Cllr Dick proposed a Motion during the June 2015 Cabinet meeting.
He had previously attempted to have the same Motion considered by full Council, but this had been deferred as financial implications required consideration.
4.1 The Motion put to Council was that;
‘This Council welcomes the statement by the Local Government Minister at a local meeting on green belt. This Council will therefore prepare a Local Plan protecting Virgin green belt areas and produce a realistic annually housing number that can ideally be achieved.’
Cllr Dick commented that only during 2004 had over 200 housing completions been achieved in Castle Point.
I note that the CPBC Annual Monitoring Report 2004-2005 reported:
“The delivery of new housing against the requirements of the Structure Plan is illustrated in figure 3.7. Delivery in the past has been variable and during the period 1999-2001 fell well below the annualised requirement. The inclusion of new residential mobile homes at Kings Park in the housing delivery figures has been important in helping the authority to deliver the requirement set out in the Structure Plan. Of the 1575 dwellings completed between 1996 and 2005, 905 were newly built dwellings whilst 670 were new mobile homes on Kings Park, accounting for 43% of all new dwellings.”
This appears to imply that although the number achieved may in the future be considered acceptable to the Inspectorate, their location may well not.
Static Homes on a Flood Risk Area appears incompatible.
The June 2015 Cabinet Agenda paperwork accompanying the Motion covered financial implications for both the Borough’s Residents and the Local Authority.
Surprisingly Councillors failed to find any relevant financial questions to seek answers from Cabinet members!
The most significant being that the officers consider no funds have been specifically put aside for fighting Appeals, as we had been previously led to believe.
Officers reiterated that 106 agreements would not be met following Appeals leaving little room for local infrastructure improvements.
The fact that cllr Dicks Motion was agreed to be deferred to be presented to full Council at the time that they meet to consider the findings of the Task and Finish group may lead some to believe that the time of the meeting may become crucial.
With Glebelands and Jotmans development Appeals scheduled for September and October the Council members will be under enormous pressure to approve for publication a Local Plan, of sorts, as vital evidence during Appeals.
For cllr Dick’s Motion, for lower housing targets, to then be accepted would mean that new demographic evidence would need to be found, leaving the current daft New Local Plan suspended.
Some may suggest: Too Late!
I, on the other hand, will leave you to read and digest the relevant extract of the Cabinet paperwork. If this is solely an officers Plan, why did Cabinet and members not challenge the wording, which was, of course presented as factual?
Our MP has continued to insist the Government’s position regarding Green Belt preservation is absolutely clear. Why did the Cabinet continue along a dangerous pathway?
As I have suggested before, despite others protestations to the contrary, this Local Plan has developed its own INERTIA !
General Financial Statement:
7.1 The Medium Term Financial Forecast, presented to Council in February 2015, indicates a significant funding gap in each financial year from 2017/18 which the Council must address in order to maintain existing service levels.
7.2 The Council is already effectively committed beyond its means in future years i.e. spending funds it does not have, and will need to identify reductions to existing services.
7.3 The position with regard to Council reserves is also serious. Whilst at the current time reserves appear healthy, there are very real and significant financial risks which may or may not materialise in future years, particularly around planning appeals and associated legal costs. These risks, coupled with the projected budget gap, will result in a complete depletion of general reserves within the next three to four financial years.
7.4 A programme of work is currently underway which it is hoped will contribute towards closing the funding gap. However, until each financial year is balanced, the Council should not enter into new and ongoing financial commitments, nor should it take any actions resulting in a significant ongoing reduction in any income streams.
Specific Financial Implications:
7.5 There are a number of financial implications arising from this report. Should the Council decide to proceed to prepare a different Local Plan; resources will need to be identified to meet the costs of new documents and evidence. Work carried out with existing evidence, as referred to in paragraph 5.1, will have been abortive.
7.6 Any new evidence to be collected is likely to incur a cost not less than that already spent(£184,000),together with new consultation costs (not less than £35,000). In addition to these costs, there will also be additional staff costs amounting to £31,000.
7.7 The Council had previously established a specific reserve for local plan development costs, of £250k. By the end of 2014/15 only approximately £55k remains unspent. Any costs of developing a new plan above this amount would require additional budget, and would further reduce General Fund reserves.
7.8 Should the Council decide to suspend work on the Plan, then there is potentially significant costs and resource implications to the Council in dealing with planning appeals. Any such costs would reduce General Fund reserves. The most recent calculation of the minimum recommended level of General Fund reserves, in the February 2015 Policy Framework and Budget Setting report, indicated a potential amount of £1.6m should appeals be found against the Council. (To clarify the position regarding reserves – No funds have been set aside to fight appeals. All that has been done is to quantify a financial risk that may materialise as a consequence of not having a local plan. Approval to draw from reserves would be required as each risk materialised. There is no approval to spend implied. ) The Council does not receive any New Homes Bonus for any new houses allowed on appeal.
7.9 With no Plan in place, it will not be possible to impose a Community Infrastructure Levy, putting at risk potential improvements to infrastructure.
7.10 Where plans are not based on robust evidence, or Government policy and guidance, these may be subject to legal challenge.
7.11 At appeal, the Council must demonstrate that it has followed Government policy and guidance and has acted reasonably in order to avoid any award of costs.
7.12 Failure to have made significant progress with a New Local Plan will result in uncontrolled development through the appeals process.
7.13 At particular risk are the sites Jotmans and Glebelands which are subject to Public Inquiries respectively in September and October this year. These sites may well be sacrificed as a result of having no Local Plan in place or the prospect of having one any time soon. This point is not lost on Fox Land and Property who in their statement of case in relation to the Glebelands Appeal refer to the Secretary of State’s faith as expressed in his Decision in the Glebelands appeal in June 2013 being misplaced in that the “drivers” in the NPPF would see the Council press ahead with their new Local Plan.
Graphic courtesy: Dreamstime