Whilst the Castle Point Council Local Plan is in a short state of flux, until the 24th January 2016 I believe, it is worth re-visiting the statement issued by our MP that binds our local authority to saving the Borough’s Green Belt from further development.
The release read;
Wednesday, 24 June, 2015
The Government Planning Minister Brandon Lewis MP confirmed once and for all that under this government the Borough Council does have the power to protect Green Belt in it’s local plan.
In a meeting in the House of Commons with senior local councillors and planning officers arranged by local MP Rebecca Harris, the Minister confirmed that Green Belt is a legitimate constraint on the level of housing that the council has to plan for and that they do not have to alter the borough’s Green Belt boundaries to accommodate more housing.
Castle Point Council has been constructing a New Local Plan since 2012 and is considering how much new housing the borough will need over the next fifteen years and where they should be built.
Council Leader Colin Riley said:
“This is exactly the reassurance we were looking for. As a Council we have to take into account all relevant planning law and policy when we make our local plan, but we can now explore the policies designed to protect Green Belt with confidence.
“As a council we are determined to construct a sound local plan that provides for our borough’s future whilst also listening to the concerns of the residents we are elected to serve.”
Local MP Rebecca, who arranged for the Minister to meet local Green Belt groups before the general election, said:
“Brandon repeated exactly what he said to local Green Belt campaigners a few months ago. Councillors and officers can now be in absolutely no doubt that they have the power to protect our borough’s precious undeveloped Green Belt in their local plan. They will need to alter the draft plan and argue their case well, but I am confident they can do it and I will give them every support.”
Well beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I would suggest that what some people hold as precious can differ greatly from others.
That our Council Leader has suggested that the local authority will be looking to provide for the Borough’s future, this can only in part mean providing housing for those in need and maintaining local facilities. Most recently has seen the Deanes School being recommended for closure due to lack of numbers, it was noted that little weight was given for future housing being a reason for ECC to keep the school open.
The Leader also states that the LA are now in a position to respond to residents concerns who they are elected to serve.
This is of great comfort for those residents in Canvey West ward who having supported Cllr Howard for over the last 40 years have been treated abysmally by Castle Point Council where proposing development through the Local Plan process has been concerned.
Those of us that have followed the CPBC Scrutiny process of the 2014 surface water flooding of Canvey Island, are aware that the long overdue report into CPBC’s failings during that event, amounts to a cover up!
It is clear the dense over development of the flood plain of Canvey Island has greatly contributed to the level of distress and damage. Should Canvey land that acts as a flood dispersment area alleviating the level of flooding also be considered as Precious?
Will Green Belt land that has had some level of development either housing or business be treated differently or similarly.
Or will political pressure help make the sensitive site selection decision making easier?
Those of us on Canvey have noted the invitation to attend meetings with Secretary of State’s and Councillor groups not being volunteered to us. That is of little consequence. We are, and I know this does not sit easily with some other campaign groups, content that as long as we receive a fair hearing from an Inspector, able to live with the fact that housing is necessary and if Canvey Green Belt sites offer the best most sustainable sites then so be it.
It is the unreasonable factors that have previously influenced the housing distribution that will require elimination.
We were warned in the very early days of our campaign to save Canvey Green Belt that it was not enough to simply say “we don’t want development” and expect to be successful. Well I think we have not done too badly in the face of an Inspector so far! Whether other site campaigners can look deep into their objections and claim the same, I have not examined.
The Canvey Island Independent Party, have received much criticism of late, whether this is warranted is of their concern alone. They have made clear to us their policy on Green Belt and I have been reassured it remains unaltered.
Also receiving much criticism of late is Cllr Smith and yet only this year in May, he was re-elected. We campaigners can be sensitive and inward looking. Cllr Smith may well turn to his being re-elected to suggest he has a mandate to continue with his work on the current Plan version. He of course requires support from his councillor colleagues to perform this.
Canvey’s Green Belt is threatened by Industrial development by the London Group and Persimmon’s. What can be the driver for Persimmon to be so active on Canvey when they have far more lucrative proposals off of the Island? Has a deal behind the scenes been done that moves them to spend time and money on their Dutch Village proposal?
Come the emergence of a new, new Plan will their focus alter, why would they wish to expose their finances to an area liable to flood and within the Calor Hazard range?
Will the developers interested in the Bowers Road site accept that their site be removed from the housing allocation whilst possibly the Blinking Owl site is introduced?
What sites will need to be included in the 5 year supply to meet the Inspector’s expectation?
We must expect Councillors to respond to residents expectations, having said that we must not be surprised if an Inspector disagrees. Previously the Inspector stated clearly he was nor prepared to select sites on behalf of the Council. In the first instance this time around we can expect the same. There will only then be one opportunity. Under close challenge from developers a result suggesting sites are unlikely to come forward in realistic timing an Inspector may adopt a different stance.
We wish Cllr Bill Dick well with his Local Plan debate amendment. We expect councillors to pledge their support.
We also look forward to an emerging Local Plan option to be fair to all residents and not unfairly influenced by powerful local factors leading to an unsustainable Local Plan wish list.
What we do know is that if you do not at least try, you cannot hope to succeed. Let’s just hope this time around Canvey is not the sacrificial lamb, that it was tethered out to be on previous occasions!