The Castle Point Council debate on the daft New Local Plan began with the usual leaving of the chamber by those having interests, meaning their exclusion from the debate.
This followed an admittance by Canvey councillor M.Tucker “confessing” that he had signed, in support of residents, their petition concerning large development on Canvey Island.
It had turned out that the Echo Newspaper had received, and had reported upon, a supposedly anonymous email, informing that Cllr Tucker had basically supported residents in signing the Petition therefore was unable to make considerations impartially.
Since our involvement in the Local Plan process, into its 9th year now, we have witnessed lows and highs in the Castle Point Council Local Plan progress.
The low points began when the Core Strategy was approved for Examination by the local authority containing Green Belt on Canvey Island in isolation allocated for development.
I will remind readers that this was despite this Campaign group’s Referendum, in which we asked residents whether Canvey’s Green Belt should be developed or not. The resounding response from over 6,534 people polled was that over 99% believed that it shouldn’t be developed, as I said, despite that Castle Point Council ignored the Canvey residents view and proceeded with the Plan. So much for councillors responding to residents views then!
The council Leader, at that time addressed the residents in the council chamber’s public gallery insisting we should “watch this space!” and we have continued to do just that!
Following, to be quite frank, an embarrassing defence of the Core Strategy document and evidence by officers, the Plan was forced into withdrawal during 2011. This followed the withholding of evidence on the Strategic Housing Land Availability material, the withholding of the, onerous to Canvey, Strategic flood Risk Assessment to allow the “softening up” of the documents presentation, and the revelation that money was unallocated for Flood Defence improvements. The killer blow was that the Inspector found that it was incorrect to allocate Canvey Green Belt as it was in Flood Risk Zone 3a area.
A new Local Plan then emerged still with Canvey Green Belt’s inclusion but this time with many sites allocated on the mainland following the councillor conference review.
Tonight after many months of meetings this latest version itself ran aground.
It could be said that similar mainland pressure from residents, that had caused only Canvey Green Belt to remain in the Core Strategy areas for development, this time, forced the majority of their councillors to reject the draft Local Plan.
I believe it was more than that though.
For a start, the perseverance of Cllr Dick must be recognised, he refused to accept the levels of Housing Targets or the inclusion of “virgin” Green Belt. When it came to it, Cllr Skipp put his name alongside Cllr Dick to force what will now appear as a Motion towards a change of Plan at the next special Council meeting.
The Canvey Island Independent Party maintained throughout, their position on Green Belt, in not supporting its release for development.
Most importantly and despite intense attempts for him to be ignored, of the utmost importance was Cllr Anderson’s insistence and Scottish doggedness, that for Canvey’s sake the hazardous Industries and Flood Risk, both from the sea and from surface water, must form part of the new Motion as Constraints for discussion.
It was apparent that protecting the population’s well being and safety, fell lower on the list of some councillors list of priorities, compared with protecting Green Belt. That, I guess is their perogative.
As tonight’s debate opened Flood Risk, of vital importance to Canvey Island, barely received a passing mention from the first 6 speakers! This included the Canvey East ward member Cllr Letchford, who gave a speech making claims of his ward residents holding views of being in favour of the development contained in the draft Plan, that were unrecognisable to, not only the Canvey Green Belt Campaign’s vast Canvey Referendum but also the recent Canvey Residents’ Petition!
Generally, during the debate, there was the worn out threatening terminology of going against or challenging the evidence of “professional officers,” the “not living in the Real World,” and without a Plan, there would be no new homes bonus income and developers would dictate where and how many homes were developed with no control from the council, and of course no homes for our children, nor affordable homes.
This ignores the fact that the local authority themselves have fairly recently agreed a paltry supply of affordable homes allocation following the approval of the Kiln Road development proposal.
That market forces will dictate the speed of delivery, and the density of development, a local authority, Plan or no Plan, cannot dictate that!
Government Guidance has suggested that Green Belt can be protected from development, that development should be away from areas at Risk of Flooding, therefore Government should allow time for this Planning Guidance to be introduced into a revised Local Plan.
Whether the SHLAA contains enough Brown Field land to satisfy an Inspector, is doubtful.
For certain a Local Plan with a 5 year Housing Supply indicating the majority of distribution in a Flood Zone, will be rejected.
Quite possibly a mistake may have been made in the reference to “virgin” Green Belt. As far as I know this is not a recognised term in Planning Policy. This could have implications for the Jotmans Farm planning Inquiry. If Castle Point were seen to be pursuing a Policy containing land of an unrecognised status, then this may be interpreted by the Secretary of State as being stalling for time.
The Local Plan process is seen as being politically sensitive and having an influence at Polling times. Developers legal representatives would have plenty to test at Inquiry time.
Clarity of the wording of the Local Plan’s new Motion will be critical. As will the Housing target having applied and, more importantly this time around, the allocation and specific distribution of the Constraints of the Borough, to the Housing Need.
There is the hope that Canvey councillors will remember how at the Local Plan stage the Sequential test should be applied Borough-wide, rather than just across Canvey in isolation!
Those now influencing the possible re-shaping of the new, New Local Plan must be remain aware that “Realism” will be essential.
As most will know by now the voting was 25 Against the draft Local Plan with just 6 councillors For.
Usually we attempt to keep politics out of these Posts and dislike naming individual councillors, I know some of you don’t believe that, but it is possibly important, on this occasion, to point out that there were, surprisingly, 2 Canvey Councillors in favour of the progression of the Local Plan in its present format, cllrs Letchford and Mumford.
For once the “Used Car Salesman” failed to con the Buyer!
Master planning? My arse!