Blog: the omphalos in the room

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Is this the best example yet, in the ‘North Essex Garden Communities’ saga, of hyperbole? The land owner consortium behind the new town known as ‘West Tey’ has told the planning inspector that its proposal will be the omphalos of north Essex.  For those unaware, the centre of the Ancient Greek world was symbolised by a stone known as an omphalos.   Tellingly, an ‘Omphalos syndrome’ exists, and refers to the belief that a place is the most important in the world[1].

The north Essex new town proposals have always been based on hype and promises which cannot, in reality, be delivered. We see this when we look at the proposals by the three groups (confusingly) promoting their own different proposals for the same new town:

  1. The North Essex Authorities (NEA). A grouping of three local authorities (Braintree, Colchester & Tendring) with backing from Essex County Council and feasibility money from government.
  2. North Essex Garden Communities Limited[2] (NEGC Ltd). An unaccountable quango with the sole purpose of delivering the three north Essex new towns which have not yet been found sound by the planning inspector.  Owned by the same authorities listed in 1 and with a senior councillor from each on the board.
  3. West Tey Consortium[3]. The group representing around 15 land owners on the biggest part of the new town site, which could deliver up to 17,000 homes.

The NEA published all their latest evidence supporting their desire to build West Tey, East Colchester and West of Braintree this summer.  That is what we were consulted on.    Meanwhile, separately, and at extra cost to the tax-payer, NEGC Ltd has been carrying out its own work, with expensive consultants, to show how it can deliver the very same three new towns.   And the West Tey Consortium has submitted its very own evidence, intended to demonstrate that it can build West Tey without NEGC Ltd or any other state interference.

NEA: no idea

CAUSE has, in our submission to the Inspector which runs to 322 pages[4], analysed the NEA evidence.   We conclude that there are serious problems with viability, delivery of infrastructure, control of land and the sustainability appraisal in the further evidence.

Our barrister, Martin Edwards, of Cornerstone Barristers, concludes[5], after studying the NEA delivery proposals, that one is lead to “…one inevitable conclusion: that the NEAs currently have no idea how the GCs are to be developed. Without a clear indication, how can the GCs (and therefore the Plan itself) be considered to be “deliverable” and effective and therefore sound? Consequently EB/084 raises a number of questions that must be addressed now and determined before the Plan can be adopted. Furthermore, without these questions being answered substantively, the current round of consultation falls far short of what the law requires.”

NEGC Ltd – is that it?!

In the new NEGC Ltd papers submitted to the Inspector[6] by NEGC Ltd we see that big name consultants have been paid, presumably to give the work greater credibility.  However, the model includes only the most forgiving scenarios, often ignoring the Inspector’s letter, and does not explain why assumptions can be relied on.

The practical and legal complexities of compulsory purchase have been completely ignored.  These include valuation and the need to prove market failure and to pay hope value, public interest, blight, not to mention that these purchases will be deferred over 80 years. The entire new town project hangs on this, yet CAUSES’ legal advice and modelling demonstrates that the hurdles are likely to be insurmountable. Without showing how risks can be addressed, the NEGC modelling is a completely meaningless piece of work.

After three years and £7.6m, NEGC Ltd still has no land, no sound plan and no deliverable or viable way to build its new towns.

West Tey Consortium – watering down

After the discovery that Marks Tey is set to be the heart of the modern world, the remainder of the Consortium’s proposals are rather a let-down:

  • a rapid transit system (RTS) is not considered a pre-requisite for a successful garden community. If one really is considered a necessity, the Consortium does not wish to pay for it…
  • The Inspector should not set artificial triggers, like the need for the A12 or A120 upgrades[7], which might constrain growth of West Tey.
  • The consortium wishes to build West Tey fast, and without state interference. It finds the infrastructure requirements set out in the NEA’s evidence unnecessary, and an unjustified burden
  • It states that the proposal is financially viable…but the appraisals have not been published. Apparently they will be for examination (although they refused to in 2018.
  • And finally, there are lots of references to the delivery partner, London & Quadrant, but it should be noted that L&Q announced[8] last week that it is putting all new housing projects on hold due to rising costs and a downturn in demand.

Here in north Essex, the new towns are based on hype. The proposals are worryingly detached from reality.

West Tey – some omphalos: more likely it will be a sprawling commuter development.   The question is, can Omphalos syndrome be treated?


Protestors stop on their walk from Copford across the navel of the modern world


[1] Read more:





[6] All responses here:

[7] They go on to say:  2.5k homes can be built before road improvements; 6.5k when A12 is widened; 9k when their Coggeshall-A12 bypass is built (will it ever and do we want one?) and  17k plus when the A120 is dualled.