N Essex new towns: so why are we doing this, exactly?

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Time for some facts about the so-called “North Essex Garden Communities” (actually three new towns of 41,000+ homes).

  1. They are not needed
  2. Dropping them will not unleash armageddon-esque sprawl in our villages


The authorities say we need 7,500 homes in garden communities in the Plan period to 2033.   (No-one has ever been able to demonstrate to us how the total garden community figure of 41,000 homes was arrived at.   There is no legal requirement to guess what need might be in 50+ years).

Yet the north Essex authorities* have included ‘flexibility’ in the Plan which amounts to 5,500 extra homes!  Yes, that’s right, they are planning for 5,500 homes which are not required.

In Braintree, the situation is even more bizarre.   The delays caused by the garden communities, which are fiendishly complicated and pretty unlikely ever to be found sound by an Inspector, are blocking the district Local Plan.  That’s called the Section 2 Plan (see maps below) and it sets out the normal growth.  It’s waiting to be examined.  In the meantime, developers can take advantage of a policy loophole which says that if there is no Plan they can pretty much do what they like.  As a result, the Section 2 allocations PLUS the speculative applications granted now mean that 98% of Braintree’s 14,320 home requirement to 2033 has been met.

What is worse, is that no councillors are standing up to government about our inflated housing targets.  Our north Essex authorities have seen faster growth than our neighbours and as a result our housing target is set ever higher.  Someone needs to break the cycle.

Nationally, Government’s target of 300,000 homes per annum is based on sand (and does not address the issues of the neediest), yet local targets flow down from this. However, the Bank of England has at last admitted that low interest rates have created much of the problem with affordability, not supply, saying, “We find that the rise in real house prices since 2000 can be explained almost entirely by lower interest rates,” and “Increaing scarcity of housing has played a negligible role.”Bank of England story, The Times

Yet still our authorities are ploughing onwards.  Why? They will have spent £7.6m by the end of this year, and they still have nothing to show for it. And they are being asked to give another £16-20 million to North Essex Garden Communities Ltd in the next two years, with a somewhat shaky chance that they will get it back.

Armageddon-esque sprawl?

There are wild rumours circulating that if the Section 1 (garden communities) Plan is dropped,  places like Halstead will see 8,500 homes.

Er.  No.  Ironically, it is precisely because the garden communities are blocking the Local Plan, places like Halstead are seeing speculative sprawl.

Even if the authorities did need 7,500 Section 1 homes to be re-allocated somewhere, and even if they were randomly dotted across every single settlement in north Essex (which wouldn’t happen), then the result would only be 5 homes per settlement per annum. Anyway, we now know that is not the case and that the three districts, Braintree, Colchester and Tendring only need to find sites for 2,000 homes if the ‘garden communities’ are dropped.    Armageddon?   Hardly.

Interestingly, we know that Braintree has brownfield sites considered suitable for over 5,000 homes, which, bizarrely, were not included in the Plan.  We also know that Colchester and Tendring’s brownfield registers have huge gaps**.

Something else also not addressed locally is that higher density developments, near public transport, designed to be walkable, offer huge benefits versus the low density sprawl across countryside of the proposed garden communities.

So, what needs to happen is that the authorities should immediately cease the expensive, unpopular, undeliverable and unsustainable ‘garden communities’ and allow the district local plans to examination.   Then they should move from the current approach which is known as “DADA”:  Decide – Announce – Defend – (probably) Abandon.   Instead, they should start to work with their communities to ask where they would like to see growth and how it should be done.

*Braintree, Colchester, Tendring (plus Essex)

**Brownfield – could do better:  Brownfield blog, Sep 2018