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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.

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 !! 

Against Homes Development Proposals in Rochford District

May 15, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Emma Thomas (emma.thomas@nqe.com) wrote a great double page spread in the Echo entitled “United Against Homes Proposal” which reported on the representations that were made by many residents’ groups across Rochford District to a Government Planning Inspector.

As an objector myself (district councillor John Mason) I came away feeling so proud that there were so many people in our community who were prepared to enter a public inquiry to make their views so well known.

But I have pondered on the question of was that enough for common sense to prevail?

As this is an inexorable legal process driven by the national planning system of the previous Government I came to the conclusion, having spoken to planning professionals, that nothing will stop this happening against the wishes of the people unless many more residents directly call for it to be stopped and a binding re-assessment conducted by local people.  

Now is the time for Rochford District to call for help. Delay and it will be too late quite soon.

Why?

An environmental catastophe will definitely hit the Rochford District in 2011 and the “development storm” will continue unabated for a decade or more unless you act now.

Everyone living in Rochford District has known about this for years and it is something that residents have been shouting out about at public meetings to try to get someone to listen for 3 years. 

The response from local politicians has been “Yes, OK, we know” but the Law stops anything from being done about it.

But now is our chance. A chance of a lifetime because, suddenly, the Law can be changed.  Who can change it and stop an Environmental disaster even at the eleventh hour?  Well you can because we have in the UK a Liberal/Conservative Coalition Government and David and Nick are up for change.

Still not sure what I am on about? Yes you do. 

Do we really need 1250 new dwellings to be built in our district from 2011 to 2015?  It is claimed that these are for people coming into our district to take up newly created jobs? Has this been realistically assessed as a true local need? Or is it a justification for just building houses to meet imposed targets?

And for each five years thereafter another 1250 and so on.

What are our real local needs?

Your local council has known for some time that the infrastructure cannot cope and this was admitted openly by many at a council meeting a year or so ago.  But the same council has put forward proposals that are not even properly assessed against the existing poor district wide infrastructure.

The Liberal/Conservative Coalition Government promises to put forward a national planning statement for ratification to Parliament.  But it is right at the bottom of the page !!   Does that imply a low priority and delays in change?  

Rochford District is already threatened with planning decisions for at least 1460 dwellings from proposals put forward by developers who are determined to force the hand of the new Liberal/Conservative Coalition Government with decisions on two Appeals which are due on 26 July and 5 August.

This will be before a decision on the Core Strategy due at the end of September.

So will The Liberal/Conservative Coalition Government abolish this whole process by making a new national planning policy in time to save Rochford District from the impending environmental disaster that we ALL forsee?

YES, eventually, but too late, probably, for Rochford District

You must bring this directly to the attention of David Cameron and Nick Clegg.  It will be too late unless you act now, right away.

Don’t leave this to your local council because councils tend to obediently await process to take its course rather than be proactive.  That is part of the problem.  A slavish desire to follow process because they dare not challenge that process does not deliver change when it is desperately needed. Rochford District Council got us into this mess and I can’t see them being able to deal with it unless you show them how.

If you are too busy to write a long letter yourself then you could  just copy and paste this article and write to David and Nick telling them that we in Rochford are desperate to avoid an environmental and democratic disaster and we need their help as our Government of Change.

Letters rather than emails have the greatest effect.  Details of who to write to below in order of influence. 

To ensure a reply to your postal correspondence please include your full name, address and postcode.

Write to Number 10

You can write SEPERATELY to the PM (David Cameron) and The Deputy PM (Nick Clegg) at the following address asking them to make sure that their Government takes urgent action to safeguard Rochford District; it’s an emergency !!

10 Downing Street,
London,
SW1A 2AA

Write to your MP, either Mark Francois or James Duddridge asking them to personally lobby Nick Clegg, David Cameron, Eric Pickles and Grant Shapps on behalf of their constituents.

House of Commons
London
SW1A 0AA

Write to Eric Pickles who is The Secretary of State who is making decisions on two planning appeals (Coombes Farm and DWH Hawkwell) and the Core Strategy asking him to preserve the rights of Rochford District to benefit from the Change promised by Government.

Cabinet Office
70 Whitehall
London SW1A 2AS

Write to Grant Shapps who is The Minister of State who is responsible for the new National Planning framework asking him to take whatever action is necessary to preserve the rights of Rochford District to benefit from the Change promised by Government.

Department for Communities and Local Government
Eland House, Bressenden Place, London SWIE 5DU

Hawkwell and Coombes Farm – Possible Tests of a A New Government?

January 24, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

I have had several conversations with local residents this weekend asking what they can do about the Planning Appeals in Hawkwell, Christmas Tree Farm/Thorpe Road and Coombes Farm,Rochford/Stambridge.

Public Comments close on both Appeals on Wednesday, 27 January 2010.

Both Appeals will be heard by Public Inquiry in April following which the Secretary of State makes a decision based on the Planning Inspector’s report.

You could contact Caroline Spelman, Conservative MP because she could decide the fate of Coombes Farm if the Conservatives win the election as the future Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government.

It looks to me as if  Hawkwell and Coombes Farm will effectively be Test Cases for a new Government.

Could Caroline Spelman dismiss the Appeals?  Yes, but it depends if Government Guidance on Planning Policy or the regional housing quotas are going to be changed by the new Secretary of State within 16 weeks of the conclusion of the two Public Inquiries.  Coombes Farm commences on 13 April and Hawkwell on 27 April.  Both are not likely to take longer than 4 days.

With the General Election most likely to the held on 6 May, or latest 3 June, there certainly appears to be time for a new Secretary of State to make the decision but there might not be enough time to make changes. 

It is entirely possible that the “old” Secretary of State could make the decision if General Election was held on 3 June and The Planning Inspector had submitted the report very quickly !!

Hopefully Caroline Spelman will be kind enough to look at the position and let us know.  It would be helpful if people write to copy in Mark Francois MP for Hawkwell and James Duddridge MP for Coombes Farm so that they can lobby Caroline Spelman to do the best she can for us if the Conservatives win the election and she is the future Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government.

It might be that there would not be enough time for the new Secretary of State to make the changes necessary changes to save the green belt at Coombes Farm and in Hawkwell which would be a dreadful shame.

What residents do deserve is a clear answer; Will she change Government Guidance on Planning Policy Yes? or No? Will there be time to dismiss these Appeals.  Yes? or No?

We can’t ask if Ms Spelman will dismiss the Appeals because she cannot pre-determine this……………..but she could indicate whether it could be possible or out of the question?   

That seems perfectly reasonable for residents to ask for before they vote in the General Election of course !! And remarkably local with a direct immediate effect on peoples lives for a change given how remote national politics can appear to be.

Interesting challenge I think.

A Tale of Two Villages

December 21, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Cheer up, you guys run the country..Whilst the title of this article is an opportunistic pun on the Dickens’  Classic, Tale of Two Cities,  the story here in Rochford could be a tragedy of epic proportions for two villages in Rochford District if Government Planning Inspectors allow the two appeals in Stambridge and Hawkwell. 

Also at risk is the whole strategic housing and development plan (Core Strategy) which is being put forward by Rochford District Council to another Planning Inspector the same time.

So why are two big developers challenging RDC through planning applications rather than the Core Strategy Consultation and Public Examination?

 Both developers have something to lose.

And so has Rochford District Council if an Appeal is allowed and an application for costs upheld.  These could run to 10’s of thousands if not much, much more and the Council Tax we all pay either goes up or services are cut.

At Coombes Farm in Rochford/Stambridge the preferred Location in the Core Strategy does not appear to even include that site.  So if the Appeal was granted then this would add an extra 326 dwellings to those already proposed for the District by RDC.  

In Hawkwell the Christmas Tree Farm site could be chosen in the preferred Location called South Hawkwell but RDC only want to see 175 dwellings.  So if the Appeal was granted then this would add an extra 155 dwellings to those already proposed for the District by RDC.

A total of nearly 500 extra houses. And Stambridge would merge with Rochford and Hawkwell with Hockley and Ashingdon.

You would hope, wouldn’t you that the Government would not allow developers to confound a democratic process of agreement of a Core Strategy by allowing developers to get round the system.  The Government should not and it could stop this nonsense if only it were to appoint the same Planning Inspector who is to examine the Core Strategy to also decide on these two planning appeals and hold the Planning Appeals to coincide with the Core Strategy Examination in Public. Will this happen?  Not unless enough residents write personally to Prime Minister Gordon Brown and get the public support of David Cameron and appeal for common sense.

If common sense does not prevail then all that is in prospect if these planning applications are approved at Appeal is another run of planning applications from developers deciding where they want to build not where RDC determines.

The Rochford District Council Core Strategy would be effectively in tatters because all this could happen and be decided before a General Election tipped for May/June. Even though the Conservative Party, if returned to Government, promises to repeal all of the housing targets then this would mean nothing.  So if refused planning applications were already approved in Appeal these could not be stopped. And there might be others with a “Leave to Appeal” which might also get through.

It is hard to avoid the sneaking conclusion that those with development interests don’t already realise this.

The Government and the Conservative Party, Brown and Cameron, need to focus less on the General Election which will not help us in this invidious situation and get the Planning Inspectorate to tie all these decisions together and stop this exploitation of the system.   

Will anyone listen?  Only if you make them listen.

What were the recent elections like for you?

June 12, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

BeefDid the County Council Elections prove to be the best place for important questions of policy to be answered by the existing political administration and its political challengers? Did you get the chance to even ask? Did any of the candidates ask them for you?

Faced with promises from David Cameron that Council Tax could be frozen did any of the other parties put them on the spot and extract a local commitment from the Conservatives running Essex County Council?

Well No !! 

And did anyone tell us the answer to this question “When will we get anything on improvements to cope with all the extra planned housing?”

What was the view of candidates on the London Southend Airport Plan and transport?

Talking to residents in my Ward post the elections revealed that these questions were not even asked yet alone answered.

The Local Transport Plan is the responsibility of Essex County Council.  The Department for Transport says that it wants local transport planning to be seen as a vital and essential public service – a service that can be relied upon not just to solve problems, but to deliver opportunity for all, and to enhance quality of life.

The Local Transport Plan is a long term plan which sets out Essex County Council’s plans and policies for the future of transport in Essex. The first Local Transport Plan was a document containing the five-year programme from 2001-2006. The second Local Transport Plan contains the five-year programme from 2006-2011.

If you are wondering what’s in the LTP’s here is a link http://www.essexcc.gov.uk/vip8/ecc/ECCWebsite/dis/faq.jsp?channelOid=16819&guideOid=39939&oid=18098

So why was it not a feature of the elections?

The LTP is, I believe, not up for formal revision until 2011 which means that the Rochford Core Strategy will be in place before this is formally revised and any infrastructural changes that we think are necessary will not have been committed to in my opinion. The only hope we have is a General Election before The Rochford Core Strategy is finally put in place early next year because the Conservative Party has pledged to stop the housing development plans.

In the meantime, as residents, we have to do what we can to influence the LTP revision and the Rochford District Core Strategy in forthcoming consultations.

According to RDC “We are discussing the Core Strategy with officers at County Hall and will feed the results of those discussions into the Core Strategy to develop the material included in the appendix to the housing chapter. Bear in mind that the Core Strategy is only intended to set out the broad principles for the development of the district – greater detail will be provided in other development plan document, notably the Allocations Development Plan Document.”

Essentially, the situation is still that each development will provide its own infrastructure under agreements with developers. It is going to be absolutely vital that individual Ward Members are as proactive as possible in giving input to the design statements for individual developments. A decision on sites will, I believe, come forward to Council in July but the detail in terms of Design Statements not till October. My greatest concern is that the Council is intending to give the task of an initial draft of Design Statements to the developers so that they will lead the process and carry most of the cost. In Chelmsford the Council employed consultants to initiate these and this is the better route in my view if residents are not to be railroaded by developers in the first draft.

So if you are not happy with the overall current transport infrastructure and the plans put forward for new housing say so in July.

And on individual sites in October.

Council Tax Freeze?

June 5, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

David Cameron says in a leaflet, specifically and personally addressed to you and popped through your door during these elections, that “We’ve got plans to help people through this recession – like a council tax freeze.”

See Leaflet here http://dl.getdropbox.com/u/1063718/davidcameron.pdf

In this case the Conservative Party can take this action right now and before a General Election because it is in majority control of many local councils,  all County Councils and so they can put in a local council tax freeze just as David Cameron has personally promised you.

But will they do it?

I think that the Conservatives in control of Essex County Council and Rochford District Council will have to run hard to explain convincingly enough that council tax could not be frozen if we continue to remind them of David Cameron’s promises because it is going to be really hard to argue on the doorstep that a council tax freeze could not be put in before the next set of promises at the general election or next local elections in May 2010.

It’s certainly a vote winner for whichever of the two major parties actually delivers on a zero council tax increase. All Labour needs to do is maintain the Grant to Local Authorities at the present level and then they can argue that any increase is down to local councillors, mostly Conservative ones across the country and certainly in our area.

It would be really daft if Labour cut the money provided to local authorities, wouldn’t it?

Unless the unthinkable happens…………..David Cameron goes back on his word to you because he admits to the country that he made a big mistake? Didn’t mean to do it now when it really matters?  Just a bit of spin perhaps?

Or perhaps he meant something else and all is not what it seems in the simple language that he used to get your vote !!

So what would it mean for residents of Rochford if it really meant that a council tax freeze can start right now?

The first year for decades that the Council Tax doesn’t just go up by many percentage points regardless of what you think and a freeze providing real respite for families, young and old, who are under such financial pressure.

But will they really want to do this? Well it shouldn’t be too difficult anyway because there is no inflation rise required because the RPI is negative.

But any planned improvements in services would have to be shelved because we, the residents, can’t afford it this year, next year or the year after.

Councils will have to work harder to make savings on services that still need to be streamlined,  make voluntary reductions in the inflated cabinet councillor allowances and expenses and no employee salaries rises, if they want to spend more on improvements.

Work would  need to be done between now and February on re-working the accounts and making any necessary savings. 

Will political parties say just about anything to get your vote? Yes, because they think that you will forget and there is always a explanation why they could not do it. Blaming the current Government perhaps? Not this time surely?  This is something that can be delivered.

This is a great opportunity for a political party to keep a simple promise and to prove that me and other cynics are wrong.

We must keep reminding them of what David Cameron has promised us.

But I fear that in the weasel words of politics that he will have an incomprehensible reason as to why his promise means nothing in practice.

Just empty promises.  But please keep voting for us !!

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