With “friends” like those local authorities neighbouring Castle Point, one may be tempted to question, who needs enemies?
Each authority responding to the Castle Point Local Plan2016 examining Inspector does so, critically.
However in emphasising Castle Point’s failings these neighbouring authorities underline their own shortcomings for; it takes 2 to Cooperate!
Planning Guidance changes emphasising that Green Belt land should be protected, have emerged since 2014. Given the response to the draft New Local Plan Consultation it would be unreasonable to expect the cpbc Local Plan 2016 should not reflect the consultation response findings, especially regarding Green Belt.
However the neighbouring councils collectively appear to be puzzled as to cpbc’s decision to adjust the Housing Supply Target, this while stating their own Green Belt acting as Constraints to their own Housing Delivery!
Throughout the responses there appears an underlying trend for either political conflict to be a cause of any failure to cooperate or officer / member issues to influence the responses.
Below are just snippets of our neighbouring councils responses.
Essex County Council response;
“The duty to cooperate (the duty) introduced by the Localism Act in November 2011, places a legal duty on all local authorities and public bodies (defined in regulations) to ‘engage constructively, actively and on an ongoing basis’”
“ECC’s role and responsibility is to use its best endeavours to assist and support local authorities in the two tier area to address strategic and cross-boundary matters and to work with adjoining authorities (including Southend and Thurrock) to engage and co-operate with other organisations for which those issues may have relevance i.e. Highways England”
ECC refer to; “The A127 Corridor for Growth – An Economic Plan 2014” as evidence of cooperation. This illustrates the importance of the A127 to all of the sub regions highway dependency however the “corridor for growth” budget appears to “by-pass” Castle Point!
“The formation of the Task & Finish Group is noted, however the outcomes of this Group and the Full Council decision in March 2016 to reduce the housing provision, do not appear to have taken account of advice and discussions with ECC and other neighbouring authorities. ECC consider it was at this point when DtC engagement should have been under taken, to review the implications and consequences of the decision on the Plan in its entirety (including unmet housing need, infrastructure requirements, viability, deliverability and evidence). These discussions did not take place and consequently have not informed the submitted Local Plan.”
“The County Council would have expected to be engaged on the substantial changes to Local Plan, to enable a thorough re-evaluation of the infrastrucutre requirements, their suitability, deliverability and viability and overall implications on the delivery of ECC services. Unfortunately there has been no engagement since the decision by CPBC on 23 March 2016 to reduce the housing provision by half and to submit the Plan for examination.”
Southend council’s response;
“The Southend adopted Core Strategy makes provision for 325 dwellings per annum between 2001 and 2021. The strategic housing market assessment 2016 suggests an objectively assessed need figure for Southend of between 953 and 1,132 dwellings per annum.”
“Although officer meetings have taken place over a number of years, housing supply and distribution across south Essex are matters that have not been fully deliberated with all councils. It is considered that cpbchave not taken adequate steps to consider whether neighbouring authorities in south Essex are able to accommodate their own need or the unmet need resulting from the 2016 draft local plan.”
“Southend council contends the duty to cooperate has not been met inrespect to cpbc decision to publish the 2016 draft local plan.”
Rochford council’s response;
“The Council’s (Rochford’s) housing target in the adopted local development plan is 250 homes per year to be delivered up to 2025. The most recent South Essex Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) identified an objectively assessed (unconstrained) need for the district of between 312 and 392 homes per year.”
“in March 2016 CPBC then determined that, contrary to their own evidence and studies, which supported the 2014 draft plan, the Borough could only accommodate 100 homes per year – less than a third of their actual need (considering the lower end of the range in the SHMA). It is from this point in particular that CPBC failed its legal requirement in relation to the Duty to Co-operate.”
“Although officer level meetings have taken place for a number of years, housing need and distribution of need across South Essex are matters that have not yet been fully deliberated with all Councils at all levels.”
“CPBC contend that “strategic planning issues have been clearly and thoroughly examined and evidenced” which may be the case at the South Essex and Greater Essex levels. However the 2016 draft plan in its current form is not supported by robust evidence, and is not based on effective discussions with neighbouring Councils on if, and how, unmet housing need could be delivered elsewhere in South Essex.”
“There has been a clear failure in the Duty to Co-operate from CPBC since the decision was taken in March 2016 to pursue the current content of the 2016 draft plan. CPBC have not taken adequate steps to consider whether neighbouring authorities in the housing market area are able to accommodate their own need”
“The constraints in the Borough have not altered between 2014, when the Council considered it could deliver at least 200 homes per year, and 2016, when it took the decision that it could only accommodate 100 homes per year, without any change in the evidence.”
“A failure on CPBC’s part to set up an effective mechanism for openly discussing the reasons for this reduction at the earliest opportunity with relevant officers and Members;
“ A failure on CPBC’s part to explore the issues and opportunities with neighbouring authorities that would be inadvertently affected by this further, baseless under provision of need.”
“however, failure on CPBC’s part on this strategic issue is not considered to fundamentally undermine the historic joint working arrangements across South Essex authorities (and Essex County Council). The Council is committed to working with neighbouring authorities on strategic, cross-boundary issues in the future.”
Basildon council’s response;
“Firstly, if I may, I would like to highlight that Castle Point Borough Council has been instrumental in establishing the current working arrangements for the monthly strategic planning officer group meetings between the five South Essex LPAs and Essex County Council.”
Whilst avoiding direct reference to Basildon’s own Housing Supply Target in comparison to their Objectively assessed Housing Need they state; “there are development requirements that the Council (Basildon) is unlikely to be able to meet within the Borough, and infrastructure that is unlikely to be provided without the assistance from other authorities.”
“Had Castle Point Borough Council continued with its principled approach, as set out in its New Local Plan 2014 to accommodate as much of its own development needs within its boundaries, whilst respecting strategic Green Belt gaps between Bowers Gifford and Benfleet, it is unlikely Basildon Borough Council would be in the same position as now; where it is maintaining a Duty to Cooperate objection to the Castle Point New Local Plan. At that time, the Council had accepted that Castle Point Borough Council had done all it could to accommodate its growth needs and would find it difficult to meet its shortfall.”
“What had not occurred up to that point, however, was that the mechanism/s had not been identified that would be used to facilitate how the wider South Essex Housing Market Area would address that unmet need in its future years, either within Castle Point (as part of an early review of the New Local Plan), or as part of the different local plan processes of other South Essex authorities (or further afield).”
“ Officer conversations did occur as prior to and during 2014 (as noted on Page 4 of the letter) to identify ways in which Basildon Borough could work with Castle Point Borough, through the Duty to Cooperate, to explore strategic planning and cross boundary matters”
“Basildon Council accepted, at that time, that given the physical environmental constraints present in Castle Point Borough, some of which are different from the Basildon Borough context (tidal flood risk in settled areas and proximity to major hazardous installations), that it was unlikely that enough land would be able to be identified within Castle Point to meet all of its development needs in full during the plan period.”
“Basildon Council does not dispute the engagement activities Castle Point refer to in its letter, in respects of councillors across South Essex having previously met to discuss, debate and consider strategic planning and cross boundary matters which affect wider plan-making in the sub-region.”
Referring to the political changes since 2014 leaving a “vacuum in meaningful and collective South Essex Member strategic planning engagement”, “Basildon Borough Council is therefore disappointed that despite the vacuum mentioned above, and in light of the significant change of direction the New Local Plan took following the conclusion of its Task & Finish Group process in 2015, there was no further “member to member” engagement arranged on the proposed change of direction, or its implications for the wider South Essex Housing Market Area by Castle Point Borough Council.”
Unfortunately, given Castle Point’s Full Council had already approved the Publication New Local Plan the day previous, it was too late for Basildon Council to then have meaningful and effective strategic planning discussions of the implications of such a change, which is the basis for its duty to cooperate objection.”
Thurrock council’s response, a most critical and hefty 27 pager;
“The Council (Thurrock) is generally satisfied that at this moment in time it will be able to meet its own development and infrastructure requirements without assistance from other authorities.”
“At its meeting on the 17th November 2016 the South Essex Members Group, Chief Executives and Leaders agreed to the high-level Memorandum of Cooperation (MoU) setting out key principles and a protocol on how the authorities should undertake the Duty to Cooperate.”
“Castle Point Council had also not demonstrated that it complied with the requirements of the Duty to Cooperate. Prior to publication of the draft New Local Plan in 2014 there had been no engagement with Thurrock Council on the local plan preparation, and no discussion or requests to consider any cross boundary matters of importance.”
“There have been no individual meetings or formal correspondence between Castle Point and Thurrock Council regarding any of the matters raised by Thurrock in its representations at the consultation draft of 2014 or the pre-submission stage of the local plan process in 2016. In particular strategic matters of cross boundary of significance between the two authorities of concern to Thurrock include the implications of Castle Point not meeting its OAN and the proposal for and safeguarding of the North Thameside Link Road (at Northwick Road).”
“Castle Point Council has not approached Thurrock Council with a formal request to meet any of its unmet housing need or to discuss the North Thameside Link Road.” END
Whilst these letters appear to reflect questionably on cpbc’s efforts towards cooperation with neighbouring authorities, following the publication of the Local Plan2016, it is clear that given the likelihood that the assessed housing needs will be fully met in individual Borough’s except perhaps Thurrock, there would appear little likelihood cooperation would be fulfilled. Given the lack of resources, the curtailment of cooperation meetings to discuss housing strategically may be justified.
Originally cpbc informed the Examining Inspector; “By 2013 the Council had drafted a plan which it believed complied fully with the Government’s NPPF, and published this in 2014. Guidance regarding the “Duty to Co-operate” was also published in March 2014, and the Council has endeavoured to fully satisfy its requirements.
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.”
” 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. As a result, there are well-established mechanisms in place for strategic planning discussions with key partners, at officer and Member level. Good progress is being made on a strategic planning framework for the area, with agreement already in place on strategic planning matters and the key issues which arise from these.”