Dear Councillor: debunking some myths

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Here is an email we have sent to all Braintree District councillors, challenging some of what was presented at Full Council on Monday (8 October 2018).

 

Dear Councillor

We would like to address some of the points covered at Monday’s meeting of Full Council:

  • Dropping the garden communities does not mean Armageddon for villages
  • The Inspector’s Option 2 does usher in developer-led planning anarchy
  • Garden communities do swallow up countryside
  • Garden communities will not bring affordable housing any time soon
  • There is no magic money tree for infrastructure
  • Large settlements are not the answer
  • High density does not mean tower blocks

 

  1. Dropping the garden communities does not mean Armageddon for villages

There are 61 settlements in Braintree District.

A simple calculation shows that IF a planning decision was taken to distribute the entire 15 year supply of homes equally, each settlement would take only 14 additional homes per annum.   If just Braintree’s garden community allocation over fifteen years was distributed equally, this would mean around 8 homes extra per village per annum*.

In reality, planning doesn’t work like that and the towns and key service villages would take a greater proportion, so 14 is a ‘worst’ case.    In fact, some growth of villages (in accordance with local wishes, of course) is beneficial because it supports services and provides homes for local people.    If the public has some control over sites, design, type and affordability then some opposition will evaporate.  Giving support to Neighbourhood Plans would help.

What wasn’t mentioned at the meeting was that, under the latest Office of National Statistics’ household projections, the number of households required in the district is not as high as previously thought.

  1. The Inspector’s Option 2 does usher in developer-led planning anarchy

Braintree DC is already seeing sprawl around the villages.  A five year supply of new houses and a Local Plan is desperately needed.  Without one, villages are exposed to the ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ which means that it is very hard for the council to reject planning applications.   Option 2,  from the inspector’s letter, chosen by the Council’s Leader, blocks the district Local Plan.   It is a disaster for rural Braintree District.

Tax-payers’ money is being wasted fighting appeals and meanwhile yet more ratepayers’ money will be diverted to the failed Garden Communities project.  £4m to date, of which £500,000 is from Braintree’s New Homes Bonus, and further demands from North Essex Garden Communities Limited are pending…

Please councillors, do two things:

  • Get to grips with how NEGC Ltd is spending our money and challenge the next demand for funds from Braintree DC.
  • Reject Option 2, select Option 1, and seize back control for the Council, its residents and your voters.
  1. Garden communities do swallow up countryside.

We were told that residents should keep some perspective about garden communities because only a small percentage of our countryside will be lost, and many people won’t see it from their bedroom windows.

A better way of looking at this is in absolute terms.   West Tey alone represents continuous sprawl between Marks Tey and Coggeshall.  Countryside at risk is as follows:

  • West Tey                       3212 acres
  • Monks Wood                 2200 acres
  • West of Braintree          1200 acres
  • East of Colchester         1050 acres

Please do not patronise your residents with sweeping statements about keeping perspective.  We love our villages and countryside for its own sake and do not view it in percentage terms!   We would also prefer you to exhaust the brownfield supply first, and we know that has not been done.

Also, please do not be led into believing that residents only care about what is on the doorstep.   There are far-reaching, regional implications of the garden communities, from stresses on local infrastructure and services, including roads, rail, hospitals, power, water and waste, to the loss of countryside highlighted above. In addition, there are major concerns about the level of debt required by councils, with no skills and experience to deliver entire new towns, that have barely been considered by the councils.

West Tey purple blob map StistedWalkOilseed

  1. Garden communities will not bring affordable housing any time soon.

We understand, and share, the concern that councillors have about residents needing affordable homes.   Unfortunately, the garden communities are not the solution:

  • The inspector said ‘conclusions over the deliverability of affordable housing at each of the three allocated GCs cannot be relied upon’
  • A ‘garden city premium’ of 5% is plonked onto house prices in the viability appraisal. (The thinking is that the GC’s will be so wonderful that people will pay more to live there, making them even less affordable to local people that really need them)
  • The GCs will take around 100 years to build. It might be wise to find a shorter term solution for our young people…
  • Around 70% of the homes won’t be for local people anyway

Far better to concentrate on:  robust section 106 negotiations, collecting a Community Infrastructure Levy.  (CIL alone could bring in around £10,000 per new home).  Look at the implications of the removal of the Housing Revenue Account cap last week.  And encourage Community Land Trusts and Almshouse charities.

  1. There is no magic money tree for infrastructure

New towns are not a magic money tree for infrastructure.

The ones proposed for North Essex will not create sufficient ‘land value capture’ to pay for their very high infrastructure requirements (let alone interest payments).  Government will not be forthcoming with the BILLIONS required to subsidise garden towns like ‘West Tey’.

Once again, best to stick to the knitting:   negotiate effective and watertight section 106 agreements, implement a Community Infrastructure Levy AND make well-placed bids to government.    (Not bids like the one to move the A12 to accommodate an even bigger West Tey.   This type of bid brings no benefit to anyone and will delay the long overdue improvements to our inadequate and dangerous roads.)

  1. Large settlements are not the answer

There are significant scale dis-economies in building big new towns. The bigger the town, the longer it takes to build and the higher the cost per dwelling. It is vital to “do the numbers” and identify these problems early. This is aptly illustrated with the numbers from the Hyas appraisal for West Tey and the comparison taken from a paper by William Sunnucks of CAUSE, called ‘Small is Beautiful’.  The research shows that after about 2,000 homes, viability drops rapidly.  (Paper available at:  http://www.cause4livingessex.com/small-is-beautiful/)

SmallisBeautifulChart

Examples of large scale developments across England show the problems, long timescales and cost issues of getting these new settlements off the ground.

  1. High density does not mean tower blocks

In the right place, done nicely, high density is a good idea.    It does not have to mean 13/14 storey tower blocks or ‘rabbit hutches’ in rows with no green space.  It should not be presented as a bad thing.   Well-designed high density developments are attractive, with plenty of access to public green space.   They can also bring huge benefits, from providing critical mass for public transport, shops and other services, to reducing land take and providing a community feel.   The more compact a development, the less people use their cars and the more they walk and cycle.

Here are some examples, in a report by URBED.  Dr Falk has been to Essex to talk on this subject before – CAUSE is sure he would be willing to present to councillors:  http://urbed.coop/sites/default/files/IPL%20Final%20Design%20%26%20Access%20Statement_2.pdf

A more nuanced and considered approach is needed. It is unhelpful, misleading and just wrong to suggest that ‘millionaires in the countryside want to make everyone else live in tower blocks’.

 

Let’s have a sensible debate about all these issues and their solutions.  That means listening to residents and including them – not erecting barriers to democracy.

 

 

 

 

 

*Assuming building doesn’t start until later in the Plan period.   Otherwise it’s about three homes per village per annum.