Green Belt, Felstead Road, Jotmans Farm – Housing Numbers, Castle Point residents you have been warned!

Taking an opportunity to revisit a previous Blog posting will give the reader an opportunity to consider and comment on how credible the content has emerged.

It is not difficult to follow the electioneering strategy.

May we just offer some small advice to the Felstead group in that it would appear, as exampled from the Jotmans Farm proposal, every time there has been political intervention through the Local Plan, the allocated housing numbers have ended up being increased.

The Canvey Green Belt Campaign group, as difficult as we have found it, have attempted to keep politics out of our campaign.

Whilst indifference is shown by many residents towards local politics, the general concern at the loss of Green Belt and green spaces to development appears to offer politicians  an opportunity to capture the public’s attention and to exploit their concerns.

The 6 week period prior to an Election is known as the period of Purdah or “pre Election period”. A time when political initiatives and opportunity for Party Political advantages should not have influence over residents voting decision making.

The purdah period typically begins six weeks before the scheduled election, in each authority on the day the notice of election is published; for the 2014 local and European elections purdah will begin in many authorities on Monday 7th April.

Purdah does not have actual legal force, rather is considered a ‘self-denying ordinance’, and has considerable moral authority; because of the lack of statute different local authorities adopt different standards as to the extent to which they observe the convention, and authorities are always mindful of the possibility of results and decisions being open to challenge in the event of a breach of purdah. When local elections are being held at the same time as a general election a higher standard is usually applied.

Paragraph 43 of the Code of Recommended Practice, states that:   “Particular care should be taken when publicity is issued immediately prior to an election or by-election affecting the authority’s area to ensure that this could not be perceived as seeking to influence public opinion, or to promote the public image of a particular candidate, or group of candidates. Between the time of publication of a notice of an election and polling day, publicity should not be issued which deals with controversial issues, or which reports views or policies in a way that identifies them with individual members or groups of members.”

A recent Parliamentary guidance note states:

The period of sensitivity preceding these elections is not fixed to any particular date, but the general convention is that particular care should be taken in the three weeks preceding the elections, this year from 2nd May 2014.

We note the timely Development Committee meeting discussing the Redrow, Felstead Road proposal on Tuesday 6th May, the decision of members before a packed public gallery and the Echo newspaper headlines of Thursday 8th May (full Report available here ) ahead of the 22nd May Elections, and wonder whether Green Belt campaigners are liable to manipulation.

It would be wrong of us if we were to suggest that what has occurred locally has been intentional, but it may have had a welcome effect in favour of those seeking election.

Green Belt, Felstead Road, Canvey Point and Thorney Bay, what have they in common? Elections?

Castle Point residents, concerned about the housing development proposals proposed within the Borough’s draft Local Plan, will be confused by the position taken recently by some of the leading Councillors.

The latest planning application before the Development Committee during the May meeting is the Redrow proposal for the Felstead Road, Downer Road, Catherine Road Green Belt area.

This Green Belt site is part of the Local Plan’s initial 5 year housing supply provision. Therefore must be considered an important part of the Local Plan that councillors voted to approve for consultation.

The Tuesday 29th April edition of the Echo however features a Lead Group mainland Councillor quoted as saying “it is not a development which I support.”

As a Lead Group member this councillor would have had the opportunity to have a leading influence and vote, on the Local Plan and the housing sites within.
For the Felstead Road to have been included within the initial 5 year housing supply, it can only be considered to form a crucial part of the Local Plan.

Once that vote was taken to approve the Castle Point draft Local Plan, as difficult as councillors suggested it was at the time, it must appear unusual to local residents for them to now hear a mainland councillor not in support of the proposal site’s development.

The assumption may be that other councillors may be of a similar mind.
Was their support of the Local Plan only temporary?
Or is their disagreement with the Felstead Road proposal temporary?

It will be interesting to hear what Planning Officers may advise during the Development Committee meeting.
Prior to the Glebelands Appeal there was a scramble to indicate a 5 year housing supply, as residents were informed this would prevent Glebelands being approved for development.

Within the initial 5 year housing supply were two large Canvey Island sites, admittedly on previously developed land, 101 the Point or “Canvey Wharf” and Thorney Bay.
(At the Glebelands Appeal the Inspector considered the Castle Point Council 5 year supply to only amount to 0.7 years of housing supply).

Consequently Thorney Bay and 101 the Point proposals came before the Development Committee both with officer recommendations of Approval.

101 the Point was a particular concern to development committee members of both Lead and Opposition groups as they felt the proposal was an over development.

During one of the meetings concerning 101 the Point and Thorney Bay, if not both, the officer particularly reminded committee members that as the sites had been previously voted by Full Council for inclusion within the Local Plan’s 5 year housing supply, there would be a difficulty for the development committee members to now vote to Reject these Canvey proposals.

The proposals could not be Rejected in Principle!

I am certain that it does not take the Canvey Green Belt Campaign group to remind CPBC members of this voting pattern.

However it is against this backdrop that officers appear to take a different stance in the welcome recommendation of Rejection of the Felstead Road proposal!
Will the development committee members also reject the proposal?
Likelihood is they will.
What though, will be the Reasons for Rejection?
Will the proposal be Rejected in Principle?
Despite also being included in the Local Plan’s 5 year housing supply.
Or Rejected due to prematurity, in the light of the Local Plan’s progress?
A temporary delay in the application process!

The Agenda paperwork suggests the officers reasons for recommending Rejection to be based on an over development of the site, too many dwellings.

If this was to be a reason then obviously Canvey residents will feel different standards are being applied across the Borough.

I have copied extracts from the Felstead Road Agenda paperwork below, but first I reprint extracts from the 101 Point Road Agenda paperwork for comparison:-
Council officers view taken from the 101 Point Road “Canvey Wharf” proposal
(99 dwellings across an irregular shaped plot, max width 157metre x max depth 155metre or 2.4 hectare MAX) October 2012

“The Council has previously expressed a strong desire to protect Green Belt land from inappropriate development. With this in mind it is considered likely that a significant number of the Green Belt sites identified in the Assessment will not be supported or come forward.
This is supported by footnote 9 of paragraph 14 of the NPPF which seeks to restrict development in the Green Belt. It indicates that land designated as Green Belt is included as a specific policy in the framework where development should be restricted. Therefore, it could reasonably be interpreted that the presumption in favour of sustainable development does not normally apply to proposals for development in the Green Belt.
My RECOMMENDATION is APPROVAL”

Council officers view taken from the Felstead Road Green Belt (178 dwellings across 8.7 Hectares) proposal Agenda paperwork reads:

“However, inappropriate development in the Green Belt can exceptionally be justified by the existence of very special circumstances. In this instance, the site has been identified as forming part of the Council’s five year housing land supply and this is considered to amount to the very special circumstances needed to justify otherwise inappropriate development….
This factor alone however does not outweigh the objections raised to the proposal on the basis of overdevelopment of the site…”
“It is considered that the proposal is too focused on achieving the greatest number of dwellings on the site and good design and layout has been sacrificed to achieve an inappropriate quantum of development.
The proposal is therefore recommended for REFUSAL.”

This only leaves me to send best wishes to the Felstead Road Green Belt campaign group wishing them every success, and to the Castle Point Development Committee members in their drive for consistency.
And of course the very best of luck to ALL candidates standing in the Borough Elections, this May!

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