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Castle Point’s “Surgeless” Supply of Affordable Housing an Examination concern? Brighton indicate the way with Transparency!

Nearly 5 Years after Castle Point Council were promising a “surge” in the supply of Affordable Homes in the Borough, through the Echo newspaper;

Norman Smith, cabinet member for economic development and business liaison, said: “It is very disappointing that affordable homes are not being built in the borough for those wanting to find a home in the borough.
“But following the approval of recent planning applications, in terms of affordable housing, I do not think it will be long before we start seeing a change.”

This “good news” story came in the wake of; “Castle Point is suffering a major shortfall in housing as no new affordable homes have been built for almost a year.” *

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Disappointingly for those in need of such housing, the latest published cpbc Annual Monitoring Report fails to indicate any such expected / promised “Surge” in Affordable Housing Supply in Castle Point having been forthcoming;

“16 affordable housing units were delivered in Castle Point in 2016/17, representing 14% of total housing provision (114 dwellings). This level of provision is an improvement on the annual average provision for the period 2001 to 2016 of 11.5%, but significantly below the housing market requirement for affordable housing identified in the South Essex Strategic Housing Market Assessment 2016 of between 50% and 57% of new homes per annum.”

“The indicates that provision in line with OAN would require between 50% and 57% of new homes per annum across the housing market area to be affordable in order to meet the need for affordable housing.”

We trust that the Affordable Housing Supply does NOT include that of Caravans, of which the cpbc Annual Monitoring Report states;

“Since April 2011, the number of people living within caravans in Castle Point has continued to increase. Initially, the increase was rapid, with the number of units increasing 16% between 2011 and 2014. This fell in 2015 and 2016, but this increased to 124 additional caravans falling into residential use, according to Council Tax records in 2016/17.”

“The number of people living in caravans is still significant, and presents an issue for the Council. Caravans do not represent high quality living accommodation as there are issues with winter warmth and over-heating in summer associated with such accommodation.”

Developer David Wilson Homes is constructing 150 new homes on land off Kiln Road, a development which will see the provision of 53 affordable homes.

AND YET; castle point council planning portal reveals Kiln Road developer and the Council have signed a S106 Agreement to provide just 14 affordable dwellings in the first phase of 71 new homes!
A supply of just 20% affordable.

The success of development in Kiln Road is unmistakeable and lucrative. Over 2 years ago it was publicised that homes selling for up to £600,000 were being bought off-plan, such was the demand.

The developer claiming that the Government’s Help to Buy scheme meant that purchasers only need a 5% deposit and that the development is suitable for families and first time buyers. **

This when the refused Glebelands developent was offering 30% Affordable Housing Supply and the daft New Local Plan was proposing 25%, as the requisite for the mainland area!

The defenceless castle point council whose planning department and committee agreed that viability was an issue in the supply of the required Affordable Housing at Kiln Road, will face this issue as a major hurdle if and when their Local Plan eventually reaches Examination by an Inspector, their previous historical supply being unsupportable.

In contrast Brighton City Council aim to achieve more. They are now expecting developers to make public their Viability Assessments on Affordable Housing Supply alongside development proposals.

Setting their expectation levels far higher than those of castle point council, Brighton CC admit;  “This lack of transparency has led to public concern on schemes where reduced affordable housing provision has been accepted by the council on grounds of viability.”

The Brighton and Hove City Council statement reads;

“Property developers could be made to publicly disclose detailed financial information in cases where they say they cannot meet affordable housing targets set out in Brighton & Hove’s City Plan.
At present the city council requires developments of over five or more residential units to provide a percentage of affordable housing – unless it would make a scheme financially unviable. All schemes over 15 units should provide 40 per cent affordable housing.
Currently developers submit viability assessments to the council which are then independently assessed by the District Valuer Services (DVS). The viability information and the independent assessment are currently not disclosed to the public in order to protect commercial confidentiality.
This lack of transparency has led to public concern on schemes where reduced affordable housing provision has been accepted by the council on grounds of viability.
Now the authority is proposing to insist that developers show their sums in applications falling short of the affordable housing target. It would require a full Viability Assessment submitted up front with the rest of the application information.
Councillors are being asked to approve the new requirements in a report to the tourism, development and culture committee on 11 January. The proposals set out in the report are in line with the need for more openness sought by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and recently proposed government consultation paper.
A public consultation on the issue was held in the autumn. The majority of respondents felt the measures would lead to greater transparency, understanding and trust in the planning system. Broadly, developers were concerned that commercially sensitive information could be disclosed and this had the potential to hinder development in the city.
Committee chair Cllr Alan Robins said: “In many cases there may be perfectly good reasons why a developer cannot meet 40 per cent. For example a council might want them to pay for other things such as a new leisure centre. But sometimes developers might be trying their luck by raising viability issues. Either way, it could be beneficial for the public to have the same information as councillors on the planning committee, so that everyone understands why a given amount of affordable housing was accepted or rejected.”
If approved, the new requirements would come into force early this year.”

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Echo ‘Why press freedom is vital in our democracy,’ except where Castle Point Council is Concerned?

Are Castle Point Council preparing the first steps to demolish the Paddocks?

Could it also be that Canvey Island residents are being Censored by the Echo Newspaper on Behalf of Castle Point council?

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Following the exhaustive Leveson judicial public inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the British press,  the Echo Under a banner Headline proclaimed; 

‘Why press freedom is vital in our democracy’

“Imagine a world where newspapers were unable to challenge hospitals over care and councils over spiralling costs.”

“Imagine a world where newspapers were fearful of taking their MPs to task over government policies.”

We must wholeheartedly support their dedication to democracy on this issue, especially on many occasions the Echo’s investigative journalism has in the past exposed many important issues.

However it has been brought to our attention that perhaps all may not be quite so transparent!

A Canvey resident has informed us of a letter he sent to the Echo regarding his concerns over Castle Point council’s approach towards certain issues.

The Resident apparently persisted with enquiries as to why the letter had not been published, and only following contact from the Echo to verify his credentials, did the letter eventually appear in the Letters column!

Why would the Echo delay in publishing a Canvey resident’s letter on a Castle Point matter, rather than reproducing at the time the information was topical?

This is not the first occasion, as at least one of the Canvey Green Belt Campaign group’s letters was also only printed following re-submission.

Now we learn of  yet another Letter from a different Canvey resident that has also been delayed from publication.

This time querying Castle Point council’s intentions for the Paddocks!

The Canvey Resident’s letter explained fears that, despite the reassurances of cllr Smith, concern remained for the continued existence of the Paddocks Hall, the number of Car Parking spaces already shared with the Health Centre and the possibility of the partial release of the site for more Town Centre Flats!

Once again this resident has not had his letter published, and has needed to write again, And then a third time, to ask the Echo staff to explain, WHY NOT?

We appreciate that what the Echo publish, or chose to omit, is entirely their perogative, but surely the Echo do not have to run a letter’s content past the powers that be at Castle Point council!

We note there is never a glut of Letters from Canvey residents printed in the Echo columns, whilst there are certain contributors that appear to find it easy to have their letters approved on a regular, often too regular, basis, despite many topics verging on being considered banal, or even more suited to a National Publication!

Maybe there is even a “Sensitive” Warning Alarm Bell that rings on the Echo Letters Desk when a Letter is received from a Canvey Island address?

The Echo asked us to “Imagine a world where newspapers were unable to challenge …councils.”

Is there a Transparency issue regarding Echo Editorial content and Castle Point Council?

We sincerely trust not!

If certain contributions from Canvey residents are becoming too sensitive for the Echo editor or Castle Point council for immediate publication, then there needs to be a closer inspection of what is considered “challenging” and yet fit for publication in Print, weighed against what appears on the Echo website!

The Echo allows, and fails to remove spurious, damaging and possibly libellous accusations of the receipt of “Brown Envelopes” and Back-handers, aimed at our Castle Point councillors, published under pseudonyms, to remain visible on the newspaper’s website!

And yet Canvey residents have difficulty in legitimately calling into question Castle Point council cabinet decisions, through the Echo Letters column!

Image credit: Shutterstock

 

Flood Risk! Canvey Island – The “Special Case,” the Sequential Test and the time to Reconsider!

The Approval of Flats in Canvey Town Centre caused Canvey councillors to mention fears of flooding.

Usually levels of development in areas liable to Flood would be restricted through planning, by consideration of the Sequential Test. This Test proposes that inappropriate development in areas at risk of flooding should be avoided by directing development away from areas at highest risk.

The effect of the policy approach of Castle Point council is to continue to increase the numbers of population at Risk of Flooding on Canvey Island.

CPBC justifies this by suggesting that “Canvey Island is a Distinctive Community. It has specific identified needs in terms of social, economic and physical regeneration, as well as housing.”

The result is that due to the 40% increase in population, since Canvey fell under the control of castle point council, there is a perpetual need for a never ending supply of Housing Development on the Island!

This is regardless that the Need for Housing is calculated as a Borough-wide figure.

The fact that it is admitted that there is “a need to maintain the population living in the flood risk zone at current levels or lower” on Canvey Island, has not deterred a reckless approach to the distribution of Housing Growth by the local authority!

This policy of increasing the numbers of population at Risk of Flooding and the deliberate manipulation of the Sequential Test stems from the efforts to label Canvey Island a “Special Case”!

Echo June 2008

DEVELOPERS seeking to build new homes on Canvey are being forced to think again because of growing fears about flooding.

The Environment Agency is resolutely pursuing its policy of recommending refusal of plans to build new homes on the island because Canvey is below sea level and therefore on a flood plain.

Castle Point Council is taking those recommendations to heart and rejecting applications for new homes, leaving some developers in limbo.

The council has pledged to continue upholding the Environment Agency’s recommendations until the results of a Government-initiated inquiry into flood plains publishes its findings.

The Government appointed Sir Michael Pitt to carry out the study, following catastrophic floods in Hull after heavy rainfall in June and July last year. It is likely the final report expected, this summer, will recommend tighter restrictions.

Ray Howard, Castle Point and Essex county councillor, said local authorities were reluctant to ignore the Environment Agency’s advice, while they are waiting for the results of the Pitt Report.

Mr Howard has received many letters from people struggling to build on Canvey.

He said: “It’s a big problem that needs to be looked at. We can’t have a blanket ban for building here.

“I believe Canvey is unique, as it has the best flood walls and flood water drainage system in the country.

“The flood plain rules should be relaxed for us.”

Last week localised flooding on the island, caused by heavy rainfall, affected hundreds of residents on the island.

But Mr Howard is convinced it is well protected against severe flooding from the Thames Estuary.

A total of £34 million was spent rebuilding Canvey’s sea walls in the 1970s and 1980s.

A further £6 million was spent last year on 14 giant pumps, spread around the island to force water back into the sea if the walls are ever breached.

Mr Howard said: “The reason Canvey is always considered high-risk is because of the 1953 flood.

“But back then the only sea defences were soil walls, built by the original Dutch settlers.”

Despite Mr Howard’s insistence that Canvey is well protected, the Environment Agency refused to budge from its policy of objecting to all new homes on flood plains.

Spokeswoman Rita Penman insisted the Environment Agency could not relax its planning guidelines for Canvey, even for special cases.

She said: “Although Canvey is well defended, the current understanding across the country is that if there are other areas not on the flood plains, they should be developed first.

“This is in the interests of everyone’s safety. We are therefore unable to recommend approval for any new developments on Canvey at the present time.”

Even if the Government report clears the way for new homes on flood plains, insurers are warning hundreds of thousands of homes built in high-risk areas may not qualify for insurance.

Nick Starling, the Association of British Insurers’ director of general insurance and health, said: “Poor planning decisions will lead to more homes becoming unsaleable, uninsurable and uninhabitable”

Consequently in 2007 a Planning committee meeting considered, and were asked to “Note” the freedoms of decision making that were pleaded for, and “seemingly” allowed by the Environment Agency, in considering Canvey a “Special Case” that has led to the abuse of the levels of development we continue to see proposed.

How things have changed, in such a short space of time!

Since then we have received a concerning Strategic Flood Risk Assessment for Canvey Island in 2010, and suffered two Surface Water Flooding Events during 2013 and 2014!

Whether a Planning committee should have the power to approve such a policy with the potential to impact Canvey Island, or whether members were all actually made aware of the policy’s implications, is dubious to say the least.

Whether the 2007 planning committee meeting decision to allow increasing levels of population at Risk should now be re-considered in the light of the ominous Flood Risk Assessment and the Flooding incidents, appears obvious!

Floods 2014

The Full text of the Echo article can be read HERE.

Leaving no Stone unturned except where Safety Reports and Urban Drainage Study are concerned!

Castle Point Council’s Local Plan is an “officer Plan!” Is the response from many councillors attempting to distance themselves from the unpopular version under review.

The Task and Finish group of council members considering the consultation responses, are in the words of their chairman leaving “no stone unturned” in their work. During the meetings the process appeared to be to listen to various comments selected by officers, consider their written responses on whether, and how, the draft Plan should / has been altered and the members to pass comment on their views. What appeared a “tick box” exercise.

This caused some unease and the process widened to cover optional housing sites and a re-visit of the Housing Constraints and Housing Need topics.

The Constraints issue is affected by Green Belt, Flood Risk, Infrastructure and Hazardous Industries. Up until the August meeting little emphasis had been placed on the Hazardous Industries as a Constraint, especially considering the subject had been covered by the task and Finish group previously just before their work ceased ahead of the Elections in May. The meeting was covered by this Blog and the very relevant video of the Buncefield incident is available within the POST.

Across the Borough Green Belt is being admirably defended with interventions by our MP, leading councillors, Planning Inspectors and leading Government members.

On Canvey the Local Plan has identified intended Housing sites within the Island’s Green Belt boundary, the Plan showing clear intent to remove these areas from the Green Belt by labelling them prematurely as “green field.”

This identifies a weakness in the Constraints issue, in that co-incidentally these Canvey GB sites are also within the Flood Risk 3A zone!

The allocation of Thorney Bay as a housing site, capable of supplying over 600 dwellings to the Local Plan housing numbers, is achieved by the intention of siting the recommended maximum percentages within the “middle” and “outer” Hazard zones whilst none are intended within the “inner” zone. All rubber stamped by officers as the proposal had successfully passed the HSE online generic PADHI+, tick box test.

It would therefore be excusable for Canvey residents to feel puzzled by the application of constraints upon the Castle Point Objectively Assessed Housing Needs, with Canvey allotted housing sites being within both a Flood Risk Zone and the Green Belt and near Hazardous Industries.

Worse still comes the revelation of the Calor Gas sites’s Safety Report revealing the extent of the potential Hazard Range of a worse case scenario incident.

Councillors, including those on the Task and Finish group claimed to be “in the dark” as far as knowing of such a document. Canvey councillors requested that the Safety Report be made available for their research work, however, apparently, Castle Point Council do not  have a copy!

This led to the Castle Point Chief Executive to inform the local press that;

“The reports requested are not relevant to the work of the local plan task and finish group which has been established specifically to consider the responses to consultation on the draft local plan.”

This appears somewhat strange as the next scheduled “public,” as opposed to “private,” meetings of the Task and Finish group are to discuss the allocated Housing Sites and how the constraints apply to each site!

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The CEO and officers appear to be implying that outside of the limited Consultation Distances, councillors need not worry themselves.

Mainland campaign groups should not dismiss the situation, for if officers, and no doubt those councillors in a decision making position, feel that Green Belt within a Flood Risk zone 3A is not considered enough of a Constraint on Housing, then they should be concerned as whether Green Belt as a lone Constraint will protect their areas against development!

Introduce the Hazard Ranges illustrated in Calor’s Safety Report then it may well appear further questionable why Castle Point Council appear intent on increasing the numbers at Risk on Canvey Island by proposing large Housing Site Developments!

If the draft Local Plan is an officer’s Plan, and the final Local Plan is to be a councillors Local Plan, councillors will have to, at some stage, take the initiative.

Hidden Reports are unacceptable. The process should be stopped now, until ALL evidence is made available. For officers to be treating the residents of Canvey Island as they are, is unacceptable.

The T + F chairman said “no stone will be left unturned,” well so far the few stones that have been turned have revealed things that are fairly unpalatable.

What are officers and cabinet concerned about that prevents the Canvey Island Integrated Urban Drainage Study Report from being made available, even if its in a draft form?

This brings back memories of the Strategic Flood Risk Assessment being withheld from the Inspector, Examining the Core Strategy, whilst a more palatable version emerged from under the editor’s knife.

We consider it taken that Infrastructure is of equal concern across the whole Borough where Housing Constraints are concerned, ahead of the Canvey Island Integrated Urban drainage study. Apparently another Report that may well be unavailable to Task and Finish group members ahead of their Housing Site deliberation meetings! What are officers and cabinet concerned about that prevents the Safety Reports from being made available?

The process of identifying Constraints in one part of the Borough, and then applying them across the whole Borough’s housing numbers requires highlighting. Canvey residents are becoming aware!