Blow for Essex Garden Communities as Inspector says current plans are ambitious but ‘not viable’

North Essex map showing the possible locations of three new Garden Village developments, providing t

North Essex map showing the possible locations of three new Garden Village developments, providing thousands of homes and other facilities Picture: NECG - Credit: Archant

A letter from an inspector of plans to great the new Garden Communities in Essex has said that the plans are not viable in their current form.

The letter, addressed to the North Essex Authorities, Braintree District Council, Colchester Borough Council and Tendring District Council, has been released by the councils.

In the letter, Roger Clews, the inspector says: “I expect that this letter will come as a disappointment to the NEAs after all the hard work and resources they have committed to bringing the Section 1. Plan forward for examination.

“Nonetheless, I hope it will be appreciated that my findings do not necessarily represent a rejection of their commendable ambitions for high-quality, strategic-scale development in North Essex.”

He also states the importance of “adequate time and care” being given to the plans now due to their ambitious nature.

One of the biggest criticisms he makes of the new plans were their viability in their current state.

“For the foregoing reasons, it has not been demonstrated that the GCs proposed in the submitted Plan are financially viable,” said Mr Clews.

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“Further viability assessment, taking account of all the points above, will need to be carried out on any GC proposals that the NEAs bring forward. Because of the GCs’ long development timescales, it would be advantageous for the residual valuation appraisal to be supplemented with a discounted cashflow assessment in order to provide a more complete analysis.

The plans are also concerned about the arrangements for the A120 and A12 and whether they will be achieved without significant government funding.

In the report Mr Clews praises the general nature of the plans and what they are hoping to achieve: “I have no doubt that the NEAs are sincere in their aspirations for three high quality, sustainable communities, based on the principles outlined in their Garden Communities Charter [the NEGC Charter].

Their proposed approach is innovative and ambitious, and if carried out successfully it has the potential to provide for housing and employment needs not just in the current Plan period but well beyond it.”

Tim Young, Deputy Leader of Colchester Borough Council, said: “I welcome this letter. The inspector’s comments are useful, and we always knew this would not be a simple yes or no to the plans as what we are proposing is without precedent.

“Much of the work highlighted by the inspector is work that has been ongoing over the last few months since the examination. I am pleased he is effectively calling on Government to give more certainty over its backing for the big infrastructure improvements we know are needed.”

Graham Butland, Leader of Braintree District Council, said the report shows the innovative partnership approach between the local authorities is fruitful.

“The three Councils, working closely with our partners in Essex County Council, the North Essex Garden Communities body and Uttlesford District Council, will continue to drive forward responsible, sustainable development in the region,” he said.

“The other option is urban sprawl or piecemeal infrastructure-light development, and that really isn’t an option.”

Neil Stock, Leader of Tendring District Council, stressed the importance of garden communities for future generations.

“As a region, and as a country, we need more housing – no-one is questioning that – and it has to go somewhere,” he said.

“I believe Garden Communities represent the only realistic way of ensuring that we get the infrastructure in place as the houses get built. I don’t want to see a situation where thousands of new homes are built in North Essex without the new roads, schools and medical facilities that will be necessary or without proper planning for the jobs and employment that will be needed

“The questions and concerns the inspector has raised are questions we would always need to answer, and over the coming months we will look to address these.”

David Finch, Essex County Council Leader, said the authority would continue to work with its district and borough partners to help strengthen the plan: “The Inspector’s letter poses some important challenges and questions, not just to the Councils, but to Government who have been clear in their support for looking at innovative approaches to long-term housing delivery, and ensuring the housing crisis is tackled.

“The opportunity offered by Garden Communities must continue to be explored, they offer the best opportunity to grow Essex in the right way and we will continue to work with our local and national partners to bring more certainty around some of the key questions raised.”

John Spence, CBE, Chairman of North Essex Garden Communities Ltd, said: “This is a very useful and constructive appraisal of where we are at the moment in what is the most ambitious housing infrastructure proposal in the UK.

“The plans for North Essex Garden Communities transcend the time frames of a Local Plan with over 80% of the homes coming after the Local Plan period. The inclusion of Garden Communities of this scale, over this time frame, within a Local Plan has never been done before.

“What the councils are proposing is an approach which moves away from short-term planning to one for the long-term, with planned communities which grow over several decades supported by significant levels of infrastructure.

“We firmly believe that the Garden Community approach remains the best and most sensible option to tackle the three big issues facing North Essex – economic growth, housing numbers and affordability.”

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