Cabinet members, Councillors and Officers reviewing options for the Castle Point new Local Plan have chosen to keep their meeting private. They have been discussing how much housing and in which location to build and it is to remain a secret possibly until the next area public meetings, or later.
The cabinet selected sites for 1,200 dwellings for the first five year period of the Plan. This equates to 200 builds per year plus a 20% fall back as the Council has a bad record of development growth of late.
The non Green belt areas have been exhausted so now the Council will be expected to come up with Green Belt release for years 6 onwards. Knowing the reaction when Green Belt release was proposed during the Core Strategy process the mainland Group will be wondering which sites they will be expected to name alongside Canvey’s! Make no bones about it the Officers were unscrupulous enough before to enter into a deal with the Mainland Group Councillors, whereby the Dutch Village fields were included in the Core Strategy so as to allow a majority vote to protect any Mainland Green Belt sites.
Fortunately the Inspector saw through this plan and will do so when the Local Plan is examined. This must be a blow to the Mainland Groups confidence in proposing Canvey land to take all of the Borough’s growth. They need to find a little bravery if they are to produce a Spatial Strategy that is effective.
Already they have approved a high density application at The Point, this will open the flood gates at Thorney Bay once the full planning application is prepared.
Pressure will come from Persimmon as they were encouraged by the Council to prepare a detailed application for the Dutch Village Green belt area, only to now hear the site may be over-looked for the first 5 years of the Local Plan.
The need to keep the Local Plan option meetings private should invite suspicion, after all it affects residents and their quality of life, why the secrecy? Councils and Councillors should be open to scrutiny, the neighbourhood groups that took the trouble to get involved with the consultation process are all capable of behaving responsibly and deserve to be involved if only as observers. Openess and transparency was to be the theme behind this process, but we rely on whispers.
No doubt there will be fall out, the Officers will be aware of expectation from their peers, there will be conflict from Councillors who will be displaying a wish to preserve their status behind the shield of acting on behalf of their ward residents.
The Authority need to remind themselves there are four towns within Castle Point, to act and take responsible decisions that make strategic sense. Otherwise the Inspector will once again find the Local Plan unsound and ridicule will once again fall upon Councillors and Officers alike.