Friday, 1 March 2019

Brentwood Local Plan Final Consultation - Tips

Brentwood Council has launched its final public consultation on its Publication Local Plan. You can submit comments by letter, e-mail or using the online consultation portal. To do so, follow the instructions at http://www.brentwood.gov.uk/localplan.

You have until 19th March 2019. This is the last chance to have your say. Residents of Basidon and Thurrock as well as Brentwood should be responding to this.

This is the final crunch for Dunton Hills Garden Village where Brentwood want to build 2,700-4,000 homes in the corner of it borough next to Basildon and Thurrock, away from its own main town and villages. They have not listened to us in previous consultations but this time our comments go before an independent planning inspector, so now is not the time to give up.

I am a campaigner asking for housing numbers to be kept proportionate with real provision for affordable housing and infrastructure first. Whether you agree or not I encourage you to contribute to the consultation.



Here are my answers to questions you may have.

What is the Brentwood Local Plan?

The Local Plan is a document prepared by council planning officers under the direction of elected Councillors. Its purpose is to set housing and development targets, and planning rules until the year 2033.

Why should I contribute to this consultation when we already commented on earlier consultations?

There have been a number of public consultations since 2014 which have been used to inform the preparation of the Local Plan, but this one is different. Previously comments have been given to the council who respond and act as they consider appropriate. This time the comments will be submitted to the ministry of housing who will assign an independent planning inspector to look at the comments. He has powers to override what the council has done. This is the last chance to have our views taken seriously and without cost.

How else is this consultation different?

This consultation is a technical consultation on the soundness and legality of the Local Plan and other supplementary documents. If you are objecting you will need to say whether you consider the plan to be unlawful or unsound, and if unsound you need to state that it is not (1) Positively prepared, (2) Justified, (3) Effective or (4) Consistent with national Policy. 

You will also need to say which section of the Local Plan you are objecting to.

Do not be put off if you are not familiar with these technicalities. Just pick which case seems most relevant and describe your objection in the comment.

What if I have more than one thing to say?

You can submit any number of comments aka representations. If you are using the online portal you complete the form for each one and then click on the button "save as draft" You can then go back to the beginning and fill in the forms again for a second representation and save that. 

For each representation you should state whether the plan is legal and/or sound and why. This should be stated with respect to each representation. E.g. you may for one representation you may say that it is not legally compliant but it is sound and then comment on the illegality. Then for another representation you can say that it is legal but not unsound because it is unjustified and give the reason for that.

When comments are saved as draft you can go back to them and edit. Once you have them all done you must submit them using the submit button. After a comment is submitted it cannot be edited or deleted, but you can go back to the start and add more representations.

What will happen after the consultation?

Brentwood council will collate all comments and submit them to the secretary of state along with all the relevant documents and evidence. They cannot change the Local Plan at this point without going back to repeat the consultation from scratch. However, they can submit proposed modification of their own to be considered.

The ministry of housing will then assign a planning inspector to check the Local Plan taking into account all the comments. He/she will then make a judgement on whether the Local Plan is sound and legal. 

If the inspector does not agree that it is sound or legal he will try to suggest modifications to fix it, or he may ask the council to propose modifications. The inspector will be keen to try to deal with problems rather than rejecting the plan. However, if there is any problem that cannot be fixed the council will be asked to withdraw the plan to go back and rethink it. That would be a long and costly process. If the plan can be fixed quickly the inspector will draw up a list of required modifications which will then be subjected to one last public consultation. This is what usually happens.

Once that is done the Local Plan can be adopted by the council by a vote of Councillors. 

Do I need to appear at the public examination?

The online form asks if you wish to participate at the public examination conducted by the Planning Inspector. If you say yes then you may be given a chance to talk at the hearing. This is not necessary but if anyone makes a point contradicting what you have said this would give you a chance to respond.

The examinations will probably take place during normal working hours so if you wish to participate you will need to be able to make yourself available by taking time off work if necessary. It is unlikely that the inspector will arrange meetings for your convenience. You may only know when you are required to participate at short notice, and you may need to hear what is said in days before then. 

Can you draft comments for people to submit?

There is no point in copying comments written by other people. The inspector will consider them as the same. The consultation is not a democratic vote but the inspector may be impressed by a large number of representations so long as people are thinking for themselves and using their own words. 

What kind of things can we say?

You can say anything that concerns you, but see next question. Anything can be made to fit the parameters of soundness and legality.

You may here someone from the council say that this consultation is not about individual sites. That is nonsense. You can be sure that developers who have had their site excluded will be making representations about those sites so you can do the same about the ones that are included.

Likely topics are use of green belt, affordable housing, flood risk, lack of infrastructure, roads, schools, hospitals, pollution, wildlife etc.

What should we not say?

Do not complain that development will reduce your house price. It is a major objective of the government to make homes more affordable by building more so this complaint will backfire. An exception is if your home will be directly blighted e.g. by a road passing next to your boundary.

By careful not to say anything that might be considered discriminatory. You need to be particularly careful with comments about travellers. Do not imply that they are all undesirables. You should refer to the government or council traveller policy instead. You should also not suggest that development would attract the wrong class of people, or anything else of that sort. 

Do not make your comments political. The political stage of the process is over and the inspector is only interested in legality and soundness.

In general, avoid any kind of polemics or insults. If you are not careful your comments can easily be disqualified altogether. Just be factual. 

Finally, include all necessary detail but avoid any unnecessary detail. The inspector will have a lot to check through and will appreciate concise bullet points. Make your main points as quickly and clearly as possible. If you need to make a very long and complex point then prepare a separate document to attach as supporting evidence, then make the main point of your representation in the comment space with reference to the longer document for details and evidence. If you seem like someone who can make your case without being long-winded there is also a better chance that you will be asked to participate at the hearing.

Any other tips on comments?

Think about what the main counter arguments are to any point you are making. Say why those are not the case. You wont get a chance for a long dialog so you need to cover everything up front.

If you are not sure, look at previous consultations and the responses given by the council in the documents called "Statement of Consultation." Think about how you can make your point better so that those responses will not apply. 

Try to use evidence. If the council's evidence base is not enough look elsewhere. You can link to newspaper reports. You can take snapshots from google traffic. You can get stats from rightmove. You can take your own photographs provided they make a relevant point. Google will find you reports about the A127 or other relevant issues which the council does not want you to draw attention to.

However, do not get bogged down trying to make your comment perfect. If you are short of time and knowledge, just say what you want to say and leave it at that.

What is the relevant legislation?

If you are making the case that something in the plan is not legal you may want to clarify by citing the relevant legislation such as:

For legislation related to wildlife see
https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/uk-wildlife-law

What about Soundness?

Soundness is about how the Local Plan complies with national planning policy. The relevant documents are


for more policy and legislation links see 

Does the planning inspector have to let us speak if we make a representation?

Under the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, section 20 (6) "Any person who makes representations seeking to change a development plan document must (if he so requests) be given the opportunity to appear before and be heard by the person carrying out the examination."

So, yes, if you propose a specific change and ask to contribute to the hearing on your representation to the consultation, the inspector must give you the opportunity to appear at the examination.

This is useful in case someone makes a point against your proposal.

Does Bentwood actually need a new Local Plan?

Some people say Brentwood would be better without a new Local Plan because its green belt would be protected. The trouble is that an up-to-date Local Plan is a legal requirement and the ministry of housing has very broad powers to step in if the council does not prepare one. Brentwood council was one of 15 put on watch for not doing enough. They narrowly missed being taken onto the next step as Castle Point has been.

If the secretary of state did intervene the government would appoint Essex County Council to implement our Local Plan. ECC are very pro-development and have little care for the green belt in South Essex. They want high levels of development to raise money for the infrastructure they are responsible for. They could order the borough to release land for all of its own assessed need plus extra for London and Southend which do not have the capacity or will to meet their own needs.

The government are reluctant to intervene because they are concerned about votes. Some people claim they would never intervene for this reason, but they can easily avoid electoral losses by passing the blame for unpopular outcomes onto the authority they assign to implement it. Intervention is no idle threat. The government are keen to make an example of one or two councils in order to encourage others to get on with their Local Plans. It would be wise to avoid becoming one of those examples.

Why don't Councillors defy the government and protect our green belt?


Because not enough residents are telling them that this is what they want. To make that happen we need a large proportion of the local population to respond to consultations like this one. Then we need people to stand as independent Councillors and we need people to vote for them. We also need people to stop voting for a government that wants this. Defying the government is a huge financial risk for the council so it can only be done if there is overwhelming support from the electorate.

Any final tips?

If the consultation seems complicated and technical but you have something you want to say, don't worry about the technicalities. Just submit your comment using common sense to fill in the form in the way that seems best. 

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Thurrock Issues and Options Stage 2 Public Consultation

Thurrock Council are currently holding a public consultation on options for housing development in the borough. They say many homes will need to be built on green belt. The outcome of this consultation will be used to justify their Local Plan when it is submitted for examination before the planning inspectorate. We need to respond to this consultation now in order to have a say later on. 

The consultation is open until 8th March so there are just two week left to respond. If you just want to get on with it without help, start at this page.

The earlier Issues and Options Stage 1 consultation generated very little response from the public. In fact only three local residents submitted comments. There were however plenty of comments from developers, land owners and other lobby groups trying to persuade Thurrock Council to build as many houses as it could on its green belt.



I know people have limited time and they may have consultation fatigue after responding to so many Lower Thames Crossing consultations that seemed to be ignored. The difference with this consultation is that the Local Plan decisions will be taken by local councillors, not central government. If they see that there is significant interest and opposition from their electorate it will give them pause for thought. Thurrock is still a hung council so voting pressure has influence.

In order to make the process of responding as easy as possible I will provide here a simple three-step guide on how to respond using the online portal. I can't write your responses for you because everyone thinks differently and identical scripted responses are counted only once. There are other ways to respond described on the consultation page.

Step 1: Read the Issues and Options Document


The consultation has 40 questions that you can answer. Unless you are Pheidippides you probably don't have the stamina to go through them all. There is lots of repetition anyway. Start by skimming through the document and noting which one(s) you want to respond to. If you feel more like Aergia, here for you are the most important questions to focus on:

Question 7: Should the council A; aim to meet its Objectively Assessed Need for housing, or B; build even more?

They have not really allowed for the more likely popular answer which is "build less", but you can ignore A and B and fill in your own response. Even the OAN requires twenty thousand new homes most of which will have to be on green belt. Most of these are for new people moving in, not local residents. Houses are needed for some growth, especially affordable homes. Tell them what you really think.

Question 8: What is the right approach for affordable housing A, B or C? 

You don't have to be led. You can make your own approach. There are more questions on affordable housing. If this matters a lot to you then look at those too.

Question 14: Should there be more urban intensification and if so how?

Questions 16-20: Which development options on green belt do you accept?

A big new town near West Horndon, major urban extensions to existing large settlements, smaller urban extensions, village expansions, new smaller isolated sites. You choose.

Question 39: Don't miss this one. Nominate open spaces near you to be designated as Local Green Space. This will protect them from development. Do this for any parks, recreation grounds and other leisure spaces you use near you. They will need to be smaller than about 20 hectares, open to public, near a community, not green belt outside towns and not school playing fields. Give a clear location and give reasons why your space should be protected, e.g. it has playing fields, children's play areas, wildlife, walks, etc.

There are lots more issues that you might want to look at: homes for elderly, retail areas, employment etc. If you have time go through them, but take it easy so you don't collapse with exhaustion before you get to the end.

Step 2: If you have not done a Thurrock consultation or petition before, you need to register. Otherwise login with your account.

To register go here.
To login and start the consultation go here.

Step 3: answer the questions you selected

Once you are logged in you will see a "start survey" button. Use the "next" button to skip quickly to the questions you decided to answer. Fill in your responses. You can also prepare documents with pictures and upload them if you are really into it.

Once you get to the end you hit the "submit" button to finish.

If you get tired and need a rest, use the "save as draft" button. When you come back, login and click on the "my account" link at the top, then "drafts", then the "edit/submit" symbol next to your draft. This takes you back to the start of your document. You can use the left navigation area to get to another section or go straight to "Submit/Save"

Don't forget to submit before 8th March or your comments wont count.

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Kent View Recreation Ground Update

In 2010 residents of Vange were shocked at plans brought forward by Basildon Council to develop the recreation ground at Kent View Road for housing. A campaign group was formed and thanks to their hard work and persistence most of the ground was protected. The campaign culminated this year when the recreation ground was dedicated as a Field in Trust to protect it indefinitely.

Unfortunately the battle is not quite over. The Basildon Local Plan which is now in its final stages of preparation show that the council still has ambitions to build over two parts of the park. How can this be?

The aim of this post is to present the facts as we know them, starting with a timeline of events and news articles, followed by documents I have found that tell us about the current legal status of different parts of the land.

It is not for me to say what should happen next as I do not use the park myself. The Vange Community Group has always had a "not one brick" policy on the park. The council may try to convince residents to give up a corner of the park in exchange for improved facilities in the remainder. Residents might say that they are entitled to a revamp of the play area and pitches without any such loss. Whatever happens it needs to be agreed openly. 

A public consultation on the Basildon Local Plan has just ended and the next stage will be an examination in public during which we hope to finally get the status of the recreation ground settled. Basildon Council has the power to end this now by agreeing to submit a recommendation with the Local Plan that the entire area of the recreation ground be designated as Local Green Space, but it will require pressure from the local community to make them back down and do it.

Residents can make their views known to Cllr Andrew Baggot the leader of Basildon Council at the "meet the leader" event to be held at The Place in Pitsea on 21st February from 7pm. They can also message their ward Councillors Councillor Block and Councillor McGeorge. Everyone who cares needs to speak up. It is not fair to expect the old campaign leaders to handle new situations on everybody else's behalf. They have already done so much.

Event Timeline and Links

Here is a timeline of the main events in the story so far. This is not complete. There were many other campaign actions reported in the press but I am focusing mainly on events where progress was made.

Click on dates for local news articles.

28th July 2009: A cabinet report for Basildon Council identifies Kent View Recreation Ground as one of several areas of land that could be developed for housing to help pay for the Basildon Sporting Village.

June 2010: Basildon council submits an outline planning application 10/00979/OUT for 73 homes to be built on the Kent View Recreation Ground.

16th June 2010: Vange residents handed the council a 500 signature petition to protest plans for closing the pre-school and developing the park.

25th August 2010: Basildon Council reveal details of their plan to build 73 homes on the recreation ground.

14th January 2011: Despite protests Basildon Council votes to develop Kent View Recreation Ground for housing.

8th June 2011: Astute residents point out that the parts of the park being left for recreation are prone to flooding

22nd June 2011: It is claimed that covenants imposed on the land by the Campbell family when they sold the land to the council 50 years ago should prevent it from being developed for housing.

26th July 2011: A protest march is organised

5th August 2011: Lawyers acting on behalf of residents send letters to Basildon Council claiming compensation will be needed if the council breaks covenants by building on the ground.

10th August 2011: The community group is scornful of claims by the leader of Basildon council that parts of the recreation ground will be kept for recreation

31st August 2010: Residents announced a bid to have the recreation ground declared as a village green to protect it from development.

2nd September 2010: Public meetings were announced to discuss the council plans.

24th September 2010: Voters threaten revolt against the council administration over playing fields sell-off

30th September 2011: Fresh demonstrations are planned as the council looks for alternative ways to fund the sports village.

16th January 2011:  Vange United football club who played at Kent View were promised improved pitches at Swan Mead to allow 73 homes to be built.

20th July 2012: Community group prepared for inquiry over village green status

23rd October 2012: Tony Ball, then leader of Basildon Council announced that the recreation ground had been saved and alternative funding for the Sports Village had been found.

23rd November 2012: Essex County Council agreed to designate a small part of the recreation ground as a village green. It was not possible to cover the whole ground because of a legal precedent.

10th June 2013: Council launches scheme to build homes on garage sites including Paslowes.

4th November 2013: Planning application for a new community building at Kent View Rec submitted.

1st May 2014: Planning permission for flats on the recreation ground were revoked by council and money was given for a new community centre

3rd December 2014: A new community centre at the recreation ground was opened. This would include the Just Imagine Nursery on a 10-year lease.

21st November 2016: Basildon Council submits Fields in Trust application for the recreation ground.

6th February 2017: Following a petition, residents are encouraged to nominate recreation areas for Local Green Space status in the Basildon Local Plan. Kent View recreation ground was one of a number of sites nominated.

25th February 2017: Fields in Trust confirm Kent View as suitable for FIT status subject to Basildon council approval

26 June 2017: Council Officers are spotted surveying the Paslowes garage block and the park nearby.

September 2017: A Local Green Space report prepared by Basildon Council recommends designating part of the recreation ground as Local Green Space but claims that two areas cannot be designated because they are earmarked for housing development.

4th October 2017: Leaked plans reveal that Basildon Council still had plans to build on part of Kent View Recreation Ground. 

4th October 2017 : New administration says it axed the plans to build on the play area.

4th October 2017: Former Council Leader Phil Turner denies that the council had plans to build on part of the ground.

30th September 2017: Basildon Council votes to apply for Fields in Trust dedication for the parts of the recreation ground it owns, but excluding the part around the play area.

13th March 2018: The draft policies map for the Basildon Local Plan confirms that the northern corner and the area around the old play ground are not to be included as part of the Local Green Space raising fears that the council plans to build on more of the land.

5th June 2018: Protection for Kent View recreation ground through Fields in Trust is confirmed but a presentation shows that the part by the old play area is not protected.

14th September 2018: Essex County Council give notification of flood alleviation scheme involving bunds to be built in the recreation ground.

22nd November 2018: The 5 year land supply for Basildon is rubber stamped at a council meeting with 19 homes planned for the North corner of the recreation ground (SS0117) and 8 homes planned for the area around the old play ground (SS0683).

1st December 2018: Local Plan pre-submission consultation begins with parts of Kent View recreation ground unprotected.

So we end 2018 in a state of some confusion. Most of the ground appears to have been permanently protected by Fields in Trust, and yet Basildon Council still has ambitions to build at least 27 homes on the recreation ground, including 19 on an area in the North thought to be well protected. Some earlier plans showed 22 homes on the area around the Paslowes garages alone, so the actual numbers could be higher.

To get as clear a picture as possible I have obtained copies of the Title Deeds held by the land registry, and the Deed of Dedication agreed between the council and Fields in Trust. I have also looked at the plan showing the area registered as a village green held by Essex County Council. Combining these sources with the Local Plan policies map and Local Green Space report I can provide this map for the present status of land in the recreation ground.

click on image for larger view

The red outlines show the two areas where the council has ambitions to build houses.

The blue area is protected by Fields in Trust. The green area is now a village green. The council should not be able to build on any of that land but there are always ways to get round any restriction if they are allowed to get away with it.

The yellow area is only protected by covenants on the land. These were set by the landowners who sold the land to the council and were intended to ensure that the land was only used for recreational purposes. Unfortunately the council has a history of ignoring such covenants. To stop them, residents will have to take legal action to enforce the covenant and claim compensation if the covenants are broken. Alternatively they can apply pressure through the ballot box at the next local elections.



Monday, 5 November 2018

Basildon Local Plan Final Consultation - Tips

Basildon Council has launched its final public consultation on its Revised Publication Local Plan. You can submit comments by letter, e-mail or using the online consultation portal. To do so, follow the instructions at http://www.basildon.gov.uk/localplan.

You have until 17th December 2018. This is the last chance to have your say.

I am a campaigner asking for housing numbers to be kept proportionate with real provision for affordable housing and infrastructure first. Whether you agree or not I encourage you to contribute to the consultation.



Here are my answers to questions you may have.

What is the Basildon Local Plan?

The Local Plan is a document prepared by council planning officers under the direction of elected Councillors. It covers the whole borough of Basildon including Basildon, Billericay, Wickford and smaller settlements. Its purpose is to set housing and development targets, and planning rules until the year 2034.


Why should I contribute to this consultation when we already commented on earlier consultations?

There have been a number of public consultations since 2014 which have been used to inform the preparation of the Local Plan, but this one is different. Previously comments have been given to the council who respond and act as they consider appropriate. This time the comments will be submitted to the ministry of housing who will assign an independent planning inspector to look at the comments. He has powers to override what the council has done. This is the last chance to have our views taken seriously and without cost.


How else is this consultation different?

This consultation is a technical consultation on the soundness and legality of the Local Plan and other supplementary documents. If you are objecting you will need to say whether you consider the plan to be unlawful or unsound, and if unsound you need to state that it is not (1) Positively prepared, (2) Justified, (3) Effective or (4) Consistent with national Policy. 

You will also need to say which section of the Local Plan you are objecting to.

Do not be put off if you are not familiar with these technicalities. Just pick which case seems most relevant and describe your objection in the comment.


What if I have more than one thing to say?

You can submit any number of comments aka representations. If you are using the online portal you complete the form for each one and then click on the button "save as draft" You can then go back to the beginning and fill in the forms again for a second representation and save that. 

For each representation you should state whether the plan is legal and/or sound and why. This should be stated with respect to each representation. E.g. you may for one representation you may say that it is not legally compliant but it is sound and then comment on the illegality. Then for another representation you can say that it is legal but not unsound because it is unjustified and give the reason for that.

When comments are saved as draft you can go back to them and edit. Once you have them all done you must submit them using the submit button. After a comment is submitted it cannot be edited or deleted, but you can go back to the start and add more representations.


What will happen after the consultation?

Basildon council will collate all comments and submit them to the secretary of state along with all the relevant documents and evidence. They cannot change the Local Plan at this point without going back to repeat the consultation from scratch. However, they can submit proposed modification of their own to be considered.

The ministry of housing will then assign a planning inspector to check the Local Plan taking into account all the comments. He/she will then make a judgement on whether the Local Plan is sound and legal. 

If the inspector does not agree that it is sound or legal he will try to suggest modifications to fix it, or he may ask the council to propose modifications. The inspector will be keen to try to deal with problems rather than rejecting the plan. However, if there is any problem that cannot be fixed the council will be asked to withdraw the plan to go back and rethink it. That would be a long and costly process. If the plan can be fixed quickly the inspector will draw up a list of required modifications which will then be subjected to one last public consultation. This is what usually happens.

Once that is done the Local Plan can be adopted by the council by a vote of Councillors. 


Do I need to appear at the public examination?

The online form asks if you wish to participate at the public examination conducted by the Planning Inspector. If you say yes then you may be given a chance to talk at the hearing. This is not necessary but if anyone makes a point contradicting what you have said this would give you a chance to respond.

The examinations will probably take place during normal working hours so if you wish to participate you will need to be able to make yourself available by taking time off work if necessary. It is unlikely that the inspector will arrange meetings for your convenience. You may only know when you are required to participate at short notice, and you may need to hear what is said in days before then. 


Can you draft comments for people to submit?

There is no point in copying comments written by other people. The inspector will consider them as the same. The consultation is not a democratic vote but the inspector may be impressed by a large number of representations so long as people are thinking for themselves and using their own words. 


What kind of things can we say?

You can say anything that concerns you, but see next question. Anything can be made to fit the parameters of soundness and legality.

You may here someone from the council say that this consultation is not about individual sites. That is nonsense. You can be sure that developers who have had their site excluded will be making representations about those sites so you can do the same about the ones that are included.

Likely topics are use of green belt, affordable housing, flood risk, lack of infrastructure, roads, schools, hospitals, pollution, wildlife etc.


What should we not say?

Do not complain that development will reduce your house price. It is a major objective of the government to make homes more affordable by building more so this complaint will backfire. An exception is if your home will be directly blighted e.g. by a road passing next to your boundary.

By careful not to say anything that might be considered discriminatory. You need to be particularly careful with comments about travellers. Do not imply that they are all undesirables. You should refer to the government or council traveller policy instead. You should also not suggest that development would attract the wrong class of people, or anything else of that sort. 

Don't suggest that houses planned near you should go somewhere else in the borough. Every community is under strain, and caring only about your own neighbourhood will just make you look like a NIMBY. It is right that you may want to focus on your own area because you know it better and care about it more, but the whole borough will suffer from the strain of new housing all around. We need to stick together to fight over-development.

Do not make your comments political. The political stage of the process is over and the inspector is only interested in legality and soundness.

In general, avoid any kind of polemics or insults. If you are not careful your comments can easily be disqualified altogether. Just be factual. 

Finally, include all necessary detail but avoid any unnecessary detail. The inspector will have a lot to check through and will appreciate concise bullet points. Make your main points as quickly and clearly as possible. If you need to make a very long and complex point then prepare a separate document to attach as supporting evidence, then make the main point of your representation in the comment space with reference to the longer document for details and evidence. If you seem like someone who can make your case without being long-winded there is also a better chance that you will be asked to participate at the hearing.


Any other tips on comments?

Think about what the main counter arguments are to any point you are making. Say why those are not the case. You wont get a chance for a long dialog so you need to cover everything up front.

If you are not sure, look at previous consultations and the responses given by the council in the documents called "Statement of Consultation." Think about how you can make your point better so that those responses will not apply. 

Try to use evidence. If the council's evidence base is not enough look elsewhere. You can link to newspaper reports. You can take snapshots from google traffic. You can get stats from rightmove. You can take your own photographs provided they make a relevant point. Google will find you reports about the A127 or Basildon Hospital or other relevant issues which the council does not want you to draw attention to.

However, do not get bogged down trying to make your comment perfect. If you are short of time and knowledge, just say what you want to say and leave it at that.


What is the relevant legislation?

If you are making the case that something in the plan is not legal you may want to clarify by citing the relevant legislation such as:

For legislation related to wildlife see
https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/uk-wildlife-law


What about Soundness?

Soundness is about how the Local Plan complies with national planning policy. The relevant documents are


for more policy and legislation links see 


Where is the council's evidence base?



Which development sites should we worry about?

In addition to the sites marked for development in the Local Plan, any site that has been considered before is still a concern. Many of the developers and land owners who proposed these sites will submit comments to the consultation to suggest that they should be added back in by the planning inspector to make up the council's unmet need for housing.

This map shows green belt sites that are in the Local Plan in green and most of the sites that were not included in yellow. If you are concerned about any of these sites who should submit comments to say why it should be excluded. If your site of concern is shown in green you should say that the Local Plan is unsound because it is not justified. If it is shown in yellow you should say that the plan is sound without it included, but it would become unsound if it was added back in.

click on map to enlarge
There is an interactive version of this map at http://seeaga.uk/map.html

Does the planning inspector have to let us speak if we make a representation?

Under the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, section 20 (6) "Any person who makes representations seeking to change a development plan document must (if he so requests) be given the opportunity to appear before and be heard by the person carrying out the examination."

So, yes, if you propose a specific change and ask to contribute to the hearing on your representation to the consultation, the inspector must give you the opportunity to appear at the examination.

This is useful in case someone makes a point against your proposal.

Does Basildon actually need a new Local Plan?

Some people say Basildon would be better without a new Local Plan because its green belt would be protected. The trouble is that an up-to-date Local Plan is a legal requirement and the ministry of housing has very broad powers to step in if the council does not prepare one. Basildon council was one of 15 put on watch for not doing enough. They narrowly missed being taken onto the next step as Castle Point has been.

If the secretary of state did intervene they government would appoint Essex County Council to implement our Local Plan. ECC are very pro-development and have little care for the green belt in South Essex. They want high levels of development to raise money for the infrastructure they are responsible for. They could order the borough to release land for all of its own assessed need plus extra for London and Southend which do not have the capacity or will to meet their own needs.

The government are reluctant to intervene because they are concerned about votes. Some people claim they would never intervene for this reason, but they can easily avoid electoral losses by passing the blame for unpopular outcomes onto the authority they assign to implement it. Intervention is no idle threat. The government are keen to make an example of one or two councils in order to encourage others to get on with their Local Plans. It would be wise to avoid becoming one of those examples.

Why don't Councillors defy the government and protect our green belt?


Because not enough residents are telling them that this is what they want. To make that happen we need a large proportion of the local population to respond to consultations like this one. Then we need people to stand as independent Councillors and we need people to vote for them. We also need people to stop voting for a government that wants this. Defying the government is a huge financial risk for the council so it can only be done if there is overwhelming support from the electorate.

Any final tips?

If the consultation seems complicated and technical but you have something you want to say, don't worry about the technicalities. Just submit your comment using common sense to fill in the form in the way that seems best. 


Thursday, 20 September 2018

New government housing stats show that a lot less houses are needed than planned.

This morning the Office for National Statistics has published new housing projections that show only 159,000 new homes per year will be required in England compared to 210,000 per year as previously predicted two years ago. The contrast between reality and the government ambition to build 300,000 homes per year is now more glaring than ever. So much so that you would think even the journalists used to feeding off government press releases would start to ask questions. The only way government targets could be achieved would be to increase demand for housing by doubling inward net migration, but don't count on anyone listening to reason.

The ONS says the changes in their projections are due to lower estimates for birth rates, life expectancy and net international migration. It could be argued that even now these inputs are too high and further downward adjustments can be expected in the future, but the government sees things differently. They have already announced that they plan to fudge the standard formula for housing targets to compensate for the drop.

migration is the biggest source of uncertainty in the projections


Why do they want to plan for a surplus of houses? Nobody seems to know, or even ask. Do they want to accelerate the influx of international migrants in the belief that it will solve the national debt crisis, or is it simply a plan to give the lobbying property industry the land they need to make big profits on, so that they can continue to make big donations to the government? Whatever the answer is they obviously won't tell us. Do they think we won't understand or are they afraid we will? Instead we get spin about the housing crisis and how they will protect the green belt, provide gleaming new infrastructure and reduce net migration. Why would anyone swallow such utter nonsense now?

The new numbers out today tell us the number of houses projected to be built in each district or borough in England. These can also be plugged into the government's standard formula which applies an uplift based on affordability ratios to give the "Local Housing Need." This is the number that local authorities are required to use as housing targets in their 20 year Local Plans. However, the government has already said that they want to adjust this number upwards to compensate for the fall. In some councils the fall is less than elsewhere so those councils could end up with significantly higher targets. We don't know yet how they will make the adjustment so the adjusted target can only be guessed at.


new projected old target new target new plus 24%
Southend-on-Sea 11308 23553 15711 19482
Thurrock 10236 23378 14075 17452
Basildon 14158 21600 19892 24666
Braintree 10142 16974 13628 16899
Brentwood 4894 9399 7105 8811
Castle Point 4568 7446 6738 8355
Chelmsford 11110 19514 16234 20131
Colchester 18624 21376 24316 30152
Epping Forest 9434 22166 15619 19368
Harlow 4524 9353 5955 7384
Maldon 4438 6075 6291 7801
Rochford 5362 7782 8043 9973
Tendring 14400 16757 18855 23380
Uttlesford 9040 16380 14334 17774


The table above shows the new projected household growth over 20 years for Local Authorities in Essex, the old target from 2014-based projections with uplift, and the new target from 2016-based projections with uplift. The last column shows how much the target would increase if the government simply uplifted by a further 24% to compensate for the drop, but we do not know what they will actually do.

Some councils will see a dramatic drop in targets, e.g. Southend, Thurrock, Epping Forest and Harlow. Thurrock in particular will find the new numbers hard to reconcile with their stated ambition to build 32,000 homes. Other councils are likely to see a big rise, e.g. Basildon, Castle Point, Colchester and Tendring.

The ministry for housing has already said that it will apply an exceptional uplift in Oxfordshire and it is possible that other places where the numbers have dropped dramatically will be treated the same, although it is hard to see why this is necessary given that these targets are described as minimums.

It is going to take a little while for the government to form a scheme for fudging the numbers upwards. There will need to be yet another public consultation. Meanwhile the Local Housing Need across the six ASELA councils in has dropped from 96,000 to 71,500 which is going to have implications for the scale of the South Essex Joint Strategic Plan.

Already we have seen a huge amount of misinformation from planning consultants about how the new numbers should be interpreted. It will be interesting to see if this is reflected by politicians and the media.






Saturday, 15 September 2018

BREAKING NEWS - Basildon to build Northern urban extension with new realigned A127 route.

At a Basildon Council meeting last Thursday the chairman Cllr Richard Moore revealed emerging plans for a realigned A127 to the North of Basildon supported by the development of thousands of additional new houses on green belt along the route. The announcement was made so quietly that it appeared to go over the heads of other Councillors on the committee. Even the planning officers in attendance did not seem to twig what it meant. 

Earlier this year six South Essex local authorities including Basildon formed an association (ASELA) to put together a Joint Strategic Plan for the region. Cllr Moore is Basildon's representative on the secretive Joint Strategic Plan Members Group which is working behind the scenes to allocate strategic locations for extra housing development. This is rumoured to included at least three new Garden Communities in South Essex which would provide additional housing to that already designated in Local Plans.

Moore is also chairman of Basildon's Strategic Planning and Infrastructure Committee which has been making a number of final revisions to the Basildon Local Plan this year. They have already made a number of revisions promised by the Tory administration after being elected in May, but in August they did a U-turn on their commitments to incorporate the Hovefields and Honiley Neighbourhood Plan into the Local Plan, deciding instead to allow it to return at the next plan review. It now appears that there may have been a hidden reason behind this.

A potential new route for the A127

On Thursday the committee was reviewing potential development sites to make sure there were sound reason to exclude each one from the Local Plan which has a deficit of development against the borough's assessed housing need. Towards the end of the five hour marathon meeting he surprised everyone by suddenly suggesting that sites around Dale Farm and Hovefields should be designated as a "broad location for housing growth." Reading a prepared statement he explained that they "need to be aware of work underway on the Joint Strategic Plan and the implications the development may have for bringing forward improvements and realignment of the A127." This could then be brought forward at the first review of the Local Plan which would be due in five years time, he explained. In fact a review could happen much earlier because of unmet need for housing.

The full implications of this idea seemed lost on others present. To be honest I didn't catch it myself until a replayed the webcast recording later. The measure  was duly voted through by the three Tory Councillors on the committee. 

The A127 is a strategic route through South Essex and is crucial infrastructure for the promotion of housing growth. Unfortunately it was de-trunked in 1997, taking responsibility for its upkeep away from central government and into the hands of Essex County Council. Since then it has seen little improvement and is now a low grade two-lane dual carriageway taking the kind of traffic levels that would normally justify a three lane motorway. Plans to upgrade it are hampered by housing on either side in Basildon. The Fortune of War "roundabout" in the middle of this stretch is a particular symbol of failure to maintain the road. No longer needed as a junction it remains as an obstacle on the route and the scene of several fatal accidents. The A127 also divides housing to the North from the main town and the area is a notorious location for unauthorised traveller sites.

The only real solution would be to create a new route for the A127 which could run through partly undeveloped land about half a mile to the North, but this would be hugely expensive and would require the loss of more green belt land. It should come as no surprise that the Joint Strategic Plan for South Essex could include this idea, but to make it possible without government funding a lot of new houses would have to be built.

Conveniently the government has recently invited new submissions for plans to form new Garden Communities which can include transformational urban extensions as well as isolated new towns. The deadline for submission is 9th November and it is thought that ASELA will certainly not want to miss the opportunity to apply. South Essex already has one proposed garden village to the West of Basildon at Dunton Hills which has been the subject of strong community opposition. Other known proposals include a garden town in the West of Rochford and developments around Lakeside and South Ockendon in Thurrock. A proposal for something North of Basildon would make sense.

Such a plan would obviously be hugely controversial. An improved A127 and the prospect of finally resolving the long-standing problem of unauthorised development in the area would be welcomed, but to support and fund this there would have to be several thousand new homes in addition to those already in the Local Plan, all built on green field sites. Strong reactions would be inevitable.

The South Essex Joint Strategic Plan is due to be published for consultation in the Spring of 2019. Until then it seems residents will have to make do with guess work about what ASELA is up to.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Another Day in the Life of the Basildon Local Plan

A year ago when the UKIP/Labour/Independent administration took control of Basildon Council away from the Conservatives, a Local Plan prepared under the leadership of Phil Turner was on the table and almost ready for submission to the Secretary of State. The plan was never made public but based on what we have heard from Councillors it was a big step up in numbers from the Draft Local Plan that had been consulted on in 2016 with a target of 15,260 houses. The council had commissioned masterplans for South West Billericay, East Basildon and Gardiners Lane South. To support these changes the Conservative run council had held another public consultation to introduce "New and Alternative Sites." Many of these had been incorporated into the new plan. 

This included about 500 homes at the Pound Lane site in North Benfleet increasing the number of new homes for East Basildon from 2,000 to 2,537. The expanse of new sites proposed around South West Billericay had grown to enough land for 2000 additional homes to support a relief road that Essex County Council insisted had to be financed by developers (ECC are blowing their entire road and transport budget for the next decade on infrastructure to support the North Essex Joint Strategic Plan for Braintree, Colchester and Tendring.) There was also an expansion of the site at Thomkins Farm in Nethermayne to 600 homes and options for further development at Noak Bridge, Dale farm and Hovefields. 

The plan at that stage retained its claim that 255 new traveller and gypsy pitches were required with as many as possible accommodated on council owned sites at Wickford, South East Pitsea and Gardiner's Lane. Many more were to be added to the existing huge developments at Crays Hill, Hovefields and Cranfield Park as detailed in the 2015 Draft Local Plan. Implementation of this plan would have raised the borough's 20-year housing target to over 20,000 in keeping with rising numbers for the region's assessed development needs which the Basildon Tory  Group under Turner were keen to meet, despite a last minute promise to review the loss of green belt when they knew they were set to be kicked out.

Jump forward a year and things have moved on. Linda Allport-Hodge as chair of the Infrastructure Growth and Development committee oversaw a reduction of the housing target by 2000, removing some of the developments at the East and West of Basildon using the justification that these would result in coalescence with towns in neighbouring authorities. She also reduced the target for traveller pitches by nearly 200 down to just 56. Of course residents including many campaigners fail to appreciate this effort having not seen the unpublished 20,000 home plan they started from. Cllr Andrew Baggott played the standard opposition game of attacking the administration and promising to fix the plan with little regard for its real history. Such is the ignorance of his group that one of the few places where the actual numbers in the unpublished 2017 plan appear is in their own campaign literature where they accuse the opposition of setting a target of 20,000 homes rather than the reduced 18,000. In a leaflet currently being circulated for the Pitsea South East by-election they write of "The perverse decision to build traveller sites and 2500 homes between Eversley and Pitsea" despite the fact that this number of homes only ever appeared in their "East of Basildon High Level Development Framework" and the traveller pitches were put in by them in 2016.

Cllr Turner has been snubbed by his own party with no policy making role and Cllr Baggott as the replacement leader finds himself having to defend his election promises. The council has not started the pre-submission consultation that it had agreed to. Tomorrow an extraordinary council meeting will recind the council's approval of the Local Plan to reconsider a few of its policies. This is what I think of what they have announced in the meeting agenda:

"Reconsider the merits of including 300 homes in H18: South West Billericay, in addition to those recommended in the Higher Level Development Framework 2017"

300 homes were added to H18 to enable a longer route for the relief route. When this was reverted to avoid the loss of a corner of Frith Wood the 300 homes were left in. Removing them now may seem justified but people are forgetting that other homes were removed from sites around Billericay in the 2015 draft plan. Furthermore, the housing target is below the assessed need and any further reduction needs a solid justification on planning grounds.  From a residents point of view the fact that it is on green belt would seem sufficient reason but that is not likely to satisfy the planning inspector at examination. 

The meeting agenda was edited to include a mention of the rest of the South West Billericay development after members of the Billericay Action Group made it clear that a mere 300 homes reduction was not quite what they had been led to expect. As a campaigner I wish them luck, but I doubt it will be possible to remove these developments unless they move them somewhere else such as West Basildon. If they do that it will undermine the council's coalescence case for protecting the green belt and the inspector will be sure to restore all the developments at the examination while keeping the replacements too in order to meet the full need.

"Reconsider the merits of H10, in addition to H11 in Noak Bridge"

It's a little ambiguous whether they are aiming to remove both these close developments or just one. H10 was in their 2015 draft plan so they are probably looking to remove H11 which was part of their New and Alternative Sites consultation. It was included to enable a new primary school. Much as I would like to see this reduction I again think it will be difficult and the development will simply be restored later. At least these changes have the merit of being something that can be done more or less instantly with just the need to find convincing planning reasons. This is not the case for most of the rest of the changes.

"Reconsider the options for meeting the Borough’s Gypsy, Traveller and Travelling Showpeople 53 pitches and 3 plots need, including the ‘hub model’"

This is much more problematical. Nobody wants the new traveller sites proposed for developments in Wickford, Billericay and Pitsea, (even the travellers themselves would prefer a large site somewhere else, it is claimed), but there is strict legislation to comply with. The term ‘hub model’ was first heard at the IGD meeting when Cllr Baggott used it to refer to the policy in the 2016 draft plan which included adding pitches to the existing large traveller sites (as well as their three new sites of course) In a radio interview Cllr Baggott confirmed that he intends to consider returning to this. This problem is that this idea was conceived before a change in government policy made it clear that large sites in the green belt cannot be legal. Let's look at the three main site options:



Oak Lane, Crays Hill: Expanding the site here would effectively mean restoring Dale Farm to traveller occupation making the millions of pounds spent on eviction look like a huge waste of money. Traveller here have complained of unsanitary conditions and there is a lack of safe access to facilities in Basildon across the A127 where two travellers have died crossing the road in separate incidents. If the council authorised the enlargement of this site they would be responsible for ensuring that all facilities are adequately provided for at tax payers expense. Any new presence here would be bitterly opposed by long-suffering Crays Hill residents.

Hovefields: This was another site where the council engaged in expensive evictions and recently the council has fought in the courts to prevent further expansion on the site. Residents have worked on an alternative development plan to end the long-standing problems they face. Allowing expansion here now would open the door to another large influx of travellers who want to move in and would go against everything the council has been trying to achieve there.

Cranfield Park: This site just South of the A127 has attracted less attention except for a notorious recent murder case on the site and reports in national press on the extent of expansion here. It might seem like a better option than Hovefields or Oak Lane but it is next to a proposed new employment area and would be opposed by prospective new business owners who would otherwise like to move in. 

For all three sites the following serious problems need to be addressed: release of green belt to enable massive traveller sites, reversing previous policy to restrict site expansions, strong opposition from the settled community and the potential for further uncontrolled influx around these sites. A fourth option might be to build a new "garden ghetto" of 56 pitches somewhere else such as Dunton, but that would face the same issues and would require buying land from reluctant land owners. Whatever they consider will require months of report writing and evidence gathering which would certainly invoke government intervention for the Local Plan.

It is hard to know what Cllr Baggott is thinking of, other than he made a lot of noise about the (more sensible and legal) "fairy dust" model during the election campaign and now has to find some way of making good to Billericay residents. The chances are he will have to back down at some point and much damage may be done before he does.

"Reconsider the options for the Hovefields and Honiley Neighbourhood Area"

"Reconsiders the options for Bowers Gifford and North Benfleet Neighbourhood Area"

Neighbourhood plans can be progressed independently of the local plan so there is no need to delay its submission for these matters. There are reasons why the alternative sites in the neighbourhood plans were not already incorporated into the Local Plan. They would both contribute to the potential coalescence of communities that green belt is meant to prevent. Including them now would undermine the arguments used to restrict the borough's housing target on the grounds of the green belt constraint. Furthermore, neither Neighbourhood Plan is ready. Waiting for them would trigger government intervention. 

I'd like to see residents in these neighbourhood areas have their wishes taken into account but it makes much more sense to progress them independently and reconsider them again when the Local Plan is reviewed. I suspect that a review will be happening much sooner than the usual five years because of the unmet need and the "South Essex 2050 Ambition." Legislative changes in the pipline may even make it possible to activate the Neighbourhood plans without reviewing the Local Plan.

"Reconsider the options for housing development in Ramsden Bellhouse"

It is not clear what Cllr Baggott wants to reconsider concerning the 39 homes planned for this settlement but if he can address issues raised by local residents without undermining the spacial strategy or delaying the Local Plan further then all will be fine here.

"Reconsider the implications of its recommendations for i-iv on the potential soundness and legal compliance of the Plan and take steps to engage with other public bodies, as required and necessary, to discharge the Duty to Cooperate"

Note that they mean the six items i-vi as above but the agenda was illegally edited to add two of them and this typo remains. The Duty to Cooperate is being discharged through the Association of South Essex Local Authorities. The only thing which I think is missing is that other neighbours such as Chelmsford and Maldon were not formally notified of the unmet need, but I doubt that this is what Cllr Baggott is thinking about. If he does not take care he will commit us to looking at the unmet need from Southend, Castle Point and London in addition to our own. 

"Reconsider the options for the Community Infrastructure Levy Preliminary Draft Charging Schedule."

Again, I have no idea what they are thinking of doing here. I don't think residents have queried this. Have the developers had a word with the Conservatives or is this some idea of their own? We will no doubt find out soon enough.

In conclusion, Cllr Baggott has promised a serious redraft of the plan, but his initial intent was just to remove a few hundred homes, not much compared to the 2000 homes that UKIP/Labour removed from the Tory plan. If they could reduce the numbers further that would be great, but if it was possible the previous administration would have done it. The planning officers cannot submit a plan for examination that they do not consider sound and they have been informed by a planning inspector. Either Baggott will have to back down or he will remove development from one area and put it in another.

Whatever he does there is no sign that the Secretary of State has given him the go ahead to delay proceedings. I doubt Brokenshire regarded any intent to reduce the target as being consistent with Conservative policy either. Some of the proposed changes are just not possible. Others require a delay and might even lead to the need for a new round of consultations that would push the plan back even further. Any change to the schedule would trigger government intervention. Even the relatively simple changes such as removing 300 homes from Billericay will have consequences for the planning logic used to keep the loss of green belt down. 

I am left wondering whether this is being done more out of ignorance or arrogance. Does Cllr Baggott really believe his own bluster that the opposition did not know what they are doing? Will residents ever see through the Tory spin? I was optimistic that the years of campaigning we put in had done something to improve the Local Plan. Now I fear we are about to see it all go up in smoke at the hands of the Tories, voted in by residents we spent so much of our time trying to help, and aided by others who chose not to vote at all. Thanks a lot folks.

Having said that, I fear that our efforts are endangered in the longer term anyway. The six South Essex councils have hatched a plan to build even more houses in the area and Basildon is already signed up to it. They have even renamed their plan from "South Essex Vision 2050" to "South Essex 2050 Ambition" and it appears to know no limits. Their Statement of Common Ground seeks to add new Garden Communities on top of the 90,000 homes South Essex is struggling to accommodate. It's no surprise to see that the Brentwood Council Leader, Cllr Louise Mckinlay chairs the ASELA committee of what is now seven Tory Council Leaders. She is well known for her plan to dump Brentwood's housing need next to Basildon and will no doubt be looking to send more our way in order to protect the Northern parts of her own borough. In the longer term our present Local Plan will become a base onto which they will add more development when it is reviewed almost as soon as it is adopted.

Sadly the residents of our local communities are doing exactly what the government wants them to do. They blame local councils who are forced to follow central government policy that leaves them no choice but to plan for massive levels of development with no guarantee of infrastructure. Everything else you hear and believe is misleading spin coming down from the top.