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Alternatives proposed to garden communities in Essex

Words: Laura Edgar
New towns / iStock

Two alternatives have been proposed to building three garden communities in North Essex.

Campaigners feel there are many unanswered questions about how such growth would be facilitated, including how an increase in traffic would be dealt with and how they would be funded.

In 2017, North Essex Garden Communities Ltd was set up to work on and deliver proposals for garden communities in Braintree, Tendring and Colchester. Its board includes one member from each local council and one from Essex County Council, together with managing director Richard Bayley.

The organisation is owned by the four councils – the county council, Braintree District Council, Tendring District Council and Colchester Borough Council.

The communities could deliver up to 43,000 homes along the North Essex A120 corridor. Last year, though, an inspector found the strategic plan for the three garden communities “not sound”, but stressed that this was not a rejection of the plan. The inspector found it to be “lacking in a number of respects”, including the improvement of trunk roads.

CAUSE, a campaign group opposed to the garden communities, is seeking a better way to deliver the homes needed. It held a seminar on 18 January to address its concerns and to propose alternatives.

Spokesperson Rosie Pearson explained: “This event was the first opportunity for public debate about the issues surrounding the North Essex Garden Communities project. Until now, issues have been boxed into three-minute ‘have your say’ slots at council meetings or reduced to hollow slogans. Our event addresses key unanswered questions, such as, ‘How will we deal with the huge increase in traffic arising from 43,000 homes – will congestion charging be forced on us?’ and, ‘How will everything promised really be paid for?’”

William Sunnucks presented CAUSE’s Small is Beautiful proposal, which the group thinks will deliver balanced growth. The alternative financial strategy recommends: implementing the Community Infrastructure Levy as soon as possible; a transparent viability review for all non-compliant projects as set out in the 2018 National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF); to invest planning resource into brownfield sites; and to reduce the target size for strategic settlements to 2,000 dwellings.

Ted Gittins, an independent planning consultant, presented an alternative spatial strategy, saying that making North Essex as whole more self-contained while reducing reliance on private vehicles is key. Growth should be directed towards existing settlements, particularly those that are best-placed to exploit the potential for new and improved infrastructure, and those that enable greater use of public transport.

Sunnucks said: “We now have a coherent alternative to the garden communities plan both from a planning viewpoint and a financial one. Big settlements aren’t the only way to deliver infrastructure, and our financial analysis shows that they will actually deliver less. If the councils want to continue spending taxpayers’ money at £3 million a year on professional fees, they must now re-examine their viability appraisals – as requested by the inspector – and publish the results.”

A spokesperson for the North Essex Authorities told The Planner: “We are committed to engaging with and listening to the concerns of all members of the local community, and we know there are a whole range of views when it comes to how we manage future growth. Over the last few years there have been numerous drop in sessions across North Essex and conversations with hundreds if not thousands of members of the public and this will continue in the future.”

Read more:

North Essex garden communities plans require ‘significant work’

The trouble with garden communities…

Garden communities – not just a buzzword

Image credit | iStock