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Essex County Council expresses concern over Brentwood Council's Local Development Plan

April 4, 2018 9:30 AM
By Philip Mynott, Frank Garbutt, Gary MacDonnell
Originally published by Brentwood Liberal Democrats

In November 2017 Sajid Javid, the Conservative Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, wrote to Cllr McKinlay, leader of the Conservative dominated council, threatening to intervene in the process and take over responsibility of writing the Local Plan. Certainly an embarrassing development for Brentwood and a move that would be disastrous for local people.

On the 16th of the same month last year, the same minister said of the 15 councils, including Brentwood, against which he had just started the formal process of central government intervention: "Deadlines have been missed, promises have been broken, progress has been unacceptably slow. No plan means no certainty for local people. It means piecemeal speculative development with no strategic direction, building on sites simply because they are there rather than because homes are needed on them. It means no coherent effort to invest in infrastructure. It means developers building the homes they want to sell rather than the homes communities actually need".

In fact, the Conservatives at national level have a catalogue of failures and ill-considered policies of their own (principally a catastrophic lack of any meaningful national planning strategy), which have become the main reason for the country being in the mess it is at present as regards Planning, the threat to the Green Belt and the desperate shortage of affordable housing.

Nevertheless, each of the specific accusations that the Minister levelled at the 15 councils in November last year is indeed true of Brentwood council under the Tories, and their planning failures locally. As you might expect, they are also all points that have previously been made by the Lib Dems as the borough's main opposition group, points which have been shockingly and repeatedly ignored by local Conservatives. In Sajid Javid's own words, councils including Brentwood have, "by failing to plan... failed the people they are meant to serve".

LOCAL PLAN INTERVENTION (16 November 2017) *Page 1of2 LOCAL PLAN INTERVENTION (16 November 2017) *Page 2of2

A copy of the letter can be seen via the following link: http://www.brentwood.gov.uk/pdf/17012018161153000000.pdf

So the local council has acted and now everything is going to be OK?

No, no, no - see what Essex County Council have to say below.

As things currently stand the Brentwood Borough council has just undertaken a Regulation 18 consultation on the Draft Plan, and is proposing to complete its final Regulation 19 consultation, and send the final plan off to the planning Inspectorate, before the end of the year. But there is a duty to co-operate with Essex County Council on the development of the Local Plan due to the strategic cross boundary matters that will affect both authorities. And now Essex County Council have also been scathing on Brentwood Council's efforts, as can be seen from the formal response to Brentwood's consultation in which they withhold support for Brentwood Conservatives' Draft Local Plan: https://cmis.essexcc.gov.uk/essexcmis5/Decisions/tabid/78/ctl/ViewCMIS_DecisionDetails/mid/422/Id/7437/Default.aspx

The link above provides the detail on concerns and is there for all to see - the document is 44 pages long. We summarise below.

Essex County Council has highlighted the need for the plan to be supported with an evidence base and that all reasonable alternatives have been considered. At a high level the broad areas of concerns and unanswered questions are:

Spatial Strategy

  • how the A127 Corridor provides more opportunities for growth than the A12 Corridor,
  • identification of any cross border implications of the spatial strategy given
  • ECC's role as highway, education, minerals and waste authority, identification of what infrastructure is necessary to deliver the spatial strategy, strategic and individual site allocations

Housing

  • demonstrate that level of growth can be accommodated by the existing and new social and physical infrastructure
  • how Independent Living programme is to be delivered
  • joint working with ECC and partner local authorities to identify and deliver

Economic Growth

  • additional evidence required regarding the impact of the significant employment land allocation at Brentwood Enterprise Park on the strategic junction
  • local road network, and necessary mitigation measures, including sustainable transport measures given the location is not favourable to sustainable travel

Highways -

  • joint working should be established between all the relevant partners to identify necessary mitigation at relevant junctions
  • to consider the cumulative impact of growth within the borough, and to consider the wider planned growth on the local and strategic route network;

Education -

  • continued work required by BBC with ECC to ensure education needs are appropriately and adequately assessed as the new Local Plan continues
  • further assessment of potential delivery and resource requirements for accommodating anticipated pupil growth to inform pre-submission plan and Infrastructure Delivery Plan (IDP)
  • consider potential cross-boundary issues with Basildon arising from Dunton Hills Garden Village (DHGV),
  • early years and childcare requirements should be included.

Essex also points out that most other Essex boroughs have taken a whole year to get from their Regulation 18 to their Regulation 19 consultations, whereas Brentwood is trying to do so in a couple of months and they have no track record of delivering anything on time!!!

It amounts to a significant list of flaws.

The current administration's efforts to put in place a robust Local Plan have been farcical. The process is late to the point of central government threatening to take over - but when the Lib Dems proposed the allocation of further resources to complete the plan to the timetable given, in December 2017, Brentwood's Conservative councillors voted this down!!! This was despite the meeting's agenda admitting that internal resources - currently dedicated to essential work on behalf of the borough's residents - would have to be shifted from this work to achieve the deadline.

And again this was despite the repeated failure to finish Local Plan tasks by the administration's own timetable throughout 2017. Meanwhile the work that has been completed pays far too little and attention to the needs of current or future residents, and the huge problems to be solved. It can't even gain the support of the County Council who, rightly, point out numerous shortcomings.

We have to be very grateful for the intervention of the County Council - in that we conclude that it will force a review of certain areas. But it shouldn't come to this. The timeframes for producing a Local Plan have been sufficient, but the Conservatives, who have been in power for 12 years since 2005, have now made three separate attempts at a "Final" consultation, beginning as long ago as 2013.

The Lib Dems pointed out that the 2016 attempt suddenly included a group of large, new, ill-thought-out sites, proposed without any very noticeable rhyme or reason, and certainly with insufficient evidence to back them up. This argument was ignored - until the Council's legal advisors later made some almost identical points about further work that needed to be done: advice that resulted in the need being accepted for a third "Final" consultation this year.

No Council should be in this position. All areas of the country will need new homes, but in Brentwood the Tory administration are failing to find sensible ways of providing them, and are selling residents short. Developments are continually being proposed at the expense of vital infrastructure (for example the William Hunter Way car park), or without any explanations as to how the necessary infrastructure (such as schools, upgraded highway network etc.) might be provided.

In fact there are serious questions as to whether it is possible to provide the necessary infrastructure, given the limitations on space, of resources, or the existing built environment - but instead of starting to examine this crucial, basic and fundamental question, nothing is happening.

Examples of this are the numerous proposed developments along the Chelmsford Road in Shenfield, or those in central Brentwood whose traffic would end up on Ongar Road. In both areas multiple large sites have been proposed without sufficient thought for their impact on the numerous junctions, like Wilsons Corner, that are already at capacity.

Furthermore, where main roads can no longer absorb more traffic, local drivers are already being forced to turn side roads (only ever designed for residential traffic), into rat runs, increasing the dangers to all pedestrians, and the threat to health from exhaust pollution in more and more areas. And yet there is still no meaningful acknowledgement of this spreading problem, let alone any idea as to how to solve it.

Locally as well as nationally, the Conservatives have proved themselves to not to be up to this particular task. It's time for a change. Brentwood Liberal Democrats would deliver to residents a properly thought through proposal. We would work closely with all bodies with whom there is a duty to co-operate to put in place a workable plan that acknowledges that housing must be affordable, and come with the requisite investment in infrastructure.

Have your say, and help us do what can be done to save our area by voting Lib Dem on May 3rd.

In addition, a link to the current plan is attached. Whilst the formal deadline has passed, the Council have indicated that all feedback will be considered: http://www.brentwood.gov.uk/index.php?cid=694