Letter from the Inspector; Castle Point Council Responds!

Castle Point Council have responded to the Inspector’s concerns over the apparent unclear attempts by the local authority to cooperate with neighbouring authorities.

The response is indeed a valiant effort, 18 pages in length, sadly much of it repetition and mainly covering work undertaken more relevant to previous versions of the local plan!

In relation to the Inspector’s veiled hint that cpbc may wish to clarify why the allocated reserved proposed development of the large Green belt site at north West Thundersley, should not be brought forward, no comment was offered by our local authority “professional” officers!

It appears the Local Plan2016 will survive, or perish, on the issue of the identified 100 dwellings per annum delivery being sufficient homes, despite the NPPF expectation – “For plan-making this means that local planning authorities should positively seek opportunities to meet the development needs of their area”, the possibility that by bringing forward the land at North West Thundersley may achieve 200 dwellings per annum, whilst the actual objectively assessed housing needs of the Borough are between 400 – 500 dwellings per annum!

What is illustrated in the cpbc response is their repeated efforts they maintain to bring Canvey Island, despite the Flood Risk and Hazardous Industries Constraints on Housing, to the forefront of the development initiatives contained in Local Plan2016.

In effect it must be considered a concern that a letter of this length and content, may be received by the Inspector as questioning, whether he has actually bothered to read or believe the cpbc Local Plan2016 and its evidence base!

Below we have reproduced, at the risk of being taken out of context, butchered extracts of the cpbc response letter. After all, it is a long and painful read in its entirety!

Our comments are in BOLD CAPITAL ITALICS. The Inspector’s concerns in italics, the rest are cpbc’s approved  contentious response.

CPBC write;- There was considerable interest in the draft plan, with nearly 5,000 representations received, the majority of which opposed a planning strategy of releasing land in the established Green Belt on the fringes of the built up area in order to try to meet a proportion of objectively assessed housing need. However neighbouring authorities were generally supportive of that approach, while acknowledging that Castle Point would have extreme difficulty in finding land to meet its objectively assessed housing needs in full.
In its further considerations, the Council afforded significant weight to subsequent statements by the Planning Ministers concerning the Government’s determination to protect the Green Belt, and also to further refinements to Planning Practice Guidance (PPG) explaining that objectively assessed housing needs would not necessarily need to be met in full where there are important constraints such as established Green Belt. Guidance from senior planning inspectors at the Planning Inspectorate in briefings to the Council also re-affirmed this approach.
Through the preparation of the former Core Strategy and the New Local Plan the Council has been an integral part of the Thames Gateway Area. Ministers and Government have made clear that the Thames Gateway is a nationally important opportunity for new homes and business, accommodated in an established landscape, close to London.

Castle Point Borough Council has been keen to play its part in the Thames Gateway so far as is consistent with the need to respect constraints and deliver sustainable development. Indeed, as a consequence of the PPG issued in 2014 regarding the “Duty to Co-operate”, the Council initiated what have now become regular monthly meetings to discuss strategic planning matters with South Essex authorities.

However it would not be desirable, in the interests of promoting sustainable development, or consistent with the Housing & Planning Act 2016, national policy and guidance, to seek to delay plan making in Castle Point…. South Essex authorities are at different stages in terms of plan preparation across the area, delay in plan preparation could range from a few months to several years.

……. Castle Point now happens to be in the position of bringing forward its plan at this time, ahead of other neighbouring authorities. Whilst regrettable, that position should not be seen as a failure to co-operate, since the Council can demonstrate extensive on-going and effective engagement on matters of strategic planning importance.

Furthermore, discussions took place with Basildon Council during 2014 regarding the strategic function of the Green Belt separating the two settlements of Benfleet and Bowers Gifford,

…..and with Thurrock Council over first a joint submission to the Department for Communities and Local Government for an Enterprise Zone covering key proposals sites in the draft plan at West Canvey in 2015 as well as adjoining land in Thurrock, and secondly a proposition for a third access road to Canvey Island as part of a North Thameside Link Road. EDITOR: mmmm, AND THURROCKS RESPONSE WAS?
cpbc continue; …….having considered all of the evidence from its own studies and assessments, it came to the view that on balance it was impossible to meet objectively assessed housing needs in full in Castle Point without serious harm to interests of acknowledged importance, notably the established open areas of Green Belt in the Borough.  Sacrifice of such areas to meet objectively assessed housing need appeared to be contrary to the clear Guidance which had emerged from central Government (and also contrary to the NPPF, when read in the light of that Guidance). SSSHHHH DON’T MENTION THE OTHER CONSTRAINTS!

OH GO ON THEN! The physical nature of Castle Point defines its characteristics – small in area with a significant proportion of land at or below sea level, and with RAMSAR and SPA sites, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), ancient woodland, areas at risk from flooding, as well as important areas of Green Belt, often quite narrow in extent, but fulfilling vital strategic objectives and functions of the Green Belt by separating individual settlements within the Borough and separating the Borough and adjoining settlements.

This was explained in the workshop with key partners in February 2014, and further details of the specific actions may be found in the New Local Plan 2016 Consultation Report August 2016 (CP/05/012*).

Prior to that (2014) was there any constructive, active and on-going joint working linked to the preparation of the New Local Plan?  If so, what form did it take?

cpbc:- As mentioned above, there has been a long-established practice of engagement across South Essex on strategic planning matters. For example the Thames Gateway South Essex Planning & Transport Board met on a quarterly basis to discuss and agree on strategic planning matters of common interest; this work culminated in the publication of a Thames Gateway South Essex Planning & Transport Strategy in 2013 (CP/09/020), and this is acknowledged in the New Local Plan in various places (e.g. paragraphs 3.26 and 11.5).

As an example of steps taken to meet the “Duty to Co-operate”, there is clear evidence of co-operation over many years in the preparation of numerous strategic housing market assessments for the area, starting from 2008, all of which have been used to inform the preparation of the New Local Plan, as evidenced in paragraphs 13.9 of the Plan onwards (see CP/14/001/c* and CP/14/001/d*).
Similarly for climate change, Basildon, Castle Point and Rochford as neighbouring South Essex authorities came together to prepare and publish the Strategic Flood Risk Assessment 2010 (CP/18/001*), which has been used as a basis for policies in Chapter 17 of the New Local Plan – see paragraphs 17.14 onwards.

The South Essex Surface Water Management Plan 2012 (CP/18/003*) is another example of co-operation and joint working, helping to inform preparation of the New Local Plan.
The outcome of these activities has been the preparation of a proportionate evidence base covering strategic cross-border planning matters; this has in turn led to the development of appropriate planning policies seeking to achieve sustainable  development based on a shared understanding of the issues facing Castle Point in particular and South Essex generally.

The Cabinet Member for Regeneration, who was also the Chairman of the New Local Plan Task & Finish Group, has been involved in South Essex Members level briefings and discussions regarding the Strategic Housing Market Assessment in April 2016 and its relationship to plan-making, and the Councillor for Planning from UKIP (WHAT, NO INVITATION FOR THE CANVEY ISLAND INDEPENDENT PARTY?) attended the presentation for Members in the South Essex Area prepared by the Planning Advisory Service regarding objectively assessed housing need and the “Duty to Co-operate” in October 2014.
Has the Council considered any more formal arrangements in terms of joint working on plan preparation as set out in the PPG (ID 9-016-20140306) and as required by Section 33A(6) of the 2004 Act?

The Council has not been invited to take part in any formal arrangements for joint plan making – either in terms of a joint committee, or a joint plan. Nor has the Council formally considered making any such approach to any neighbouring authorities, given the need to move ahead quickly with a local plan in the light of the NPPF, and the Secretary of State’s remarks encouraging that, when dismissing a Green Belt appeal in the Borough in Thundersley in 2012
 How have any DtC actions maximised the effectiveness of plan preparation?

The preparation of the New Local Plan has been significantly enhanced by the commission, preparation and publication of evidence on a shared basis with neighbouring authorities. Strategic planning issues have been clearly and thoroughly examined and analysed. An example of this has been Greater Essex Demographic Forecasts Phases 1 to 7 (2012 to 2015) (CP/11/001* – CP/11/007*) where a clear understanding of the demographic issues affecting not just Castle Point but its neighbouring authorities has been reached.

How have any DtC actions influenced the preparation of the New Local Plan and what have been the outcomes?

The joint evidence referred to above has been used to underpin policies in the New Local Plan, which themselves are now more effective because of the clear link to empirical evidence. Again an example of this can be seen by reference to the Strategic Flood Risk Assessment (CP/18/001*) and the TE2100 Plan (CP/09/002) where requirements for improvements to flood defences are recommended and have been incorporated into the plan, and the South Essex Surface Water Management Plan 2012CP/18/003*) which has resulted in the designation of Critical Drainage Areas on the Policies Map with appropriate supporting policies in the Plan itself.
 What solutions have emerged to achieve effective strategic planning policies?

The New Local Plan has drawn on work from a number of sources of evidence in order to prepare effective strategic policies.One of the first key strategic pieces of evidence is the South Essex Green Grid Strategy. It describes an approach to the protection and promotion of open spaces across the Essex Thames Gateway area. It illustrates through various plans how Castle Point sits at a pivotal point in this area, with significant natural and coastal assets; this in turn illustrates how few opportunities arise in Castle Point for sustainable development without impinging on its intrinsic character.
The TE2100 Plan (CP/09/002) is also evidence of the work which has been carried out with key partners to understand and plan for climate change in the Thames Estuary over the course of the time frame for the New Local Plan and beyond.

The TE2100 plan describes the measures necessary in Action Zones – and for Canvey Island for example defence improvements are to be undertaken and new development designed to provide safe havens, high level access and shelters. This guidance has been incorporated in Policies CC2 and CC3 of the New Local Plan. SAFE HAVENS BEING ANOTHER OF THE CPBC NEVER MATERIALISING ASPIRATIONS? BESIDES WE THOUGHT WE WERE SAFE ON CANVEY, HAS THERE BEEN ANOTHER U-TURN CHANGE OF HEART??

Regulation 34(6) requires details of action taken in co-operating with other bodies under Section 33A to be given in a monitoring report.  Have any such details been provided in monitoring reports throughout the plan preparation period?

In the light of the strategy proposed for Castle Point what specific steps have been taken or mechanisms are in place to distribute unmet housing need elsewhere in the Housing Market Area (HMA) or beyond?

As described earlier in this response Castle Point finds itself in the unenviable position of being first in this housing market area to have submitted a plan for examination.

For example in responding to consultation from Basildon Borough Council on its draft Revised Preferred Options Report in January 2014, the Council specifically welcomed the approach being taken by that Council to seek to deliver a level of growth higher than that identified in the housing market assessment at that time and welcomed the benefits it might offer to Castle Point in seeking to meet its needs; it followed this by responding to the Basildon draft Local Plan in March 2016 by asking for assistance in meeting unmet housing need.

Similarly,  Brentwood Borough Council in March 2016 assistance was sought in helping to meet unmet housing need in Castle Point, when responding to consultation from that Council on its draft Local Plan.
In responding to consultation from Chelmsford City Council on its Duty to Cooperate Scoping Report in August 2015, the Council sought assistance in meeting unmet housing need.
Regrettably no positive responses were received.

For these reasons the Council decided to continue work on its local plan; although there was no formal mechanism in place to distribute unmet housing need at that time, there is a clear commitment to continue to participate in discussions with key partners on this and other strategic planning matters.

What is the rationale for reducing the housing requirement from 4,000 in the Draft Local Plan to 2,000 in Policy H1 ?

The Council established a New Local Plan Task & Finish Group to examine all the responses to the Draft New Local Plan, and to advise the Council of changes which may be required as a result of the consultation responses.
The New Local Plan Task & Finish Group met on 15 occasions and reviewed evidence and the significant number of responses from local residents and others on matters ranging from objectively assessed housing needs, to Green Belt and other constraints (see CP/24/001* to 015*).
In terms of constraints it paid particular attention to the significant physical constraints which impeded the ability of Castle Point to physically accommodate the levels of growth suggested by objectively assessed housing needs – such as the presence of SSSIs, RAMSAR and SPA sites, and ancient woodlands (see for example CP/24/004* and CP/24/011*), and in particular the point that most of the unbuilt-on land in the Borough consists of relatively narrow areas of open Green Belt, performing vital Green Belt functions. EDITOR; FLOOD RISK?
At the close of its work in November 2015, the New Local Plan Task & Finish Group was unable to reach agreement on the release of Green Belt land for housing, and so referred the Draft New Local Plan to Council for a decision.
Consideration of the Draft New Local Plan by the Council was deferred in December 2015 to allow a review of the latest Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment to be undertaken (CP/25/013*). A further meeting of Council took place in January 2016, when it was decided that the Plan in its draft form could not be supported because of the proposed use of open Green Belt land for housing (CP/25/014*). A further meeting was held in February 2016, when a motion to support a New Local Plan which prioritised the protection of open Green Belt land and respected other constraints rather than meeting objectively assessed housing needs in full was agreed (CP/25/015*).
The New Local Plan 2016 was then agreed in its current form for consultation and submission at a meeting of the Council in March 2016.
 

When were neighbouring authorities within the HMA made aware of the Council’s intention not to meet its full objectively assessed needs and of the reduction referred to above?

The Council has always been clear with neighbouring authorities and key partners that it would not be able to deliver its objectively assessed housing needs in full. When consultation on the Draft New Local Plan was undertaken in 2014 it was considered that the objectively assessed housing need for Castle Point was in the range of 400 to 500 dwellings per annum (see Castle Point Housing Growth Topic Paper 2013 – CP/14/006). The Draft New Local Plan at that time made clear that because of the physical constraints of the Borough, it would be unlikely to accommodate more than 200 to 225 dwellings per annum (see Castle Point Housing Capacity Topic Paper 2013 – CP/14/007*).
These issues were rehearsed and acknowledged in a workshop with neighbouring authorities in February 2014, and are summarised in the Draft New Local Plan Consultation Report 2014 –CP/05/006*
The Council’s subsequent concerns regarding the housing requirements in the Draft New Local Plan, as expressed by the deliberations of Draft New Local Plan Task & Finish Group at their public meetings, were advised informally to officers from neighbouring authorities at the regular monthly “Duty to Co-operate” meetings from January 2015 onwards. At those regular meetings there was an acknowledgement that unmet housing need in South Essex would be a matter for all partners to consider.
Accordingly the eventual formal decision of the Council in March 2016, as described above, to reduce the housing target in the New Local Plan to approximately 100 homes per annum in effect confirmed the indications that had been given to officers from neighbouring authorities and partners over the preceding months at “Duty to Co-operate” meetings. The position of the Council was fully set out when formal consultation on the Council’s New Local Plan commenced on 16th May 2016.

Has the Council considered whether it should meet any unmet housing requirements from neighbouring authorities?

The Council has received no requests to take any unmet housing need from any of its neighbouring authorities. As referred to above, at this time there are varying degrees of progress with post-NPPF and post-PPG local plans in South Essex, and Castle Point is at the most advanced stage of all the authorities.
It is therefore unclear whether there is in fact any other unmet housing need to be distributed from other South Essex authorities.
However it is unlikely that the Council would be able to physically accommodate any unmet housing needs from elsewhere, for the same reasons that it is unable to meet its own objectively assessed housing needs in full – namely the physical constraints on development in the Borough as explained above, and set out in the Castle Point Housing Capacity Topic Paper 2013 – CP/14/007*.

Could the Council respond directly to the {CRITICAL} representation from Thurrock Council (NLPPS1451) concerning the North Thames Link Road and other routes to and from Canvey Island having regard to the DtC and paragraphs 11.15-11.17 of the New Local Plan?

It is the Council’s view that there is clear evidence of need for a further access to and from Canvey Island. The Transport Evidence for the New Local Plan (CP/13/006/a* – CP/13/006/b*) illustrates performance issues at the Waterside Farm junction (A130 Canvey Way/A130 Canvey Road /B1014 Somnes Avenue/B1014 Canvey Road), and B1014 Somnes Avenue/Link Road junction in the PM peak at present, which will worsen through the plan period so that these become performance impaired junctions in the AM and PM peaks in 2029.

EDITOR; STRANGE, CANVEY ISLANDERS WERE ASSURED THAT IN APPROVING THE CHARFLEET INDUSTRIAL ESTATE EXTENSION AND THE 2 NEW “BUSINESS PARKS” AT CANVEY ROSCOMMON WAY, THAT CONGESTION ISSUES WERE OF NO CONSEQUENCE!

It has been a long held ambition of the Council to seek to improve access between Canvey Island and the remainder of South Essex. Indeed the Council’s adopted Local Plan 1998 (CP/10/001) makes reference to the need to improve access to Canvey Island with a dualling of the A130 Canvey Way.

EDITOR; CLEARLY THERE IS COOPERATION WHEN IT COMES TO REQUESTING GOVERNMENT FUNDING-DESPITE THE CLEARLY TENUOUS SUGGESTION THAT THURROCK HAVE ANYTHING TO GAIN FROM A NEW “3RD” ACCESS ROAD FOR CANVEY!

Discussions between officers of both Thurrock Council and Castle Point Council took place in 2015 concerning a proposition for a North Thameside Link Road as part of a series of proposals to improve the accessibility of the South Essex Thames Corridor. This is in effect the third access road to Canvey Island and was shown on the Policies Map for both the Draft New Local Plan 2014 and the New Local Plan 2016.
The Council’s aspirations were given further impetus by the announcement in the March 2016 Budget by the Chancellor of Exchequer of the Government’s intention to consider improvements to access to Canvey Island in the form of a third road (paragraph 1.319 of the Budget 2016).
As a consequence of this, the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (of which South Essex is a federated area, including Thurrock and Castle Point as key partners), submitted its South East Growth Deal to Government in July 2016, which seeks funding support for an “improved access to Canvey Island through the delivery of a third road link”. This is in effect the North Thames Link Road connecting the A130 on Canvey Island at Northwick roundabout with the A1014 Manorway at Corringham via Northwick Road. This is shown as a Transport Improvement Corridor on both the Draft New Local Plan 2014 and New Local Plan 2016 Policy Maps (CP/01/002* & CP/01/006*).
New Local Plan preparation in the context of strategic cross boundary matters, as required by the Localism Act 2011 and Guidance. As a result, the New Local Plan consists of effective and deliverable policies on strategic cross boundary issues.

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6 responses to “Letter from the Inspector; Castle Point Council Responds!

  1. CPBC response to the Inspector.
    Reference to the previous planning inspectors concerns invite the comment that the Council has set about development on Canvey Island on a scale far greater than previously indicated within the Core Strategy which contradicts the inspectors point.

    The North Thames Side Link road is purely aspirational having regarded this essential infrastructure as a key element of large scale development essential to employment opportunities and to continue to develop regardless is questionable.

    “In 2016, and following consideration of all of the responses received to the Draft New Local Plan consultation, the Council published the New Local Plan for submission. The Council was able to accommodate many of the points made by key partners. However having considered all of the evidence from its own studies and assessments, it came to the view that on balance it was impossible to meet objectively assessed housing needs in full in Castle Point without serious harm to interests of acknowledged importance, notably the established open areas of Green Belt in the Borough. Sacrifice of such areas to meet objectively assessed housing need appeared to be contrary to the clear Guidance which had emerged from central Government (and also contrary to the NPPF, when read in the light of that Guidance)”.

    The council’s own evidence that sets about formulating varying degrees of value to the Boroughs Green Belt – i.e.. other than Virgin Green Belt will be challenging this statement.

    “The physical nature of Castle Point defines its characteristics – small in area with a significant proportion of land at or below sea level, and with RAMSAR and SPA sites, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), ancient woodland, areas at risk from flooding, as well as important areas of Green Belt, often quite narrow in extent, but fulfilling vital strategic objectives and functions of the Green Belt by separating individual settlements within the Borough and separating the Borough and adjoining settlements. This was explained in the workshop with key partners in February 2014, and further details of the specific actions may be found in the New Local Plan 2016 Consultation Report August 2016 (CP/05/012*)”.

    The flood risk element as evidenced reasoning for not providing for OAN is not bourne out by the prolific development programme aimed at Canvey Island since the failure of the Core Strategy.

    “Similarly for climate change, Basildon, Castle Point and Rochford as neighbouring South Essex authorities came together to prepare and publish the Strategic Flood Risk Assessment 2010 (CP/18/001*), which has been used as a basis for policies in Chapter 17 of the New Local Plan – see paragraphs 17.14 onwards.
    The South Essex Surface Water Management Plan 2012 (CP/18/003*) is another example of co-operation and joint working, helping to inform preparation of the New Local Plan.
    The outcome of these activities has been the preparation of a proportionate evidence base covering strategic cross-border planning matters; this has in turn led to the development of appropriate planning policies seeking to achieve sustainable development based on a shared understanding of the issues facing Castle Point in particular and South Essex generally.”

    All flood risk documents supporting the plan, dealing with various aspects of flood risk require updating. Information supporting a surface water management plan has not been fully completed. There is no funding secured that sustains the remedial action plan.

    The TE21OO Action Plan again although considered to be an essential aspect of the long term sustainability of Canvey is again only a recommendation.

    Reference of the work undertaken by the Task and Finnish group failed to identify that there were indeed several aspects of the plan that remained unresolved, not least the contents of COMAH sites Safety Reports not being made available for scruitiny.

    Editor I am aware that you have covered some of these issues however I make no apology for the repitition and this is indeed not inclusive.

  2. This letter was from officers only ,members will hopefully respond to the inspector in either group or a personal capacity .
    It was not the same plan agreed at three council meetings that was sent to the inspector it was the officers interpretation of the motion agreed at council , sadly the interpretation was incorrect .

  3. Bill
    Please correct me if I have got this wrong but there seems to have been a failure to have reviewed the outcome of the most recent consultation process at member level. The review process would have highlighted the ‘cooperation’ issues documented by other authorities. An open and transparent review should have promoted a supplementary document within the evidence supporting the LP2016
    The failure to review the consultation responses as on previous occasions and to suggest that this was so as to forward the plan with some urgency will not attract credibility. The reality is that the council’s response to the inspectors’ enquiry comes across as a damage limitation exercise. The inference that CPBC have to have some credit for completing its plan before neighbouring boroughs is disdainful at minimum.s

  4. Steve
    I can confirm no assessment of the consultation replies was taken . The officers failed to place the responses before members as I thought should happen , indeed the whole point of the term consultation is surely to reassess the matter after comments are received back on the subject matter or what is the point in sending it out in the first place !

  5. Bill
    Thanks for your succinct and candid reply.

  6. Sharon Ainsley - Jotmans Farm Action Group

    It appears that our dear Officers have again stuck two fingers up to elected Councillors and the Residents. They are treating us all with utter contempt.
    Isn’t it about time, they were reigned in? CEO should be sacked!

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