The “eagerly” awaited Castle Point Borough “special” Council meeting that will consider the draft New Local Plan is scheduled for next Wednesday 24th February 2016.
The agenda paperwork indicate two Motions for debate:
Motion 1 (removal of some Green Belt sites for housing development )
To alter the draft Local Plan to prioritise protecting Green Belt over meeting our objectively assessed housing needs and remove all virgin green belt sites listed without current planning permission, including sites listed in the Castle Point SHLAA 2014 (22 sites).
Motion 2 (removal of all Green Belt sites for housing development)
To alter the draft Local Plan to prioritise protecting Green Belt over meeting our objectively assessed housing needs and remove all Green Belt sites and that the draft Plan as altered be resubmitted for public consultation.
The Motions share a common principle. It is clear that Members do not wish to see Green Belt allocated for housing development in the draft New Local Plan placing the protection of the Green Belt above meeting the objectively assessed housing needs of the Borough.
The Agenda then goes on to give CPBC officers opinion on the merits of, or lack of, each Motion. Extracts include;
Of Motion 1 they consider: “The Motion and its proposed amendments are unclear. First, there is no statutory definition of “virgin” Green Belt. Land is either allocated as Green Belt, or not. Within the Green Belt, sites may host buildings or other structures, such as farm buildings, sports pavilions or dwellings. The National Planning Policy Framework indicates that the essential characteristics of Green Belt are its openness and permanence.
However, the National Planning Policy Framework does define “Previously developed land””
Amendments to the Draft New Local Plan to exclude Green Belt sites which are not “previously developed land” would leave the following sites in the Plan;
H8 – Land at the Former Castle View School Site Canvey Island (the Draft New Local Plan site is occupied by former school buildings);
H9 – Land between Felstead Road and Catherine Road Benfleet (the Draft New Local Plan site includes land occupied by former commercial and current residential buildings).
And in an attempt to scupper potential support for Motion 1 officer advice suggests;
For this reason, no account may be taken of any potential capacity at H18 in calculating housing land supply on the Plan.
Officers appear to suggest that ONLY Motion 1 required the further investigation of other Constraints on Housing. This should include amongst other issues the Hazardous site at Canvey Island. however the officers consider that;
In considering responses to the consultation on the plan, the Task and Finish Group received a detailed briefing on all constraints.
Furthermore a separate session of the Task and Finish Group was devoted to the consideration of policies and responses relating to the hazardous installations on Canvey Island.
This particular meeting epitomised the constrained and futile manner in which these Task and Finish group meetings were conducted.
Despite numerous note taking and the input of experts, such as the Environment Agency, no alterations or changes were made to the draft New Local Plan presented for debate by the special council in January.
The Task and Finish group work was, in a nutshell, Futile!
Then, almost in an attempt to drive a wedge between council members, parties and elements the Agenda paperwork gives its approach to Motion 2;
This Motion (2) is clearer in that it does not seek to categorize Green Belt sites, and makes clear that all Green Belt sites are to be removed.
Of the Risks, officers consider that;
The Council is advised that there is a substantial risk that a Draft New Local Plan amended in the form of either Motion is unlikely to meet the four tests of soundness as set out in paragraph 182 of the NPPF
And of the Duty to Co-operate;
A draft New Local Plan which seeks only a limited ability to meet its housing need will not sit well with neighbouring authorities who are seeking to release green belt sites to meet their own housing needs: to expect those authorities to release even more of their green belt to meet the Council’s unmet need is unrealistic.
Addressing the potential next steps the paperwork advises;
As stated previously Motion 1 is unclear, inconsistent and contradictory suggesting that it is acceptable to leave certain Green Belt Sites within the Draft Local plan but excluding others. Council is reminded any attempt to remove sites that is not supported by evidence will result in the Council’s approach to meeting its housing needs being found unsustainable.
Motion 2 the removal of all Green Belt sites for housing development presents the least worst option in that it is a clear unambiguous policy statement that the Council’s priority is the protection of the Green Belt and the Council will not allow the use of any green belt sites to meet its objectively assessed housing needs.
If Council is minded to direct that the draft New Local Plan is amended to reflect either of the two Motions then it is recommended that the Council directs that the Draft New Local Plan be altered to remove all Green Belt housing sites to prioritise protecting Green Belt over meeting the Borough’s objectively assessed housing needs.
Quite clearly unless the different elements among the Political groups of councillors negotiate a compromise or agree a way forward, the potential for this next special council meeting may turn to farce!
Councillors have had clear difficulty in altering direction of this version of the Local Plan, this effort has the potential to be wasted if clear decision on the way forward is not agreed and debated sensibly. Developers and those preferring the rejected version of the Local Plan, and we know who they are, will take advantage of a divided and split council.
PS for any officers or councillors interested, please note at Agenda Note 5.14 that H17 is NOT East of Canvey Road. East of Canvey Road is H16 according to the Local Plan Proposals Map!
Be careful what you agree to!