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Core Strategy – A Done Deal Despite Further Consultation?

July 31, 2010 by  

Although the Dismissal of the David Wilson Homes Appeal for 330 dwellings was known over a week ago I have not felt able until now to comment over and above publicly stating in the Echo that I am delighted with the result.

The residents groups of Hawkwell, the parish council and the many residents who have individually campaigned against  the proposals of David Wilson Homes are to be congratulated heartily for the work that they have done for our community.

What has become clear in the last week or so is that there will be 175 new dwellings built in Hawkwell West most probably between 2011 and 2015 because the Council has signalled that it will continue to include the preferred (general) location in Hawkwell West in its housing development plans and no reduction in housing numbers.

Some residents and residents organisations have expressed a preference for a number of smaller sites to be developed by a number of developers. 

Residents think that the first consultation on the actual site options, concluded in April, is already too limited despite further consultation being promised.

Another single planning application on the Appeal site or a Council preference for just the Appeal site would render the further consultation in February a sham in my view.

Whatever happens I will, of course, safeguard our interests by ensuring in Development Control Committee that every new planning application meets all of the the recommendations of the Planning Inspector and provides Hawkwell with the best result possible. I will also defend the position strongly if any future amendments are sought because my experience is that changes are sometimes sought which materially change a development from the ideal that we have already agreed to.

But a note of technical caution.

 Whilst the recommendations and observations of the Government Inspector will be helpful in ensuring that certain Design issues are unlikely to be repeated in any subsequent planning applications  you should bear in mind that these recommendations are only applicable against current policy. The new Government has pledged to put in place the basis of a new national planning framework in the summer of 2011.

Hawkwell had the first Action Group in Rochford District and since then the example has inspired the formation of new groups in Rochford/Stambridge, West Rochford, Hockley and Hullbridge. Well done  to the residents and community especially in Hawkwell West.

Notwithstanding the many claims from the Council in public meetings over the last few years that it had no choice but to plan for the housing numbers required by the Labour Government and its promises that following a change of Government that the position would be materially different I am so disappointed to be able to tell you that, despite the new Con Lib Government having delivered on its promises to you, that Rochford District Council has NOT. And Will Not.

The new District Councillor in Hullbridge, Michael Hoy (Green Party) and I put forward a Motion to ask the Council to undertake a study which would identify our local needs and only build houses to meet this.

One of the reasons that I did this is because I do not believe that that following the change in Government that the Public Examination of the Core Strategy, despite the representations of residents, and ironically developers, that the Core Strategy can now be judged to be UNSOUND and sent back to the Council.

I believe that the Core Strategy will be found to be in accordance with the policy of the new Con/Lib Government which is in favour of local councils building as many houses as they choose in return for financial incentives (an additional bounty of 100% of Council Tax per new property each year over 6 years).

Building in excess of local needs has its attractions to the administrations of local councils because it will cushion the effects and demands of spending cuts.

But do you wish to effectively sell your green belt for such a ridiculously small financial return? I doubt very much that residents want this.

So were you consulted before the Council’s decision on new housing numbers that will generate this bounty? No.

Should Rochford District be in the business of building houses to support London and the Thames Gateway Regeneration?

So I am even more disappointed to tell you that the request in our Motion for a local housing study was turned down.

And you will still NOT be consulted.

A copy of my Speech is here.

Instead the Council will adopt amended figures put forward to the previous Government, by a Quango that has been abolished, which, although the quota represents a reduction in the annual building quota for Rochford District, it results in the same number of houses being built over a slightly longer period.

The Administration scaremongered at Council that other housing studies inferred that 13,000 houses would need to be built and, were the housing numbers to be re-examined as we proposed, then Rochford District would be faced with 4 times their proposal.

13,000 was clearly nonsense hence we wanted to studies to be re-examined by the consultant at no extra cost to explain why such a ridiculous figure was necessary. And during the examination that the consultants should come up with a figure for actual housing needs rather than market demand which is led by regeneration and developers.

So the Administration has either panicked and grabbed at any figure it can which is convenient or it had an eye to the bounty of building extra houses for London and the Thames Gateway.  What a great way to go along with the almost hidden policy of the new Con Lib Government to build houses as an economic policy.  So much for handing decisions back to local views.

So no green belt identified for development by the previous Government will be saved by the New Government in Rochford District; full stop.

If you feel that you have not been listened to, and although the new Government says that you will be, then you have every reason to be disappointed with the administration of your local council.

What you do about that is up to you individually as residents and in the residents groups across the district.

Each Action Group could, for example, run a local campaign against the decisions of your local council administration right now running through to the next local government elections in May 2011. Bearing in mind that this coincides quite nicely with the next public consultation, which is provisionally timetabled to start in February and end in March/April, this will represent the very last opportunity to change the minds of those who represent the administration of the Council. Residents elected them and residents can elect other people.

Having said that I believe that the next public consultation is actually a sham which could stimulate many to campaign or in the minds of many residents resolve right now that they could and should elect others to represent them.

In a letter of objection dated 16 June 2010 submitted to the Council in respect of the Hall Road Planning Application (10/00234/OUT), Colonnade Land LLP allege that in evidence to the Coombes Farm Appeal that the [RDC] Planning Policy Team Leader confirmed that the Council could not resist applications for residential development at the broad locations in the CS.

What does that mean? Will the public consultation on the Allocation of Sites be a sham?

Well there are two major planning applications already to be decided upon in the preferred Location areas of West Rochford and Ashingdon. And these will be decided upon before the next consultation on what is called the Allocation of Sites Development Plan Document. These will be the actual green belt sites that will be built on.

So what will be the point of a consultation on actual sites when the Council allegedly has already said that the Council could not resist applications for residential development at the broad locations in the Core Strategy? We already know that these will Locations will remain at the number of houses already out forward but just spread out a little more in timescale.

But I cannot see any developer having the viability of its big site developments being spread over ten years rather than five.

So will the 190 dwellings per annum be the number built or will it be more? Because those planning applications already in total 750, and there are already 435 others in the 5 Year Supply monitoring report then the rate of building could still be 250 per annum. Or even more if developers for the 50 in Hockley and 175 in Hawkwell actually put in applications that are decided on before the one in West Rochford which the Council has agreed will not be until February 2011.

Or if the EON site comes forward for housing development as the Council seems to hope for then will this be in addition to all of these.  Somehow I can’t see the Council turning down a development on a brown field site being refused even if it has already exceeded the so called new 190 pa for 5 years.  

So which developer will get their permission first? Will the 190 X 5 = 950 be adhered to?

Or will the Council have to approve all of these planning applications because it cannot not resist applications for residential development at the broad locations in the Core Strategy or perhaps it cannot re-schedule development into a longer period?  

So the public consultation on the allocation of sites for the first ten years will be a sham in my view. The Lib Dem Councillors who put forward a Motion for identifying housing numbers up to 2025 had the right idea.  I supported that but again that was not what the eager house building administration wanted.

As a District Councillor, acting for Hawkwell West, and where appropriate with other opposition members, I feel that I have done all I can to represent the views of my residents  and those which also have active and independent Action Groups, which are both new and others long established.

 If there is to be any further change to the policy that has been adopted by the administration of our local council then it will have to be actively demanded by local residents. If there is such a campaign then, in principle, I shall support it.

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