An inspector has found the strategic plan for three garden communities in the North of Essex not sound, but stressed this was not a rejection of plans to develop three new settlements.

The North Essex Authorities Strategic (Section 1) Plan sets out the proposal for the three new communities which when combined would provide a total of 43,000 new homes. It was proposed by North Essex Garden Communities Ltd (NEGC Ltd), which is a joint venture of Essex County Council and the North Essex Authorities (NEAs) of Braintree, Colchester and Tendring.

Inspector Roger Clewes, described the plan as “innovative and ambitious” and that if it is carried out successfully it has the potential to provide housing and employment “not just in the current plan period, but well beyond it.”

However, the evidence submitted to support the garden communities policies was “lacking in a number of respects”. These include:

  • Trunk road improvements – Greater certainty required on the funding of the A120 dualling scheme, and the feasibility of realigning the A12 at Marks Tey
  • Rapid transit system – A realistic range of costs and identified funding sources is required along with discussions with potential operators

Due to shortcomings in Hyas Associates’ April 2017 viability assessment, its conclusions on the deliverability of the planned affordable housing “cannot be relied upon”. The further viability work that is required to correct those shortcomings will also need to demonstrate that 30% affordable housing can be delivered in any garden community that is proposed.

It has not been demonstrated that the garden communities proposed in the submitted plan are financially viable. Further viability assessment, taking account of all the points above, will need to be carried out on any garden community that the NEAs bring forward.

Clewes does not find any issues with the NEAs’ work on the duty to cooperate. Deciding that the proposals in the plan are “not adequately justified” and not viable, “they are therefore unsound”, he adds. He also emphasises, that this judgement does not mean that garden communities “may not have a role to play in meeting development needs in North Essex”.

05 July 2018