Green Belt alliance; strength in numbers or defence via weight of evidence alone?

News of an alliance to fight Green Belt development in pockets of south Essex has been brought to my attention.

The South East Essex Action Group Alliance comprises of campaign groups  within Billericay, Rayleigh, Hullbridge, Daws Heath and Jotmans Farm (these fall within the Basildon, Rochford and Castle Point Local Authority areas).

The Canvey Green Belt Campaign group long since formed the opinion that we were better served by standing our own corner where Local Plan making is concerned.

This viewpoint, whilst possibly unusual, has stood us in good stead since adopting the stance shortly after our formation in 2008.

Locally the constraints to housing development in one area appears to be being diluted across the whole of our Borough!

As you will have read, if you have been following this Blog, Canvey Green Belt was the subject of an agreement by the Lead Group of Councillors whereby the Core Strategy would be supported in Council, if only Canvey land was released for housing development whilst mainland green belt was omitted.

During a presentation to the Council’s Special Policy and Development Group debating the Core Strategy the Daws Heath and Thundersley  “Hands Off Our Green Belt Campaign” group, disappointingly to us, announced that they supported

The Core Strategy document in its “entirety,” thereby casting the Canvey Green Belt Campaign group into isolation.

Following on from this the full Council voted to approve the Core Strategy with just one mainland Councillor voting against and just one solitary Island Councillor voting in favour!

March 10th 2010 saw the Core Strategy’s submission to the Secretary of State for examination, and late 2011 saw its withdrawal having been exposed as having been influenced by “local factors!”

This despite the offer of assistance to CPBC officers by the Examination Planning Inspector!

In our limited experience we have learned that even with an alliance there is the possibility that the least well represented or defended area will, when push comes to shove, become the sacrifice.

In fairness the alliance is in it’s infancy and has just issued its first news release (further below).

This release highlights the difficulties; referring to “the myopic expansion of London” and yet suggesting that “ the number of homes required … could be met by Brownfield sites and infill building.”

In Castle Point we hear the suggestion that our historically low delivery of housing should be used as a basis for setting the future housing requirements. This is likely to lead to these new housing deliveries, especially on previously developed sites ,  to be beyond the “pockets” of local youngsters.

The answer in our area appears to be to select sites that are less damaging to the voting residents, and areas more remote from the urban conurbation.

In effect, undermining the values and purposes of the Green Belt.

An issue that may be more palateable, but will be treated to severe examination in public.

We wish the new alliance well, but we feel that more evidence with a strong foundation than that contained in their first newsletter needs to be forthcoming.

At this stage in the UK’s Local Plan making  supporting evidence against green belt development should be readily available.

South East Essex Action Group Alliance Press Release   Issue 1

Introduction

In towns and villages across the country residents are fighting to prevent unjustified housing developments, particularly those where Green Belt land will be lost for ever. Councils are wilfully ignoring local concerns in spite of the Prime Minister’s drive for Localism.

In the South East of Essex the situation is exacerbated by the limited supply of land suitable for development, the already-overstretched infrastructure and the existing high population density.  A number of independent Action Groups have already been set up by concerned residents. Now these groups are collaborating, sharing information and experiences and preparing to fight together on their shared concerns.

The SE Essex Action Group Alliance, (AGA), has been initiated by action groups from Billericay, Rayleigh, Hullbridge, Daws Heath and Jotmans Farm (these fall within the Basildon, Rochford  and Castle Point Local Authority areas). AGA will campaign on three main issues:-

* Unnecessarily high housing targets;

* failure to implement Localism;

* impact on the Green Belt and infrastructure.

Unnecessarily high housing targets

Councils across south Essex are making policy decisions that produce housing targets that are unnecessarily high. For example:-

* Basildon proposed a new homes target of 16,000 when natural growth would suggest just 8,900 homes are required;

* Rochford’s target of around 3000 new homes is twice the natural growth needed;

* Castle Point is proposing 4-5000 new homes when recent estimates show negative growth.

Other areas show similar disparities. There can be sound reasons for increasing housing targets beyond that required for ‘Natural Growth’, but the contrasts noted here are staggering.

Failure to Implement the Localism Act

In 2011 Central Government introduced the Localism Act with the stated aim of devolving detailed planning powers, including the setting of housing targets, to Local Authorities.  Numerous Government Ministers have reiterated the intention of the Act to put Local Authorities and the communities that elect them in charge of planning in their areas.

Unfortunately Local Authorities in South East Essex have universally failed to understand and implement the concept of Localism.  They have allowed themselves, not necessarily unwillingly, to be held to ransom by developers and Central Government dictat, to the detriment of their residents and at the expense of their Green Belt.

Some residents groups have even resorted to taking expensive legal action against the Authorities who purport to represent them.

The fact that residents of most towns and villages have to form an Action Group to give the public a voice speaks volumes about the way our Councils wilfully ignore the concept and implementation of real Localism.

Impact on Green Belt & Infrastructure

Local historic demographic data indicates a steady and relatively low rise in the number of new homes required for the existing local people which, in many areas, could be met by Brownfield sites and infill building. This would leave the untouched Green Belt able to fulfil its purposes and give the inadequate infrastructure a chance to catch up.

Government-prompted over-estimates of future housing quotas (driven by the myopic expansion of London), will destroy the existing Green Belt and overwhelm the under-funded existing infrastructure (roads /railways/ schools /hospitals etc ).

Our Conclusion

Untold and irreversible damage will be done to the towns and villages in Essex if National and Local Government continue to disregard the views of residents (the electors), by allowing unjustified building and the destruction of the Green Belt. To stop this happening it is essential that local people make their views known through their local Action Groups who are working together to present a strong and united case to the decision makers.

The SE Essex Action Group Alliance invites other groups in the SE of Essex to unite with us to ensure the views of existing residents are no longer ignored by those who purport to represent them.

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One response to “Green Belt alliance; strength in numbers or defence via weight of evidence alone?

  1. I very much wish this Green Belt Alliance group good luck with their campaign endeavours, however I am fearful that some development proposals have progressed to far through the process to be curtailed.
    Desperate to provide evidence that a 5 year supply of housing development has been established, to support Local Plans, Planning Authorities have undoubtedly encourage developers to undertake pre-planning approval discussions. Some of these agents would, under differing circumstances, have left empty handed. However the word TIMELY became a material consideration, which has cause less than appropriate applications to gather momentum.
    I would suggest that those developers encouraged by Planning
    Authorities to deposit their planning proposals, now finding themselves ill thought of by disgruntled communities, take their grievances back to the Authorities who invited them in with open arms.
    Electioneering and planning has always been intrinsically linked non more so that at this present time.

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