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Rochford Core Strategy Costs Already at £2.1 Million

August 11, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

George Osborne in Beijing

£2.1 million of Public money has been poured into R&D costs of Developers which they do not pay for.

You did !!

Surely the Coalition Government should have found some sort of mechanism for this public money to be recouped from the profits made by each developer?

Rochford District Council has spent £2.1m plus over the past 7 years to April 2013 on the Core Strategy.

Within that £350,000 to Consultants.

£1 million came from Council Tax and £1.1 million from Government Grants making £2.1 million overall.

All money paid by you in Taxes.

How do I know? Because as Members of Rochford District Council (independents) Christine and I asked the question on behalf of residents.

If you want to see the full information supplied to us go here.

How do we see things?

  • The Conservative Party promised to reduce the extent or even stop unwelcome development in their manifesto for the 2010 General Election.
  • The National House Building Federation lobbied the new Government over many months and The Chancellor of the Exchequer reversed the manifesto promises by creating a policy for economic recovery based on house building; boom and bust repeated.
  • Localism was promised in 2010 with local communities having a say in development was promised but all it meant was that Conservative controlled Councils would decide instead.
  • The views of local communities calling for a stop were ignored.
  • The reductions proposed by the Conservative Administration of Rochford District Council in mid 2012 were rejected and RDC now has yearly targets based on the Labour Regional Spatial Strategy coupled with a legally obligated Review for more years and more houses to meet the shortfall for adopting the Plan too late and finishing the build profile in the Plan years too early.
  • The Conservative Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, failed to dismantle the Regional Housing Policies (RSS) of the previous Labour Government until January 2013. Too late to matter as the Rochford Core Strategy was Approved by a Government Inspector and Adopted in December 2011 at 250 new houses p.a. rather than the preferred RDC number of 190 p.a.
  • So why has RDC not used the change in the law to revert to 190 p.a.?
  • Surely residents would have expected the Council to have reduced the number of houses in the Allocation of Sites which is in Public Inquiry in September?
  • The Hawkwell West development at The Christmas Tree Farm (Clements Gate) went ahead despite the fact that there has been no formal decision on the site at the Public Inquiry. So the Allocation of Sites could have been pulled until the numbers could have been reduced without opening the District up to the promised free for all from developers building even more houses.
  • Too late for Hall Road (600), Brays Lane (100) and Hawkwell (175) where plans are already passed but a benefit of reduction in Hullbridge and Rayleigh.

Will Changes in the Probation Service Benefit Local Voluntary Sector Organisations?

January 9, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Voluntary sector is easy pickings



Yes, the Question is “
Will Changes in the Probation Service Benefit Local Voluntary Sector Organisations?”

The Coalition Government hope that will be the case.

National comment From the The Guardian, Wednesday 9 January 2013

“The Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, is to outline plans for the wholesale outsourcing of the probation service with private companies and voluntary sector organisations to take over the rehabilitation of the majority of offenders by 2015.”

“The public probation service is to be scaled back and “refocused” to specialise in dealing only with the most dangerous and high-risk offenders and public protection cases.”

“The majority of services will be contracted out on a payment-by-result basis.”

“While the public probation service will not be banned outright from bidding for the work, it will be expected to do so only in partnership with the private sector.”

“The current arrangement in London where Serco and the probation service delivers the community payback or unpaid work contract is regarded as the most likely model.”

Local Comment from the Rochford Independent

This seems to me to be a great opportunity for the voluntary sector organisations in Southend, Castle Point and Rochford to consider bidding for the resultant commissioning opportunities next year. These organisations may or may not have any experience of bidding or tendering for public sector outsourcing projects however it represents an excellent opportunity for the existing volunteers providing advice and placements for purely voluntary work, or the increasingly popular unpaid work contract to help CV’s, to increase their own skills and provide their members or subscribing charities and operational voluntary groups with an increased source of human resources to do their work. The additional bonuses will be an income and funding from the public sector contracts that are won and the benefit of community guided rehabilitation to offenders.

I would like to see existing voluntary groups to benefit and provide this service in future rather than big companies moving further into the public sector with lucrative contracts which do not reduce costs. Hopefully the voluntary sector organisations in South East Essex will see this as an opportunity to marry their existing services to something new, adding value and ensuring their existence into the future because of falling grants from other public sector donor organisations.

I would like to see our Local Councils with experience in bidding and procurement giving the voluntary sector organisations help as needed.

To beat the private sector big companies they will all have to start right now negotiating and preparing for alliances otherwise they might lose out.

The Rochford Core Strategy in a Nutshell – Is it time to move out of the area?

October 16, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

The Core Strategy in a Nutshell can be seen in two documents; the first a table of numbers which was produced by The Hockley Residents’ Association (Chair, Brian Guyett) and the second a graphical representation of the district showing the same thing as produced by Rochford District Council.

If you don’t like what you see for your immediate locale then think of moving out fast !!

There was a very poor turnout of Members for the Extraordinary Council Meeting on 14 October to discuss amendments to the Core Strategy. One assumes seasonal maladies for most of the large number of absences. Even then I think that there were only 5 speakers; Councillors Hudson, Cutmore and Glynn for the Conservatives, Chris Black for the Lib Dems, Michael Hoy for the Greens and me, John Mason as an independent for Hawkwell West. 

Background

When the new Coalition Government gave local councils the power to re-state their own house building targets Rochford District Council had the opportunity to make a strategy and plans to meet local needs and respond to what local residents wanted. David Cameron keeps telling us that local views will be followed and he urges us all to get involved in his new idea, The Big Society.

The residents of Rochford District have embraced involvement in local issues for decades and long before David Cameron thought that his new Government would give power and choices back to local residents as something new.  I think that he thought that this would be new because Conservative run local councils have in the process of creating a Core Strategy said that this is nothing to do with us; we have to do it by Law because of the Government; if only we were in power then things would be different.

The only problem is they are now in power and nothing has changed.  In fact the Cabinet Member who was solely responsible for using the new local power stated at the Extraordinary Council Meeting held on 14 October that the Council had to follow  the housing needs study that has been put forward by the Thames Gateway by Law instead of a new local housing needs study for Rochford District as proposed by The Green Councillor for Hullbridge and myself.

Well there has been an amendment to the Core Strategy. Rochford District Council did not want a Public Consultation on this but has been forced by Ms Laura Graham, the Government Planning Inspector, to conduct a consultation between 18 October 2010 and 30 November.

What has changed? 

Not much which is disappointing given that residents wanted less development in the centre of the district, Rochford, Hawkwell, Ashingdon and Hockley because of the difficult systemic bottlenecks and the limited capacity of local roads for increased traffic. Residents wanted more development on brownfield sites and where possible these brought forward in preference to green field development.

What we get is the same number of houses across the whole district , 3,800 but spread over a longer period, another 5 years, to 2031 which results under Government rules for less affordable homes, 50% less, being delivered each year at a time when mortgages are not available to the most demanding group, the 34’s which is said to drop off in later years.

The only residents that have been listened to it seems are those in Rayleigh where their protests have been ably represented by the 5 Liberal Democrat Councillors for Rayleigh who won at the outset a reduction from 1800 houses to the mid 700’s with 150 being deferred until the last 5 years by which time that need will probably have been extinguished by windfall developments over the first 15 years.

Also in the last 5 years, 2026/2031 are the 500 for Hullbridge and 250 for Great Wakering.

What are the chances of the Council listening to you?  Very little.  But your representations get looked at by Ms Laura Graham, The Government Planning Inspector, again at Hearings starting on 17 January 2011 which, if you do participate in the Council’s Consultation, might give you the right to speak.

If she hears enough from many residents then she might order some changes.

The Central Area of the District, Rochford, Hawkwell, Ashingdon and Hockley has in the plan around 1000 new dwellings to be built in just 10 years with no prospect of any systematic improvement to the road capacity being made by such developments.

So why are Hullbridge and Great Wakering deferred for almost 20 years leaving the poor infrastructure in the central part of the district to take all of the early development?

Here is what I had to say at the Extraordinary Council Meeting;

1. Green Belt

a) para 4.23 of the published Core Strategy states that the Council will prioritise the redevelopment of brownfield sites to minimise green belt release. This is still not the case in the amended proposals under consultation.

b) Windfall sites will be too late to save green belt which has already been built on.

c) There is now no proposed development proposed for Rayleigh over first 15 years yet according to the published Core Strategy (para 2.38 page 30) dealing with housing need states that based on the housing waiting list the greatest demand for housing was in Rayleigh at 44.4% of the District’s total. There is something wrong here.

d) The older component of our population is said in the Council Paper to be a block on the release of “previously owned homes” and yet the Council has no proposals to release the blockage by requiring the provision of smaller homes in developments like Coachman’s Court (Rochford, Sheltered/wardened Flats for over 55’s). If this were part of the Core Strategy then much less green belt would need to be released.

e) Noting that there is a high demand from the 34’s and noting that the paucity of mortgage funding it is surprising that the Affordable Housing quantum is being reduced from 131 per annum to just 60 which is more than a 50% reduction 

2. Highways and infrastructure

Development proposals for the first phase are concentrated in the centre of the district- the infrastructure cannot cope with existing traffic – there are a number of bottlenecks across this part of the District and being systemic in nature will not be improved by the relatively small improvements provided by the developments proposed.

Is it time to cut and run from the area?  Perhaps………..you have been warned and hopefully you have a choice !! 

Garden Grabbing,Housing Density,PPS3 and The David Wilson Homes Appeal Hawkwell

June 15, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

The Rochford Lib Dem web site “OnlineFOCUS” has published an interesting article here .

Summary of the Article:

Recent changes have been made by the Coalition Government to Planning Policy PPS3 where the previous requirement  that new housing was supposed to be built at a minimum density of 30 units per hectare has now been dropped. Gardens are no longer classified as ‘brownfield’ sites and that will reduce any incentive for councils to rely on garden land for development sites. Our local planners at Rochford District Council have been asked  by how much the rules have changed. The answer is : not very much, so far.

Conclusion of the Article:

If you have a big garden and want to build a couple of houses in it you will still be able to apply for planning permission. And if your proposal is properly designed, with adequate garden sizes, suitable parking places, no overlooking etc, you will probably still get permission.

The Rochford Independent found this very interesting because a number of acres of “garden” had, on the face of things, been included in the land that had been put forward in the David Wilson Homes Planning Application.

So What is Garden Grabbing?  

Garden grabbing refers to the practice of building homes on open land attached to existing urban or suburban houses, which increases population density and, campaigners say, damages the character of an area.

In the run up to the General Election the Conservatives said the problem had arisen because of changes to planning policy drawn up by former deputy prime minister John Prescott in 2000, classifying gardens as brownfield, rather than greenfield, land.

Leafy gardens across the country are being dug up, and replaced with blocks of flats and high-density buildings that spell disaster for the local environment and local infrastructure.

The definition of brownfield land had not changed since the 1980s, what had changed were the targets for developing brownfield sites.

So what can residents do to get this issue looked at again now that the DWH Appeal has closed and The Planning Inspector had on, 8 June, submitted his Recommendation to Secretary of State, Eric Pickles who has the ultimate decision.

Well it looks as if the Announcement on the removal of the minimum housing density and the changes to garden grabbing were made on the same day so this might not have been considered by The Planning Inspector.

If you wish to help stop the 330 David Wilson Homes in Hawkwell please consider writing another letter to Mr. Pickles and his Planning Casework Team at email address PCC@communities.gsi.gov.uk
 
The Planning Casework team at Communities and Local Government will be issuing the Decision Letter.

Suggested Letter

Dear Mr Pickles

PINS Reference APP/B1550/A/09/2118700/NWF

I understand that your Government has very recently made changes to PPS3 in
respect of a minimum housing density and garden grabbing.

I further understand from The Planning Inspectorate that The Planning
Inspector’s Recommendation was forwarded to you on 8 June on the very day that
your Government was making changes to PPS3 and that The Planning Inspector
might not have taken this into account as material changes in planning
considerations that affect this Appeal.

A number of acres of “garden” have, on the face of things, been included in the
land that had been put forward in the David Wilson Homes Planning Application
and at, it could be, a density greater than 30 dwellings per hectare. One of
these gardens is in Thorpe Road  and the other is at the Chalet in Rectory
Road.

In view of the change in Government Policy the implications are that the Appeal
should now be Dismissed for these reasons and further to the fact that the
proposed development at 330 is way in excess of the 175 recommended by Rochford
District Council in its Core Strategy which lower figure was not even based on
local needs but the RSS which you intend to abolish.

Thank you for your attention to this letter and I look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely

END OF LETTER

Decision Making at Rochford District Council – Change or No Change?

June 1, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

The Rochford Independent has run a series of articles over the last week which have focused on the new policies for local government that will be introduced by the New Lib/Con Coalition Government.

In many of these what we are wishing to do at the Rochford Independent Web site is firstly inform and then to put the issues, risks and impacts to Rochford District that we see on record and open to public scrutiny.  In certain instances we will be a campaigning voice with a point of view that we think will be supported by many residents.

In this case the Coalition Government is offering an optional basis for change to Rochford District Council.

We will allow councils to return to the committee system, should they wish to.

If you wish to see change then you will have to nudge this so please write to me at mailadmin@rochfordessex.net

But the article needs to set out some facts. Sources are quoted.

The Labour Government through the Local Government Act 2000 imposed changes on local authorities that were designed to streamline and modernise their political structures. The act was intended to end the old committee system of local government which, it was argued, was slow and ineffective although, others may counter, democratic and accountable.

Rochford District Council chose the option of a leader elected by the council, with a cabinet of between 2 and 10 councillors either selected by the leader or the full council.

But it could have chosen a modified committee system.

Since then the costs of administrating the council have increased hugely mainly because much greater monetary allowances for the leader and cabinet members have been established although it must be said that there were far more modest monetary increases to the basic allowance.

 In 2004 the total sum for allowances was £111,000 and in 2008 it had risen to £233,000.

If you want to see the data it is here(http://news.bbc.co.uk/nol/shared/spl/hi/uk/09/english_council_allowances/data/allowances.xls) courtesy of the BBC.

It is hard to escape, with hindsight of course, the notion that the Labour Government years promoted the “more for me” culture in the public sector which should have run against all Opposition Party principles but then again we have also seen, and continue to see, the product of that culture in the MP’s and Lords Expenses scandals some of which are being heard in the Criminal Courts.

If you wish to see lower cost, greater transparency and greater democracy in RDC then you will wish to push for change.

In April 2009 the BBC’s expose journalist Donal MacIntyre on his Radio 5 Show reported as follows (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8017582.stm);

 Rochford District Council in Essex had the biggest rise in its allowances bill – of 110 per cent over the four years. Although it is still well below the level of many other councils.

The leader of the council Terry Cutmore was paid almost £10,000 in allowances three years ago. By March 2009, his allowance had gone up to £25,500.

“The reason it’s so high is we have actually gone to the average of Essex councils,” Councillor Cutmore said.

“That’s done through a remuneration panel which is totally independent and the rise has gone through because we were paid so lowly to start with.”

Heather Wakefield, from Unison, said: “I think it’s rank hypocrisy for councillors to have awarded themselves these increases when our members are being offered a pay rise of 0.5%.”

But Ms Wakefield said Councillor Cutmore’s allowance needs to be compared with council employees’ pay.

“A quarter of a million council workers earn less than the amount the leader of Rochford is awarding himself,” she said.

Allowances are voted on by councillors themselves. Initially a recommendation is made to the council by an independent panel made up of people who do not sit on the council.

But the councils can choose to ignore the recommendations. Richard Kemp said that often they will take a lower amount.

“Very few councils actually make a big difference to the recommendations of the independent panel,” he said.

Only the Cabinet Members can speak at or even address the Executive or Cabinet Committee at Rochford District Council.  But other Members of the Council and the Public can listen instead.

When this was first established myself,the Lib Dems in Opposition objected to this publicly but it is believed that many other Conservative Group Members did as well but behind the scenes.

There was no chance of change until now.  Will the disaffected Conservative Members speak up for change?

Because of the Cabinet approach decisions are being made by the Portfolio Holders only in discussion with Officers and other Cabinet Members at best.

Or is it that such consultations and discussions within the Conservative Political Group are being held behind closed doors?  This is not a transparent and democratic approach in my view.

I know that decisions can be called in the The Review Committee but initial open discussion with all Members is by far the best course and better value for money.

With the UK being run by a Coalition Government it is hard to avoid the conclusion that consensus political decision making should also return to local government.

The choice of change is there if the residents of Rochford District want it but you will need to ask or even demand it.

Would the Government please explain exactly what this means for Rochford District

June 1, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

The New Liberal/Conservative Coalition Government has made some big announcements on planning today and we have taken this direct from the full document below.

But does this really mean;

  • the end of the Core Strategy?
  • the certainty of dismissal of the Hawkwell and Coombes Farm Appeals?
  • that RDC can turn down the queue of big planning applications simply on prematurity?
  • Or will some or all of these things skid through because the Law will not be changed quickly enough?

This is a big test for both the Conservatives and Lib Dems locally, through their MP’s and Councillors, to make sure that their new Government actually delivers  for the residents of Rochford District !! 

Perhaps we should ask the MP’s who represent Castle Point, Rochford & Rayleigh to spell out what the New Coalition Government agreements will mean in terms of unadopted Core Strategies (does the process stop?), undecided Planning Appeals and Planning Applications which have yet to be determined. This is the REAL world which unless certainly stopped/reversed will mean empty promises I am afraid.
 
COMMUNITIES AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT

The Government believes that it is time for a fundamental shift of power from Westminster to people. We will promote decentralisation and democratic engagement, and we will end the era of top-down government by giving new powers to local councils, communities, neighbourhoods and individuals.

We will promote the radical devolution of power and greater financial autonomy to local government and community groups. This will include a review of local government finance.

We will rapidly abolish Regional Spatial Strategies and return decision-making powers on housing and planning to local councils, including giving councils new powers to stop ‘garden grabbing’.

In the longer term, we will radically reform the planning system to give neighbourhoods far more ability to determine the shape of the places in which their inhabitants live, based on the principles set out in the Conservative Party publication Open Source Planning.

We will abolish the unelected Infrastructure Planning Commission and replace it with an efficient and democratically accountable system that provides a fast-track process for major infrastructure projects.

We will publish and present to Parliament a simple and consolidated national planning framework covering all forms of development and setting out national economic, environmental and social priorities.

We will maintain the Green Belt, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and other environmental protections, and create a new designation – similar to SSSIs – to protect green areas of particular importance to local communities
.

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