large sites are examined in the future".

It added that the government "remains committed to supporting new garden communities and helping these schemes to meet the requirements of local plan examinations".

The statement went on to say that the North Essex garden community proposals "are long term and had proposed to deliver a modest number of new homes in the plan period".

It added that the inspector's recommendation "does not preclude any revised proposals for those or similar garden communities emerging in the longer term".

Responding to the inspector's recommendation on LinkedIn, John Walker, technical director at community interest company Garden City Developments and ex-chief executive of the government's former Commission for New Towns, said: "The decision to reject the two other proposed garden settlements demonstrates that we have a planning system that is not fit for purpose when considering large scale developments. The cart is placed before the horse.

"None of the former new towns would have happened under the present system, which is risk averse and puts landowner profit before local community interests. These communities were promoted by the local authorities and could have been delivered by them, using locally accountable new town development corporations, able to buy land at no scheme value and invest in infrastructure.

"They were not speculative developer-led fantasies, exaggerating their benefits in order to get planning permission. Our system is broken and we will not get decently planned and delivered large scale communities until someone in authority takes the bull by the horns and shakes it up."

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