Uttlesford council recommended to pull its Local Plan, so what now for Essex garden communities?
In a huge blow to plans for so-called garden communities in north-west Essex, planning inspectors have recommended that Uttlesford District Council withdraw its Local Plan from examination.
The inspectors said they could not find the document sound because of its insufficient evidence to justify the garden-communities proposals, noting that the draft Plan had not provided enough detail on the locations of the proposed settlements.
They also had concerns over the claimed housing-delivery numbers and the cost of the necessary transport infrastructure, claiming it would take up to two years to complete the necessary work to address their concerns and consult on changes.
A letter to the council said: “We realise that the council’s preference might be to continue with the examination if at all possible and, although we will not reach a final decision on the way forward until we have had the opportunity to consider the council’s response to this letter, we are of the view that withdrawal of the Plan from examination is likely to be the most appropriate option.”
The plan, which proposes 14,000 new homes between 2011 and 2033, had been submitted for examination by the council’s previous Conservative administration in October 2018.
Political control moved to Residents for Uttlesford, which had opposed the Plan, after last year’s local elections. However, in June last year, the new administration decided to proceed with it and Stage 1 hearing examination sessions began the following month.
The document contains proposals for three garden communities: Easton Park, North Uttlesford and West of Braintree. The latter is ‘shared’ with the NECG scheme, which also incorporates plans for new communities at West Tey (24,000 homes) and East of Colchester (9,000).
The letter continued: “We cannot find the plan sound based on vague blurred annotations of broad locations, especially for something as significant as three large new communities.”
In addition, the inspectors said they “strongly believe that the garden communities will not deliver the quantum of housing in the Plan period that the council’s housing trajectory shows.
“To summarise, the scale of funding necessary and whether the garden communities could support such costs is uncertain.
“For these reasons it has not been adequately demonstrated that the garden communities proposed in the plan are financially viable and therefore developable.”
John Evans, portfolio holder for planning at Uttlesford council, responded: “We would like to thank the inspectors for the feedback.
“We are clearly disappointed with the outcome as it does not provide certainty for many Uttlesford communities.
“We will need to take time to consider the ramifications and prepare a set of actions, which will include a formal response to the inspectors.
“We will obviously consult extensively with all members to agree a way forward.”