Rochford Core Strategy – It’s Half Time

June 19, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Basically it’s half time in the Rochford Core Strategy and the Council is taking a breather !! 

Come on England !!

This is a light hearted article by style and approach but it does focus on some real issues that concern residents of Hawkwell and the Rochford District.  

Rochford District Council, in its amorphous legal identity rather than a Cabinet Member charged with the personal responsibility for planning development or its paid Head of Planning, has issued a Press Release in response to my letter to Cabinet Member, Councillor Keith Hudson, on the matter of the Core Strategy following a series of announcements by the Conservative led Coalition Government.

The complete RDC News Release is here.

But  for ease of our readers I will extract particular parts of this News Release for greater focus and analysis in the time honoured tradition of “Match of The Day” with myself as a political rather than football pundit ( Councillor John Mason who is the only independent on Rochford District Council).

However Councillor Keith Hudson also had quite a lot to say at The Central Area Committee which was held at Hawkwell Village Hall on the same night as the Press Release, 17 June.  One wonders why there was not more in the Press Release?

Here are some the Action Replays from Thursday night in Hawkwell but first the game plan that was set out in the Press Release by the Manager of Rochford District Council United.

(Did I just write “United” ? Yes, well it could be if you were to count the Liberal Democrats are part of the National Coalition between the leading Conservative Party and the supporting Liberal Democrats but not quite because there is still an Independent and a Green who are not united with either of them in any way and the Rochford Lib Dems ferociously state on their web site OnlineFOCUS that they are not in a Coalition locally.)      

…..we are obliged to keep on course with our Core Strategy in order to comply with the legal requirement to provide a five year supply of developable land.

……prevent hostile applications from developers who may very well use any opportunity to push forward with proposals that are wholly unacceptable to our communities…

Well having the 5 Year supply of developable land did absolutely nothing to prevent the hostile planning applications at Coombes Farm, Rochford and the Christmas Tree Farm/Thorpe Road/Rectory Road Hawkwell.  And that was one of the major challenges that were made in the both Appeals by Colonnade and David Wilson Homes (Barretts). Just like 4:4:2 for England sorry guys but this formation doesn’t look like a winning formula !!

Action Replay: Councillor Keith Hudson said of the Hawkwell Appeal that he was 90% confident that it would be turned down because Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, would not stay in his job for long if he did not. (In an after the match interview he changed this to 99%.)  

But don’t get your hopes up with predictions from Keith because I understand that Mark Francois expressed the view to a resident last week that if the Planning Inspector finds in favour of DWH then Mr. Pickles would probably still not dismiss the Appeal as it has gone through a Public Inquiry and the Inspector’s report and recommendations most certainly will be accepted. Otherwise what’s the point of having public inquiries. 

Mark Francois might well be right because Eric Pickles said in declining to call in the Brent Cross Cricklewood regeneration plans “the application does not raise issues of more than local importance”.  That gives some idea of his thinking in excercising the powers of The Secretary of State and if a Planning Inspector is in favour of allowing an Appeal it is difficult to see that he would see anything other than issues of more than local importance.

I can’t see him being sacked or losing his job as Keith Hudson suggests (unlike football managers) just because of a local issue in Rochford District which was arguably the fault of the political administration of a District Council in failing to take appropriate action to protect the interests of residents from hostile, premature, planning applications.        

We now await further direction from government……………. we need to understand the arrangements for assessing housing need and how such assessments will inform future housing provision……

Well that worries me because the rules are going to be changed a little bit in who decides on the number of houses to be built and Rochford District Council United (RDC United) is not going to think about right now how it can change how it plays until the new rule book is carved into a tablet of stone instead of the paper version that we have already.

I don’t think that the Manager of RDC United likes the idea of managing the next game himself and that he wants Essex County Council “Wanderers” to go back to managing things as they did some year ago.

If Essex County Council gets the responsibility for deciding the number of houses think back to the way ECC has managed to keep the North of Essex, leafy, well funded with a vastly higher spend on transport infrastructure as compared with South Essex.  Expect the same number of houses for Rochford District if ECC decides

Why on earth is RDC looking to abdicate the opportunity to decide how many houses will meet our local needs when the Government is offering them the chance to be the sole manager of the game. (Lose the Game?)   

……… that our plans for future housing development can be adjusted to reflect the needs of our communities and no more..

It worries me that RDC United is only talking about an “Adjustment” when the consultations with residents indicate that they are looking for a radical change in the next game.

But Keith Hudson clearly said, Action Replay; that [the Core Strategy] will not be the book you have already seen.

So which is it “adjustment” or “new book”?

Personally I think that the Council might be guilty of talking up the performance we can expect in the next game , it’s the play off of whether we go up or down next season, and I think that we are bound to go down if we keep playing the game to the old rules.

Talking of the old rules, Essex County Council is likely to go back to the old rule book and turn to existing documents and do nothing else when actually a radical re-assessment of local housing needs is required bu our local planning authority (LPA).

If you are interested then these documents they are the Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) produced in 2008 by the Thames Gateway South East and the RDC Housing Strategy of 2009.

I have great concern that these studies come up with specific targets for Affordable Homes and those who have applied to RDC for Housing.

I understand that the 5 year figure for Affordable Homes is in the region of 655 and the number of families, but in some cases single persons, requesting housing is in the region of 840.

Based on the Government Housing Policy, PPS3, real housing developments are required to deliver 35% of Affordable Housing.  Using 35% you can see the gross total of housing developments over 5 years is around 2000.

So what needs to be done in my opinion is an urgent piece of work that questions our local residents what are there likely family and personal needs for housing are over the forseeable 15 years in bands of 5 years.

Those asking for accomodation in Rochford need to be equally closely questioned about their precise needs and how they arise including where they are living right now, how this may change over the same period and how they are avoiding being homeless.

Back to the main game, the Press Release which also says;
The government appointed Inspector with the responsibility for determining the soundness of the Core Strategy is due to return to Rochford on 7 September 2010 for a session on affordable housing. In the meantime, she has written to all parties involved in the examination asking for comments on the implications of the proposed abolition of regional spatial strategies as well as the change to the definition of previously developed land and the removal of minimum densities for new housing development.

This is a critical and may be pivotal response by the Council given that it will be made alongside all other Respondents, some of whom have notably challenged the Council in two recent Appeals that it has a 5 Year of developable land in consideration by Planning Inspectors of both the Appeals and the Core Strategy.
At the heart of Miss Graham’s request are the implications of the Pickles Letter of 27 May which once legislated upon in the terms he states, the abolition of the RSS, would, prima facie, allow the Council to reduce the annual denominator of the 5 Year Supply calculation.
Will the Council actually accept the responsonsibility to establish itself the local needs of our district in terms of housing?

The question arises because the Council’s Portfolio Holder shed some doubt upon that when he spoke at the Central Area Committee on 17 June because he gave an impression that the Council might be more content with this being passed back to Essex County Council because in his example he came up with a locally assessed housing need of say 1000 which would have to be built in Rochford whereas a County view by ECC might place some of these elsewhere like Chelmsford or Colchester.

 I wonder just how widely the Council will consult before it replies to the Planning Inspector or whether any other Members of the Council will be permitted to provide any input.

If as a Member of the Council I am permitted to speak then I will be using the content of this article on behalf of residents of Hawkwell and residents of Rochford District generally.