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Rochford Core Strategy – Revisited 2011

July 24, 2011 by  

The Rochford Independent stopped publishing Articles for a time because we wished to be less of a “publisher” of news and to concentrate on the primary objective of being District Councillors.

Christine was elected in May to also represent the Hawkwell West Ward in the second of the two seats. I have been naturally acting as her mentor and I am pleased to tell you that she is already acting for residents and making efforts to influence change in the District.

But we have come to the point where we have to publish an Open Letter which both explains our current views of the Rochford Core Strategy alongside that of emerging Government policy which we believe will not deliver the promises made at elections.

Here is the Letter.

Dear Editor

The District Council decided at Thursday’s Council meeting on 21 July to ask the Government’s Planning Inspector to Suspend the Public Examination of the Rochford Core Strategy until December 2011.

But before the vote many Councillors showed a direct interest in the views of Rochford District Residents on strategic planning.

Residents across the district have been opposed for years to the housing targets imposed by the Labour Government and were promised big changes by the Conservatives. 

However we think that many residents are unsure as to what the Conservative Party policies are both nationally and locally.

On national policy the Conservative Party promised at the General Election to do away with regionally imposed Government house building targets and replace these with local targets set locally by residents under the philosphy of Localism. 

But the Conservative Government has suffered a remarkable failure to abolish the regional targets inherited from the previous Labour Government.

And then came along in the last Conservative Budget, Planning For Growth which at least one Planning Inspector expects to see now incorporated into strategic planning or core strategies.

“On the final day of the Examination in Public for the Central Lancashire Core Strategy , the planning inspector announced that he is likely to find the Central Lancashire Core Strategy unsound and will be recommending that it be amended to include the adopted RSS housing targets as a minimum. In making that recommendation he had regard to the Government’s growth agenda which recognises the clear link between housing development and economic growth.”
  
In launching the Planning for Growth Directive the Conservative Government also said “Local planning authorities should therefore press ahead without delay in preparing up-to-date development plans, and should use that opportunity to be proactive in driving and supporting the growth that this country needs.”

How strange that a Conservative controlled Council, like Rochford District is asking a Planning Inspector to Suspend decision making on its Core Strategy when the Conservative Government tells them to “press ahead without delay”. 

Even stranger in the light of Conservative Government policy that the Rochford Core Strategy has not been examined as to whether it delivers Planning for Growth.

But the Thames Gateway strategic housing studies quoted at Thursday’s Council meeting generates, according to the Council’s Portfolio Holder, a requirement for over 13,000 new houses!!

It is no suprise that these figures are being rejected by all parties.

The evidence for the local Conservative alternative 3800 new homes over 20 years seems to reside in the almost 1200 people who are on the Council’s Housing Register where if each housing development delivers 30% affordable homes that neatly comes out at 60 per year over 20 years out of a total of 190 per year over 20 years. Certainly one Member quoted that figure to me during the debate.

The risk is that if you project the decision of the Planning Inspector for Central Lancashire then the minimum number of houses for Rochford District may go back to 250 per year (the Labour or RSS target) or 5000 over the same 20 years. And according to a leaked Government documents perhaps by an additional 20% to 6000 !!

But there is an alternative if only the Council would look at its own figures. The Portfolio Holder for Planning stated that our District’s new housing requirement was determined by local needs.

I have an Officer Report of Rochford District Council which sets out our local housing needs for affordable homes which in turn seems to generate the total build figure dictated by the Government (30% of all housing developments must be affordable homes by virtue of Government Policy).

I referred to this report when I was challenged in Council to advise what new housing figure I would wish to see but only two other Councillors had apparently seen this.

The Report headed “Information Re The Approval of the new Allocations Policy” dated 21 June 2011 states;

“Under the new banding system,there will be 593 applicants who it is deemed have no housing need.” 

That leaves by numerical deduction from the total number of applicants on the Council’s housing register that are eligible to be housed at 576.

So RDC has no need to build affordable houses for 593 Applicants only 576 to meet our local needs.  

Bearing in mind that 3800 houses over 20 years seems to relate to the whole housing list of 1200 then because there are only 576 who need homes that seems to suggest just 29 affordable houses need to be built each year for 20 years rather than 60 which is 50% against a total number of houses of 1920 over 20 years rather than 3800.   

Looking at it again for clarity the total over 20 years, based on the 576 being 30%, generates 1920 new houses instead of 3800 proposed by the Council against the previous housing targets of 5000.

So my figure is 1920 based on real housing needs in the Council’s Housing Register whilst the Council still sticks to 3800 based on what we see as incorrect numerical evidence which surely the Inspector for Rochford must reject. 

But in rejecting this must she just replace that with 5000 or 6000 based on the new Government’s policy in replacement for the previous targets? That is what seems to be happening in Central Lancashire. 

No Change………… but Change was promised at the General Election.

With the Council proposing to plough on with figures that will inevitably be rejected our party could not support the waste of time and money that would result in following the recommendation put forward.

The latest Court Case referred to by the Inspector for Rochford says ( her letter dated 2 June 2011);

“”You will be aware of the recent High Court judgement in the Cala Homes case. At paragraph 24 it says “It would be unlawful for a local authority preparing, or a Planning Inspector examining, development plan documents to have regard to the proposal to abolish regional strategies”.””

The words which still ring in my ears are “It would be unlawful for a local authority preparing………..to have regard to the proposal to abolish regional strategies.”

But the Council is continuing to do that and just asking for a Suspension of the Public Examination does not, in our opinion, change this act of continuing to prepare its Core Strategy having regard to the proposal to abolish regional strategies, as it evidences from its published Core Strategy Timetables, from being unlawful to lawful.

Personally, seeing that this position remains I do not think that the Inspector should agree to the Suspension because in doing so she would surely be facilitating something contrary to general direction of Court, in having seen the Council’s intention to continue on an unlawful course despite what the Court ruled, “that it is lawful to continue to have regard to the proposal to abolish regional strategies in preparing a Core Strategy.” 

If agreed the Suspension will prevent further input from residents as to their views on emerging Conservative Government Policy as it affects house building and just prepares the ground for the inevitable rejection of the Council’s current proposals by the Planning Inspector on resumption and decision making following suspension.

An Unsound decision will be disastrous for Rochford District.

What the Council needs to do is return to the public as soon as possible with proposals backed by a local housing study that residents will accept and request a Re-Examination.

If the Council does not do this then I fear the ultimate  imposition of 5000 or even 6000 new homes when we may only need 2000 if the Council’s Housing Register figures are correct.

Yours

Councillor John Mason

Comments

Comments

4 Responses to “Rochford Core Strategy – Revisited 2011”
  1. RDC Cllr Colin Seagers says:

    Response from RDC Councillor Seagers on the Rochford Lib Dem Web Site

    RDC Cllr Colin Seagers:
    July 27th, 2011 at 12:07
    Cllr John Mason

    Thank you. At last some figures from a ‘Passport to Pimlico’ party in a belated response to my questions, now the public can have a proper debate. I quote from your website below.

    “So RDC has no need to build affordable houses for 593 Applicants only 576 to meet our local needs.
    Bearing in mind that 3800 houses over 20 years seems to relate to the whole housing list of 1200 then because there are only 576 who need homes that seems to suggest just 29 affordable houses need to be built each year for 20 years rather than 60 which is 50% against a total number of houses of 1920 over 20 years rather than 3800.”

    I can see the potential headlines now, ‘ROCHFORD RESIDENTS PARTY SETS 20 YEAR TARGET FOR HOUSING WAITING LIST’.
    So even assuming your calculations and assumptions were correct, you seem prepared to condemn those already on the waiting list (a rolling requirement remember not an unmoving snapshot) to an unsustainably long wait. Your numbers would not even allow for the current and expected growth in population at all levels in the district, region and nationally stemming from increases in both birth rate and longevity. The ignoring of those two demographic factors alone destroys your argument for affordable homes numbers, but are we also required to assume that our 4x larger private home owner segment of the population will somehow be totally immune from those same demographic trends affecting their needs? Methinks you should reconsider and recalculate.

    Now we await the Green Party response.

  2. John Mason says:

    I am sorry but my reply is far too long to post under Comments so I have uploaded it here.

  3. Editor says:

    Suspension Refused by Inspector here

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