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Sunday, 30 January 2011

Rochford's battle to get its core strategy approved

Our Council's efforts to get their core strategy finalised and signed off by the Government continue this week. The core strategy, which is essentially a local development framework for the next 15 years, has faced stiff opposition in previous hearings and it's almost become something of a David and Goliath battle, with Rochford taking the role of the little man. Whilst the Council's plans are wide ranging, the issue which is causing the greatest controversy is housing, and accompanying this, the need to give up green belt as there are insufficient brownfield sites in the area. Some of the loudest noises in opposition are land owners who would lose out if the Council succeeds, but also residents groups who would be affected by new development on previously farmed land. Most affected would be those living along Hall Rd (as some development to the West of the town centre is supported). Bellway Homes has plans for 600 homes on currently farmed land between Hall Road and Ironwell Lane. Yet, whilst the core strategy rules out significant development to the East (with the notable exception of Stambridge Mill, where redevelopment is being delayed apparently due to issues relating to flood prevention) Colonnade have been a strong presence at the core strategy hearings in relation to the Coombes Farm development. They naturally want to see the Council fail as it will reopen their chances of securing planning consent, when the planning application is finally redetermined.

To add to the mix, Basildon District Council also opposes Rochford's plans. That's because Basildon believes the onus has been placed on them to take a major share of the new housing requirement in the East of England area plans.

Winers and losers...

I believe the single factor which will determine whether or not the Council succeeds will be whether the Government Inspector agrees that their evidence base, to support their conclusions on housing numbers, stands up under scutiny.

When the new Government took office and announced that they intended to abolish Labour's Regional Strategies legislation, which included building a certain number of new homes within a certain period of time, Rochford took the opportunity to revise downwards the number of new homes they proposed to build annually, although the actual total would be unchanged. (They just would take a few more years to get there).

Because the new Government has been taken to the High Court (by Cala Homes) and been found to be acting illegally in abolish Regional Strategies without an Act of Parliament, the current status is that the previous Governments legislation remains in place. The Coalition's Localism Bill will eventually revoke existing legislation, and recently received its second reading. However, Rochford will have to show its new housing numbers remain compliant with the existing East of England plan (the Regional Strategy for our area) but it gets more complicated yet...

The High Court heard yet further hearings regarding the Coalition's proposed abolishment of Regional Strategies on the 17th January, and a Judgment is expected imminently on whether Councils can legally take into account that proposed legislation, currently passing through the House of Commons, will annnul the existing housing numbers regime.

Accordingly, the Planning Inspector at the core strategy hearings will also have an eye to the High Court when considering her conclusions.

Most expect this all to drag on for several more months.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Local Heritage Assets in Rochford and Executive Decision Making

The Council assesses buildings in the District for their architectural merit, affording them the title "Local Heritage Asset" where appropriate. In a sense it's a localised version of the National Listed Building status system, although the protection provided is not so strong.

The categorizations are recorded in the "Local List Supplementary Planning Document", you can access it by clicking on the title of this post, but be warned it's 13Mb in size. If you have any problems, you can also follow this link to the Council's website - you need to select the document attaching to the 17th January meeting I found it very interesting. Basically, a traffic light system has been used - green for LHA (Local Heritage Asset) recommendation, or red, if not. There will always be some anomalies, for example the Shepherd & Dog (Ballards Gore), Victory Inn (Ashingdon), and Castle Pub (Little Wakering) have a similar architectural design, all were early twentieth century built road house type public houses, the first to cater for motorists by providing dedicated car parking. Yet some are given protection and others (The Castle) are not. Similarly, some of the buildings in Rochford's Market Square are given the green light, while others, of a similar age, are not.

It's very arbitrary, but when you consider the decision on "red" or "green" appears to be down to just two people, you can understand why.

It also appears to have been compiled in a bit of a rush, as it's a document that's required for the resumed core strategy hearings at the start of February.

Have a look at the document and see if you agree with the findings. If you do not, however, it's tough luck as it doesn't appear to have been widely publicised and there were only a few days to appeal from the date of publication, 19th January!

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Rochford flooding January 18th 2011

Not the worst that Rochford's seen, though the Roach breached its banks at several points over the past couple of days, the A127 was partially closed and Watery Lane completely so for a period. With drier conditions now set in, the waters will have peaked for now. These photos are from across Rochford, the car park at the Horse and Groom, Rochford Reservoir, Coombes Farm, and Cherry Orchard Park.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Roach Valley (no) Way

Taken near Watts Lane - no one's going to be using this path for a while.

Rochford Reservoir flooding

Cherry Orchard - more rain soaked pictures

Close to flooding at Cherry Orchard Park

As these photos evidence, the recent downpours are beginning to take their toll. These photos were taken today at the footbridge at the bottom of the footpath which leads to Gusted Hall lane, and mark an amazing upsurge from yesterday afternoon, when we were both taking a fighting-against-the-elements afternoon stroll. Fortunately, the forecast suggests we're heading for a drier interlude. The "man made" lake has temporarily enlarged and extended, almost to the point where the excess water is draining into the adjacent river. However, there's always a winner, and the birdlife are taking full advantage of their expanding habitat.

6 miles across Cherry Orchard Park

I'm a reasonably keen walker and jogger, and Rochford offers excellent opportunities for both, although lack of day light and damp, water logged ground offer a challenge at this time of the year. I thought it could be worthwhile documenting some of the runs and walks, starting with this 6 mile run. It starts in the Market square in central Rochford, and finishes at Ironwell Lane, junction with Ashingdon Road.

Wherever possible, I try to avoid heavy traffic, it just makes running more of a grind. This run involves some soft ground, the route passes through woods at Gusted Hall, and along Ironwell Lane - both unmade. Despite the heavy rains, I managed to avoid a bootfall when I ran the route at the weekend, though caution is required.

The route is easy to follow. When heading South along Hall Rd, you need to take the underpass into Cherry Orchard Park at the first roundabout. Stay on the path which follows the edge of Jubilee Park until the very end, when it exits onto Green Lane. Turn right onto Green Lane, and follow until you reach Fleming Farm Rd (you can zoom into the map to obtain greater detail). Follow Fleming Farm Rd, a single tracked tarmaced road, past open fields and farm buildings until the very end, and turn right, when the road becomes a byway. You will reach a footbridge across a stream, and follow straight ahead, and up, through Gusted Hall woods. After approx 400 yards, you will exit the woods and pick up the route at Gusted Hall Lane. The remainder of the route should be able to be followed from the map.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Council Democracy - Use it or lose it

What have Australia, Argentina and the Democratic Republic of Congo got in common and why am I using these countries as a theme for this post? All three countries, and there are others, employ a system of compulsory voting, where every adult has to vote and are fined if they do not do so. In an ideal world, you would think that having the democratic right to choose who best represents your views in Government would be cherished. Most people have heard of Emily Pankhurst's suffragette movement to secure equal rights for women. In the UK, perhaps in search of this ideal world, it remains up to the individual whether or not he can be bothered to turn up at the ballot box. But sometimes I wonder if we wouldn't be a better, more cohesive, society, if people were made to care a little more. Perhaps a system of compulsory voting would force people to take an interest in what is happening around them, and then maybe it's why Governments have shied away from putting compulsory voting on the political agenda. With 100% of the eligible electorate voting, it really would put Politicans under the spotlight and encourage greater accountability. As it stands, however, the recent by election in Oldham suggests that people remain as sceptical as ever towards politics and politicians, with a turn out of just 48%, down from 61% in May's general election.

In Rochford, our Councillors go to some lengths to ensure accountability and accessibility. Apart from speaking to your Councillor directly, regular public meetings are held throughout the Rochford District where the public can attend and ask questions about almost any subject of concern to them. These are known as Area Committees and are presently split geographically, East (Rochford and surrounds), Central (Hawkwell) and West (Rayleigh) and are held in Libraries, Public Halls and Churches on a 2 to 3 month frequency. Hypocritically, I've only attended a couple in recent months, and have raised issues concerning Coombes Farm, rubbish on paths along the Roach Valley and at Rochford station. Others have raised subjects including crime and planning issues. Representatives from the Police, Health Service, and Essex County Council often also attend to provide an update of their services, and answer residents' questions.

It is a great facility available to the community, yet the attendance figures suggest few people are aware that they take place or, if they are, uninterested in showing up. The Council, aware of this, and looking to make savings where they can, have undertaken a review of Area Committeee and the Council's Executive will decide next week, whether to act on the recommendation to change the shape and form of these forums altogether. Whilst the meetings will not be as accessible as previously, the proposal appears to focus on just Rayleigh and Rochford as future venues, the aim is to make them more user friendly in format. The name will change to Community Forum, and the intention is to make them less formal, yet still provide residents with a face to face opportunity to get a direct answer to their parking frustration, or youth nuisance issue, or whatever.

I hope this new format is supported by us residents, and indeed I hope the Council promote it widely. An announcement on the Rochford District Council website is not sufficient. I know, from my own experiences with the Coombes Farm campaign, that you need to go door to door when you want to get the message across. Another factor, is that the Council are under no legal obligation to hold these forums, and many other Districts do not provide such a facility. So, if the Council do their bit, and the invitations are extended, I hope that we will accept. Otherwise, within a very short space of time, they may cease altogether, and it really will only be us to blame for the loss of a valuable local democratic resource.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

New Ship flats - beware the precedents UPDATED 21st Jan 2011

A scheme that had previously been rejected by Rochford District Council's planning committee returns in a slightly revised format, and this time is being recommended for approval. The new owners of the New Ship Inn, which is undergoing a lengthy refurbishment, have applied for permission to demolish a dilapidated garage building on the site and construct a two storey structure in its place to provide five one bedroomed flats. It appears the existing car park will be used as part of the development. Council Officers believe the new scheme will blend in with the existing street scene, and cite more modern developments in East Street - Saxon Place and Glenmore House, as precedents for existing flatted developments, one of their main reasons for recommending approval. If anyone feels strongly about these proposals, you can attend the Development Control meeting on 20th January at the Council's Civic Suite in Rayleigh.

UPDATE: Councillors have voted against the Planning Officers' recommendation and refused the application. No doubt this will now go to appeal.