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Councils could buy up garden community land if 'last resort' powers are secured

PUBLISHED: 13:35 16 September 2017 | UPDATED: 15:06 16 September 2017

Essex County Council's home at County Hall in Chelmsford (stock image). Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

Essex County Council's home at County Hall in Chelmsford (stock image). Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

Colchester councillors are set to consider securing powers which could see them buy sites earmarked for the planned garden communities next week.

The news comes after Colchester Council teamed up with Tendring Council, Braintree Council and Essex County Council to build 2,500-home garden villages east and west of the town.

In a bid to secure the sites though, and discourage landowners from upping the prices, councillors will decide whether to consider using their compulsory purchase order (CPO) powers.

To do this, they will have to set up a new development corporation, according to new legislation under the Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017.

Unlike planning rules where CPOs cannot be used until permission is granted, development corporations only need an approved Local Plan – something which could happen much faster.

In Colchester Council documents published ahead of the meeting on September 19, it is noted that: “One of the main advantages of a development corporation model is that it is likely to lead to earlier agreements regarding the acquisition of land, in addition to acquisition by compulsion in those cases where agreement proves impossible.

“The designation of an area as a new town, likely to follow closely after the adoption of the Local Plan, would be a clear signal that the Secretary of State would be likely to confirm a subsequent CPO.

“That, in itself, would encourage landowners to reach a voluntary agreement.”

However, the council remains firm that activating a CPO is not something to rush into.

The document also says: “Despite the new legislation, a CPO remains a last resort, therefore negotiations must continue, with CPO powers only ever being used as a fallback option.

“That does not, however, prevent authorities starting the process of preparing for a CPO alongside negotiations which may improve the likelihood of reaching negotiated settlements, since landowners see that the CPO route is being taken seriously.”

The garden communities are part of the government’s drive to provide more homes in the area.

The four councils also hope they will create more jobs, infrastructure, reduce urban sprawl and prevent expansion of smaller heritage communities.

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