A very interesting (?) point of approach was illustrated during Day3 of the Jotmans Inquiry.
It was a shame that more members of the Local Plan Task and Finish committee were unable to attend whilst the proceedings considered the finer points of Planning Guidance and the NPPF.
The Castle Point Borough Council Barrister backed by the team of Castle Point Planning Officers promoted the significance of the wording and intention of the piece of Guidance that suggests;
“Unmet housing need (including for traveller sites) is unlikely to outweigh the harm to the Green Belt and other harm to constitute the “very special circumstances” justifying inappropriate development on a site within the Green Belt.”
The irony of this approach hopefully didn’t go unnoticed, by the few councillors and the residents in attendance, as during the Local Plan Task and Finish group meetings the senior officer has gone to great lengths to point out that the afore-mentioned sentiment was in fact “only guidance” whilst directing the group members!
The first Appellant witness went through his evidence that led him to find that the Objectively Assessed Housing Need for Castle Point was a requirement for 562 new dwellings per annum. This would transfer into a Local Plan 20 Year period requirement for the provision of some 11,248 new dwellings for the Borough.
The merits of the methodology used to arrive at such a figure was debated. An element of economic, employment growth was applied to the calculation. Whether the correct level of employment growth was suitable for Castle Point, did not appear to be challenged by CPBC counsel.
We suggest that during the Local Plan period the continued focus of London and the M25 links, there is little interest in employment expansion within Castle Point. Canvey Island, where most employment premises are located, continues to suffer from unreliable access. Companies with reasonably sited options for premises elsewhere with better transport links, have little need to subject logistics or personnel to the irregular journey times that Canvey Way offers!
Once again the fact that Castle Point is the worse performing local authority in England for its Housing supply figures was examined.
The Affordable Homes offer from the Appellant, 35% equalling 93 dwellings, is indeed generous.
It was therefore surprising that the CPBC team did not examine the actual viability of such a high percentage of supply. Recent agreement between CPBC and the Kiln Road developer suggests this is unachievable, as does the offer within the Felstead Road proposal. CPBC Local Plan seeks just 25% affordable homes supply, although it must be stressed this is still in its Draft stage!
Of course it may be a case that Persimmon’s are currently achieving the 35% supply in their other builds around the Country.
Many local residents that spoke at the Inquiry mentioned the issue of sewerage flooding in neighbouring homes to Jotmans. We felt an opportunity was missed, for should the Appeal be upheld and the development go ahead, it would have been a great gesture for monies to have been negotiated to attempt to solve the sewage issue to have been set aside, especially as a viability issue may remain over the levels of affordable homes.
Some good for the existing residents may have been forthcoming against the loss of these Green Belt fields.
Much credit must be given to many of the residents that spoke as they were able to communicate the local issues well.
Some ground was recovered when the defence counsel returned to the issue of “Unmet housing need is unlikely to outweigh the harm to the Green Belt and other harm to constitute the “very special circumstances” justifying inappropriate development on a site within the Green Belt,” and whether the accompanying issues actually amounted to “very special circumstances.”
The number of years CPBC have spent over finalising the Local Plan may mean the jury, or rather the Secretary of State, is out on this Appeal!