Back to the drawing board: What are the implications of the Inspector’s letter about the North Essex Garden Communities?
CAUSE has sought advice on the Inspector’s letter. The garden community plans are not sound, and are some considerable way from being fit for purpose. The Inspector has given three options to the North Essex Authorities.
The third is particularly unpalatable. It involves throwing the baby out with the bath-water and dropping the section 1 and 2 plans, leaving us exposed to any higher housing number imposed by government.
The second is not much better. It involves suspending the examination and ploughing on for two/three years to complete the new sustainability appraisal and line up the infrastructure, viability and employment ducks in a row. This blocks the section 2 plans.
Therefore, option 1 is the only sensible choice. This is in fact a simple option to implement. There is nothing unusual about this approach and it has recent precedent.
Many local authorities produce a stage 1 strategic plan (also known as a Core Strategy) which contains no allocations, and defer the allocations to a subsequent Site Allocations Plan. The Core Strategy and Site Allocations Plan are read together and form the Development Plan as a whole.
In Telford, for example, the Council chose to bring forward a composite Local Plan, effectively incorporating Core Strategy and Site Allocations Plan. The Inspector was not convinced on site selection. His recommendation was to remove four allocations and defer them to a later Site Allocations Plan.
So, in north Essex, sections 2 can proceed, while section 1 site allocations are reviewed.
The key point for north Essex is that in deferring sites such as the garden communities, the authorities are not bound to follow the same strategy that they have just failed on.
In fact, the Inspector has made it abundantly clear that the authorities need to look at all reasonable alternatives.
In the new Sustainability Appraisal the authorities must be able to clearly demonstrate that they have addressed all of Mr Clews’ concerns about, for example, viability, infrastructure and selection of sites. This must be done with an open mind and a new consultant.
Pursuing the Inspector’s Option 1 will allow the councils to adopt their section 2 plans and defer the long-term strategic decisions until such a time as the work has been properly done.