A meeting was held between Castle Point MP Rebecca Harris and invited Green Belt campaign groups on Sunday morning.
It is apparent that some Lead Group councillors and cabinet members do not buy into the message that has been conveyed from Ministerial level, and the Planning Inspectorate, culminating in the announcement published in our previous Post, LINK.
Minister, Brandon Lewis, apparently gave the definitive message that Green Belt need not be used for housing supply if the Local Authority chose not to. As long as they actively pursue all previously developed and brown field sites, then along with other evidence a defence can be argued.
The crux of the potential to protect Green Belt relies heavily on the Planning Guidance available via this LINK.
The Guidance states that objectively assessed housing needs should be met, unless any adverse impacts of so doing would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits. These adverse impacts include land designated as Green Belt and locations at Risk of Flooding.
Rebecca Harris, as do some councillors, appears convinced that this level of protection is sufficient constraint to protect Green Belt.
This would allow Castle Point to commence work on a new, New Draft Local Plan, if they so wished.
Locally assessed housing need does not have to be met, if there are limiting constraints to doing so.
Whilst there is no doubting the MP’s passion and commitment to this opportunity, the sceptic in me acknowledges that the Planning Guidance also points out that the National Planning Policy Framework must be;
“read as a whole.” “Need alone is not the only factor to be considered when drawing up a Local Plan.”
This suggests to me that “need” is a major factor, or at least an important factor.
The Guidance goes on;
“ The Framework makes clear that, once established, Green Belt boundaries should only be altered in exceptional circumstances, through the preparation or review of the Local Plan.”
This is exactly the position we are currently at.
It is clear that our authority have to assess its full housing needs. Once assessed;
“the local planning authority should prepare a Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment to establish realistic assumptions about the availability, suitability and the likely economic viability of land to meet the identified need for housing.”
It is here that cllr Dick’s stance becomes interesting. Whilst it will be argued that his reference to previous housing completions this century have only once achieved the Local Plan’s target of 200, the Planners do not usually take into account historic numbers as being permissible to assist evidence of future numbers. This however may be arguable as large developers are reluctant to saturate a local area with housing for sale, due to this having the effect of squeezing house prices. They would sooner release new builds at a rate that will maintain or achieve the benefit of price rises. Probably the previous 10 – 15 year housing completion rate would suit developers. Alternatively it would be apparent that if developers argued for 200+ as the housing figure, land banking may be their aim, get their sites allocated and release builds as and when it suits the Market. No way to form a Local Plan.
Local needs may be able to take into account; “The overall number of births (UK) was down compared with the previous year, continuing a downward trend seen since a peak in mid-2012.” (BBC News 25 June 2015).
Migration is the single largest factor affecting housing need, it is difficult to see how Castle Point could argue we should be immune to this change, and yet that appears to be what is being suggested. Bear in mind that it is considered that much of the population at Thorney Bay is transient (newcomers to the area) and their displacement during development may mean re-homing.
During our meeting, much was said about the constraint that is Green Belt, interesting to note that Planners and the CPBC Development Committee give little weight to the Actual Flood Risk facing Canvey Island as a constraint despite this should be an actual constraint, rather than just a Policy constraint. Their zeal should be equally, if not more so, applied to allow for this constraint, otherwise they may be judged parochial!
Castle Point Council have adopted a laissez faire attitude where the difficulties facing future home owners accessing flood insurance is concerned!
Very interesting times, Castle Point Borough Council we await your next move!