The authorities have at last obtained a legal opinion. (It was sent to the Inspector in the end of month school report: https://www.braintree.gov.uk/downloads/file/8347/nea010_-_march_2019_update_to_inspector)
Mr Lockhart-Mummery, the QC for the North Essex Authorities, is smoothly dismissive of the legal opinion submitted by CAUSE (Martin Edwards of Cornerstone is our barrister) but neglects to deal with the elephant in the room.
The elephant is in fact enormous. It is that councils and government are funding North Essex Garden Communities Ltd, so far to the tune of around £6m, with a budget for NEGC Ltd this year of £3m.
NEGC Ltd is a ‘delivery vehicle’ with the stated aim of delivering the three ‘garden communities’ thrown out by the Inspector. It now refers to itself as a ‘master developer’.
Apparently a legal opinion has been sought on whether State Aid rules have been breached, but this has not been published and needs to be at the earliest opportunity.
It cannot be fair, or considered to be a level-playing field if a state-sponsored master developer is competing against private sector developers.
Mr Lockhart-Mummery also neglects to address the point that public perception of bias or predetermination is important.
No-one following the North Essex Garden Communities project closely can fail to see that the process seems biased and predetermined, despite the reassuring words in Lockhart-Mummery’s opinion.
One only needs to read the responses (http://www.cause4livingessex.com/speculative-developer-applications-email-to-braintrees-councillors/) to the recent methodology consultation proposed for the new Sustainability Appraisal to see that respondents are pretty united in saying that the methodology is biased and is likely to result in the same three garden communities being found sustainable at the end!
For our full response, click here: Missing the point – Lockhart-Mummery opinion
No doubt that there will be much more to say about this on this in due course.