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Will The Pickles Letter and Abolition of the RSS Actually Matter?

June 30, 2010 by  

DEVELOPERS have won a legal battle to build more than 300 homes on Green belt land at East Tilbury, prompting a leading local councillor in Thurrock to say he fears the “floodgates” are about to open.

Whilst back in Rochford in an email to a resident representing the West Rochford Action Group (WRAG) (and openly copied with no restriction to all Members of Rochford District Council) Portfolio Holder and Cabinet Member, Councillor Keith Hudson writes I must profess disappointment and not just a little concern with respect to the planning appeal in East Thurrock towards the end of last week, the detail within the report is worth careful consideration.”

The scheme for up to 315 homes was opposed by both Thurrock Council and Thurrock Thames Gateway Development Corporation but Communities secretary Eric Pickles has given the green light for the development on appeal.

In his Decision Letter the Secretary of State concluded that the appeal proposal would cause harm to the Green Belt “by reason of inappropriateness and that there would also be harm to the purposes of the Green Belt by reason of inappropriateness and loss of openness”.

However, the Pickles Decision Letter went on to say that because there was “a need for more land to be brought forward for housing in the Thurrock area”, Pickles gave “significant weight to the quality of design of the proposed scheme and its sensitivity to its setting”.

He concluded that “these together amount to very special circumstances sufficient to justify allowing the appeal”.

My concern as a Ward Member for Hawkwell West, where there is an Appeal against a proposal for 330 houses in green belt is that, remarkably, this has already been given a green light for 175 by the Council allegedly in evidence to the Coombes Farm Appeal.  All that  notwithstanding the fact that the Council has in the words of The Portfolio Holder reported by the Echo  [the abolition of the RSS] “It’s something we’ve been banking on ever since we embarked on the core strategy”.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that the Council wish to see a housing estate in Hawkwell come what may.

In the meantime I continue to encourage residents to write to Mr. Pickles and the Council to express their views.

Indeed the Hawkwell Action Group has picked up on my suggestion in a leaflet to Hawkwell West residents providing a suggested letter to Mr. Pickles even at the eleventh hour.

But HAG could not have known about what Mr. Pickles was about to do in East Tilbury.

There are some remarkably similar issues which were considered by the Inspector.  Indeed in the Coombes Farm Appeal and the David Wilson Homes Appeal both developers submitted evidence in respect of their view of the 5 Year SUpply of Land provided by Rochford District Council.

The matter of the 5 Year Supply of Land is something that Conservative Rochford District Council has had complete administrative control over since, I think, May 2002.  My maths makes that a full 8 years of power. If these two Appeals in Rochford and Hawkwell are Allowed then residents should think very carefully about who to put their trust in next year at the Local Elections.  Especially as Conservative Candidates at the 2010 Local Elections inferred that abolition of the RSS was the key to the new Conservative Government in delivering both National and Local promises on overdevelopment of the Green Belt.

So what is there to concern residents of our district in the East Thurrock (Tilbury) decision in the detail of the Pickles Decision Letter?

In his Decision Letter Eric Pickles says that he took into account his own letter of 27 May 2010, The Pickles Letter, in which he promised to abolish the RSS (top down housing targets) and instructed decision makers to regard this a material planning consideration.

Did it work for East Tilbury ?  Whether it needed legisation or not, No, it did not !!

What Eric Pickles wrote was actually this;

“However, he [Mr. Pickles] does not consider it necessary to refer back to parties on the implications of this change of weight before reaching his decision as he would anyway have granted planning permission for this proposal for the reasons given in this letter.”

He goes on;

“The Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector’s reasoning and conclusions that this shortfall represents a failure to deliver a flexible and responsive supply of housing in relation to the housing targets required by the EEP. He considers that this is a material consideration in favour of the appeal proposals and that, notwithstanding the fact that the weight he affords to this matter is tempered by affording less weight to the housing figures set out in the EEP than formerly, it needs to be considered in the overall balance.”

“While he agrees with the Inspector that there are more sustainable locations for housing development in Thurrock than East Tilbury, he also agrees that the location offers a reasonable range of community facilities and reasonable access to jobs, key services and infrastructure and that the proposal would therefore perform well in broad terms against the requirements of PPS1, PPS3 and PPG13.”

And he also says;

“More significantly, he agrees with the Inspector (IR362) that the quality of design of the proposed scheme and its sensitivity to its setting weigh in favour of the scheme. He gives significant weight to those considerations and considers that these tip the balance so that the very special circumstances necessary to warrant allowing the appeal can be demonstrated.”

The decision on the Coombes Farm Appeal is expected on or before 26 July and Hawkwell on or before 5 August.

Let us hope that Rochford District Council has not already let residents down in the way that it has managed the housing development strategy over nearly the last decade  by following political objectives rather than the interests of residents. And that in Hawkwell and Rochford residents can still have a say in the future of housing development given that the new Government has promised to give this back local control.

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