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North Essex garden communities plans require ‘significant work’

Words: Laura Edgar
Planning / iStock-166225668

An inspector has found the strategic plan for three garden communities in North Essex not sound – but stressed this was not a rejection of plans to deliver three new settlements.

The North Essex Authorities Strategic (Section 1) Plan sets out the proposal for three new communities totalling 43,000 houses.

It was drawn up by North Essex Garden Communities Ltd (NEGC Ltd), a joint venture of Essex County Council and the North Essex Authorities (NEAs) of Braintree, Colchester and Tendring.

Inspector Roger Clewes’ report focuses on areas that “require significant work” by the three authorities. He says he has no doubts about the NEAs’ sincerity in their plans to deliver the garden communities.

“Their proposed approach is innovative and ambitious, and if carried out successfully it has the potential to provide for housing and employment needs not just in the current plan period but well beyond it.”

However, having considered the evidence submitted to support the garden communities policies, Clewes finds it to be “lacking in a number of respects”. These include:

  • Trunk road improvements – Greater certainty is required over the funding and alignment of the A120 dualling scheme, while the feasibility of realigning the widened A12 at Marks Tey is needed to demonstrate that the garden communities proposals are deliverable in full.
  • Rapid transit system – A realistic range of costs, and the sources from which they will be met, need to be identified. Discussions with potential operators need to be had so they are involved in developing proposals.
  • Due to shortcomings in Hyas Associates’ April 2017 viability assessment, its conclusions on the deliverability of the planned affordable housing “cannot be relied upon”. The further viability work that needs to be undertaken to correct those shortcomings will, therefore, also need to demonstrate that 30 per cent affordable housing can be delivered in any garden community that may be proposed.
  • The Hyas report does not deal adequately with transport infrastructure costs, land purchase and interest, or contingency allowances.
  • It has not been demonstrated that the garden communities proposed in the submitted plan are financially viable. Further viability assessment, taking account of all the points above, will need to be carried out on any garden community proposals that the NEAs bring forward.

Clewes does not find any issues with the NEAs’ work on the duty to cooperate.

Deciding that the proposals in the plan are “not adequately justified” and it had not been demonstrated that they can be developed viably, “they are therefore unsound”, he adds.

He emphasises, however, that does not mean that garden communities “may not have a role to play in meeting development needs in North Essex”.

Clewes recognises that “substantial time, effort and resources” have already been invested in developing the proposals, not only by the NEAs but also by the government, landowners, potential developers, infrastructure providers and others.

He adds: “It is possible that when the necessary additional work I have outlined is completed, it will provide justification for proceeding with one or more garden communities proposals – although any such justification would of course be subject to further testing at examination.”


John Spence, CBE, chairman of NEGC Ltd, said: “This is a very useful and constructive appraisal of where we are at the moment in what is the most ambitious housing infrastructure proposal in the UK.

“The plans for North Essex Garden Communities transcend the timeframes of a local plan with over 80 per cent of the homes coming after the local plan period. The inclusion of garden communities of this scale, over this timeframe, within a local plan has never been done before.

“What the councils are proposing is an approach which moves away from short-term planning to one for the long term, with planned communities which grow over several decades supported by significant levels of infrastructure.

“We firmly believe that the garden community approach remains the best and most sensible option to tackle the three big issues facing North Essex – economic growth, housing numbers and affordability.”

CAUSE, a campaign group against the North Essex garden communities, welcomed the inspector’s findings.

Secretary Rosie Pearson, said, “We are extremely disappointed by the authorities’ refusal to acknowledge the serious shortcomings of their plans, as revealed in the inspector’s letter. This approach is a continuation of their refusal to accept evidence that is placed in front of them. £4 million of taxpayers’ money has been wasted on the garden communities project.

“This is not something that can be resolved with a bit of extra work. The inspector has told the councils to go back to square one.”

She expressed hope that the council leaders will meet with CAUSE at “the earliest opportunity”.

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