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Will the Rochford Core Strategy Remain Unchanged?

June 3, 2010 by  

Currently, under existing Legislation, no local authority can avoid the targets set out for it in the RSS (regional spatial strategy), as the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 strengthened the powers of the previous Secretary of State over local planning authorities.

The LDF (local development framework) and the Core Strategy, which the Rochford District Council has produced, must be in general conformity with the regional spatial strategy and is currently before an examination in public by a planning inspector before approval. That planning inspector can recommend changes and, hopefully, Miss Laura Graham, the planning inspector, will make the changes that were sought by residents at the Hearing on 12 May 2010.

Surely this does not matter now given that the Conservative Party has formed a Coaltion Government with the Lib Dems and the Coalition Agreement includes a pledge to abolish the RSS?

The problem is that I do not think that there is any intention to abolish the Core Strategy.

The only promise for rapid change is to abolish the bureaucratic and undemocratic tier of local planning. That will include the abolition of the regional spatial strategies, the regional planning boards and national and regional targets.

At the present time we can only anticipate seeing primary legislation sometime in the first year of the new Coaltion Government.

We do not know in which Session of Parliament that will see the Decentralisation and Localism Bill take passage through the Commons and the Lords. I have asked Mark Francois MP to find out what he can for residents.
 
But it could be that prior to such legislation, The new Secretary of State could use executive powers to revoke the regional spatial strategies in whole or in part.

The recent Letter from Eric Pickles to chief planners at all local councils in the UK is not viewed as a Order or Directive with legal force but it is a signal to local councils that the regional spatial strategies and the targets will be abolished soon.  (When?)

It is unlikely that his expectation that his Letter will be taken as a material planning consideration by a local planning authority as a defensible reason for Refusal of a Planning Application.

That brings us neatly on to Appeals against Refusal.

There are two in Rochford District where decisions are expected at the end of July and early August.  These are Coombes Farm, Rochford (326 dwellings) and The Christmas Tree Farm [330](Rectory Road/Thorpe Road), Hawkwell.   

Residents of Rochford and Hawkwell, to their great credit, have shown that activism is not dead in the 21st century. The people who live in these areas have organised themselves and expended huge amounts of time and energy defending their interests and those of their communities in order for sense to prevail.

Eric Pickles has also addressed his Letter to Chief Planners to The Planning Inspectorate (PINS) whose planning inspectors heard both Appeals in April. It is difficult to see The Planning Inspectorate taking the Pickles Letter as being a material planning consideration.  The Pickles Letter is just “material” not a “material planning consideration” which is significant.

It is surprising that Eric Pickles is seeking planning decision recommendations from PINS on the premise that the Pickles Letter is a material planning consideration  because, actually, he has the final decision on each Appeal anyway.  It seems to suggest that unless PINS recommend Dismissal (Refusal) that there might be a problem here?

I personally fear that there will is a big risk here unless Mr. Pickles can issue an Order very soon under the executive powers of the Secretary of State to abolish the RSS because both Appeals revolve around housing targets in many ways, including the 5 Year Supply Rule from PPS3.  In any event, Coombes Farm is not even proposed in the Core Strategy and Hawkwell is proposed for 175 and not 330 as in the planning application.

I would recommend to all the action groups involved to write to Mr. Pickles to lobby him to dismiss the appeals and to make the abolition of the RSS of legal force before decisions are forced to be taken by him and the Coalition Government.
   
We can now get conveniently back to the issue of what really needs to be done.

The core of the issue is that if the current framework for planning applications remains in place developments will be imposed on other communities with little or no regard to the feelings of the local people who have to live there or to their livelihoods.

Housing must reflect the real needs of real people, which is why developments such as those proposed for Hawkwell and Coombes Farm must be stopped before they are begun. There is insufficient flexibility in existing legislation to deal with these problems which I dare say is replicated in other parts of the country.

Rochford District Council has found itself at the receiving end of a huge tide of local anger, and the situation has been compounded by communication and consultation issues.

I was hoping to have read in the Coalition Agreement that the Core Strategies themselves will be abolished rapidly too.  I don’t think that they will although a new national planning framework is promised except that this will be in the long term. Professional planners think it unlikely that the Coalition Government can actually dismantle the whole LDF structure and maintain any momentum in house building which is forecast at a significant level to meet the births and death dynamics of the existing population, ignoring immigration.

I do not know if immigration is a significant factor in population increase forecasts for Rochford District but it could be, and probably is, for nearby Southend.

So the Rochford Core Strategy stays.

Just tinkered with. 

Is that what you thought when you voted in the General and Local Elections?

What does this mean for Rochford District? 

You could feel very disappointed if my concerns are fulfilled.

My concerns are the following;

  • that district councils do not have the resource, skills and expertise to assess local housing needs and that the responsibilty for this will be passed  back to Essex County Council in the form of the previous Structure Plan methodology……….which means that these will still not be local needs assessed and set locally

  

  •  the new housing targets that are set will not change the development locations or numbers of houses proposed to be built in the first 5 years (2011 – 2015) of the existing Core Strategy and these will still go ahead……….why?

 

  •  the original proposed development block quanta in 2011-2015 would stand because house builders will argue that smaller blocks are uenconomic and undeliverable

 

  • and  the building of a significant number of houses (775) on green belt between 2011 and 2015 is unavoidable because the existing Rochford Core Strategy does not allow building on any brown field sites UNTIL between 2016 and 2025 AND THIS CANNOT BE BROUGHT FORWARD  

  

  • so this would mean that although the RSS housing targets had been abolished, a lower target based on local needs would not be deliverable at the revised applicable annual rate…………..in other words houses would be built at a higher rate than necessary and in the first instance on green belt.

 

  • that the reduced housing needs would be delivered at the expense of saving brown field sites instead of green belt in the second of the 5 Year Periods

 

  • that this would be a significant departure from the long eschewed principle at RDC that additional housing would be delivered across the district on a “Fair Shares For All” basis because only developments in 2016 to 2025 would be cancelled.

If you think that this is fanciful thinking then I would ask you to look back at an article that was published in the Echo as long ago as July 2009 and I referred to in Exposing the Rochford Core Strategy  .

This is the plan that I think that Rochford District Council will deploy unless the residents and action groups, together with the individual Parish Councils get together and demand that the Rochford Core Strategy is re-written and not just tinkered with.

I would also like to mention the Hall Road Planning Application. A PPA or Planning Performance Agreement has been entered into by the Council and according to that plan the Planning Application will not be decided upon until February 2011. Which is a lot of time for new legislation and the Pickles Effect. But will it be enough time?

And just may be perhaps, Miss Laura Graham, the Government Planning Inspector, conducting the Public Examination of the Core Strategy, might order some big changes in the Core Strategy?

But in the meantime expect, for the reasons above, for Rochford District Council to plough on with its Core Strategy as already submitted to The Secretary of State

You expected change, you wanted change. But will there be real change in Rochford District?

Unlikely in my view because the Core Strategy was probably designed to be like this as was already realised in July 2009.

But change is happening elsewhere.  For example South Oxfordshire, Castle Point, Forest Heath, West Midlands, Peterborough and The Cotswolds to name just a prominent few.

Local Coalition MP’s elsewhere are enthusiatically encouraging their local authorities to make the changes necessary. 

But we have heard nothing encouraging from Rochford District Council or the local MP’s, Mark Francois and James Duddridge.  

Housing must reflect the real needs of real people which is what the Coalition Government wants to happen but a Conservative Rochford District Council might not, if I am right, deliver that preferring to meet the needs of developers by providing large housing developments rather than a appropriate lower rate of delivery on smaller sites spread right across the district.

Since writing this Article, Rochford District Council has spoken to the Press…….

The Echo says…….Meanwhile, Rochford’s planning councillor has urged the new coalition Government to change the law as soon as possible.

Keith Hudson said he welcomed the Government’s intention, but wanted it to act straight away, otherwise the district was still vulnerable to large-scale developments.

Rochford District Council has to built 5,500 new homes before 2025 as part of its core strategy plan, which has just been the subject of a public planning inquiry.

Mr Hudson said: “It’s something we’ve been banking on ever since we embarked on the core strategy.

“We need it to happen now, otherwise we are obliged to continue on the route we have.

“We have a lot of residents who are unhappy and need some certainty.”

Mr Hudson said he was aware of major planning applications being drawn up by developers to take advantage of the current housing targets.

Other councils have reportedly already taken steps to abolish their regional targets, such as South Oxfordshire District Council, which has withdrawn plans showing where 5,000 new homes would be built across the district.

Is this the end for green belt housing in south Essex?

No, I don’t think so………… but Rochford District Council suggests that it is only waiting for the Coalition Government to formally change the Law. 

Spin or Truth? 

Time will tell !!     

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