Following on from our previous post, link to it is here, cllr Hart has issued a lengthy response. I had considered the topic closed, as far as this blog was concerned, however in the light of the effort cllr Hart (Simon) has put in I believe it warrants a stand alone post.
On the issue of the new Local Plan and “virgin” green belt cllr Hart states:
“The term “Virgin Green Belt” is being used to separate the previously developed green belt from that of what I would like to see protected, would that include Dutch Village in my opinion Yes it should be protected as much as possible, a blanket ban on “ALL “ Green Belt would exclude a lot of land that people would not think as land that should be protected and therefore put other land at risk. Things have changed this year planning rules wise and what was deemed as previously developed land is now not considered previously developed and back gardens is such a turn around.
The Local Plan is a hard plan to get drawn up and accepted, not just for us in Castle Point but country wide with plans being accepted, some accepted then rejected on appeal or just straight rejected and some being accepted by an inspector and then legally challenged by residents like Rochford.
My posts as you acknowledge are not political as they should be as any decision will affect all in Castle Point, the Draft Local Plan was based on a 200 home per year housing target and that was bad enough when you looked at the maps in the consultation document the housing was distributed throughout the Borough of Castle Point, with the Dutch Village last on the list taking the constraints in to consideration. The 200 homes per year number was not a definite approved number far from it , it could have been rejected by an inspector if our plan was not deemed sustainable, in the Glebelands appeal an inspector stated he thought our number should be around 350 per year. That would be a lot more orange colouring in on the consultation map 75% more land would be required. Then around April with the new guidance on Local Plans and the possibility to protect precious areas from development by evidence basing our arguments and to install constraints the draft local plan was no longer current “in my opinion” that’s the role of the Task and Finish Group to bring the plan up to date and in a timely manner and make recommendations for amendments to the draft local plan.
It will take all parties to get this right and a fair few meetings but I am hopeful of an acceptable outcome.”
The first point that concerns me is the “softening up” tactic that, possibly inadvertently has come into play.
If an unpalatable policy requires implementation, such as a high level of housing development, for whatever reason, one approach would be to initially suggest that, as an example 500 dwellings is required, prior to subsequently then settling for a lower figure, 200 for instance.
This would appear to be a relief to local concerns, whilst delivering a good part of what housing is expected or is actually required.
This “softening up” of local residents is possibly not what was intended in Castle Point, but never the less we have astute officers and forming a Local Plan has proved frustrating and has required much effort over quite a few years now.
Remember initially the RSS housing requirement was 200 dwellings per year, supported and evidenced by most developers at the time, much to the councillors and residents dismay.
Residents and Green Belt campaigners were given solid reassurance from cllr Smith, the appointed Task and Finish group chairman, that our 5 year housing supply would be paramount in saving Glebelands and any other unpopular development proposal.
Subsequently the Glebelands Inspector, at Appeal, considered that his 5 year supply actually indicated, in reality just 0.7 years supply. Only MP R.Harris’ and MP E.Pickles intervention stalled the development’s progress.
These expensive appeals come at a time when Council finances are under strain and some residents may feel an unjustified expense.
Much recent discussion revolves around various green belt areas’ virginity.
This may not be the Planning Officer’s, charged with examining our new Local Plan’s soundness, first and major priority.
As I understood it producing the first 5 years housing supply is the Government’s priority.
The 5 purposes of Green Belt will most likely be his, or her’s, main criteria.
Especially as Castle Point Council have identified sites, such as the Dutch Village, Glebelands and Jotmans Farm, as being considered either deliverable or developable.
As I have said previously Felstead Road, and to some extent the Dutch Village residents will be particularly concerned should the green belt’s “virginity” become an actual policy based criteria for site selection.
It appears, by the weight of consideration given to protecting the GB’s virginity, is CPBC’s main concern despite serious other constraints within the Borough.
We are, I must say, concerned that by focusing on an areas “virginity”, other areas will be unsoundly “sacrificed” to development. I had assumed that first and foremost an areas green belt function was the initial point of judgement as to whether it’s green belt status should remain, also that an area’s “beauty” was not considered a main function of green belt land.
The Task and Finish Group are now in an exposed position. Whilst they have been handed full responsibility in interpreting the Local Plan consultation responses and in forming a Local Plan, they have in effect excused officers of any blame should the Plan be found unsound.
Previously the officers were deemed responsible for the Plan.
However by the amount of “weight” Simon is suggesting should be applied to a green belt site’s “virginity” as a constraint to development, support from officers will be required so as to convince an Inspector this is acceptable.
Some, not all, of the Task and Finish group’s work will be in public.
We are fully aware, having taken part in the Core Strategy process and examination, how much work is required to produce a Local Plan that may be found sound.
What we need from our councillors now are deeds rather than rhetoric.
Good luck to them all!
photo credit: Like a Virgin, Madonna – david desantiago