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Monday, 30 May 2011

Castle Point's core strategy is flawed

Click on title to see article from Evening Echo.
In a worrying development, with ramifications for Rochford, a Planning Inspector has asked Castle Point to go back to the drawing board and effectively come up with more green belt land to be released, to meet house building targets over the next 15 years. These targets were laid down by the East of England Plan, a Regional Strategy, which will be abolished by soon to be introduced legislation. Green Belt land in Daws Heath is looking particularly vulnerable. If the Council doesn't quickly come up with revised plans which are acceptable to the Planning Inspectorate it runs the risk of losing control of which sites are developed to pushy house builders, who will use their considerable financial muscle to push their projects through with legal action if necessary. Either way, it looks as though Castle Point will have to sacrifice land we all thought was protected to avoid such over development. Rochford is facing the same dilemma and the next few months will potentially see planning decisions made which will significantly alter the make up of the District forever.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

High Court ruling helps Coombes Farm ..a little

The High Court yesterday (Cala Homes vs Government) ruled that that Planning Inspectors can, on occasion, take into account that Regional Strategies will be abolished if the Localism Bill becomes law, as is expected at the end of the year - it is in its final stages of its passage through Parliament. This was the bone of contention Colonnade had with the original Coombes Farm refusal, and how they manged to eventually get the decision quashed.

Colonnade's Lawyers successfully challenged Eric Pickles' addendum to the Planning Inspector's original refusal. This was because Mr Pickles' had stated that Planning Inspectors could effectively ignore Regional Strategy legislation forthwith, due to the Government planning to abolish the same in its Localism Bill legislation. A High Court Judge originally ruled that this was illegal because legislation had to be passed to abolish Regional Strategies. However, it was later ruled that it made sense, especially when considering large development plans which may be phased over a number of years, that Planning Inspectors, when making a decision, should have an eye to any soon to be introduced legislation (in this case "The Localism Bill")

This latest clarification may also help the Council to get its Core Strategy finally approved by the Planning Inspector. A decision had been expected around now, but the Council asked for it to be delayed to take account of the High Court decision, and also to allow it to undertake some further work to demonstrate that all options had been properly considered in relation to new housing locations.

For me, this latest legal ruling doesn't bring the legal clarity I would have wished. It isn't bold or strong enough enough to end the endless legal challenges. Expect to see Colonnade try to get a second full Inquiry into Coombes Farm as their Lawyers try to find a hole in the Council documentation supporting their original refusal, as well as their ongoing challenges to national policy. Remember, Colonnade's QC, and the QC who has been in the High Court recently appearing for Cala Homes is one and the same.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Coombes Farm - why we're in this mess

Edited from an earlier post, but remains pertinent.

If Eric Pickles had not issued his letter, supporting the Planning Inspector's refusal, and directing Planning Authorities that Regional Strategies are revoked with immediate effect, and the same letter to be regarded as material weight in decisions on planning matters, we would not be in this limbo period and, most importantly, Colonnade's plans would be no longer.

That's because the Planning Inspector refused Colonnade for a number of reasons, most signifcantly due to the land being designated green belt. She made no reference to Eric Pickles' letter. That came with a supporting document, in addition to her own decision, from the Secretary of State. However, the two documents form the whole refusal, and it was enough for Colonnade's legal team to seize upon as one of the reasons for its appeal for Judicial Review, and subsequent success in getting the consent order from the High Court to quash the planning decision (refusal) of 22nd July 2010.

Moreover, the now infamous "Eric Pickles' letter" is the subject of ongoing High Court Action by Cala Homes, effectively on behalf of various national developers, including Colonnade (Peter Village QC acts for Cala, as he did for Colonnade).

If Eric had kept quiet it would probably be game over for Colonnade. We would not be here in this period of uncertainty, two years after plans were first submitted. The Planning Inspector gave sound and robust reasons for refusing Colonnade, which should withstand any Judicial Review. So much for the new Government's proposals for planning issues! It hasn't helped Coombes Farm at all. In fact, quite the opposite as it's kept Colonnade's candle flickering for a little while longer. Eric, this is not a good start. You were given poor advice and the result is an impression of incompetence and rubbish decison making.

Coombes Farm to be re-determined

Copy of email sent to Coombes Farm supporters today, click on the heading for a copy of the letter from the Secretary of State;

Dear All,

In case you haven't received directly, I attach a letter, received today, confirming the Government's intention to redetermine the Coombes Farm planning application, following the original decision being quashed last year.

Key points are;

Submissions are invited only on the points which led to the Quashing in the first place - ie not issues relating to green belt and other matters raised in the Inquiry - these should still be valid, but issues relating to this Government's intention to abolish Regional Strategies, and any other significant changes since the original Planning Appeal.

Submissions are in writing only, but there is a chance that there will be a re-run of the Planning Inquiry.

What people really want to know is, does this mean the development at Coombes Farm could take place? My view, and that of key Councillors, is that the arguments heard by the Planning Inspector have not changed, but sadly until, or if, we receive the document that confirms refusal, nothing is certain I'm afraid.

How long will it take? No definite answer on this - it could be 3 months, or longer than a year, depending on various different, but related, pieces of legislation making their way through the Courts and Parliament.

What can we do? I will respond to the letter, stating that the Planning Inspector came to the right decision, and that it is a pity that her letter was covered by a letter from the Secretary of State saying that Planning Inspectors could take into account future legislation ("The Localism Bill") The letter stated that, in determining planning applications, Councils would no longer be bound by housing targets and other matters defined in existing Regional Strategies (in Rochford's case, the East of England plan), and that a rewording of his letter is all that is required. The legal standing of this letter has been the subject of a number of High Court challenges, still ongoing. If people wish to respond as well - in a similar vein, or with their own points, it can only help - the address, etc, is on the attached letter.

Our Councillors are aware of the strength of feeling on this matter, but it would do no harm to raise any concerns you have with them directly.



Saturday, 14 May 2011

Local Elections May 2011

The turnout for this year's local elections was disappointingly poor. In my central Rochford ward just 34% of people could be bothered to vote. What surprised me most was this percentage was barely higher than Milton Ward in central Southend, where I lived for a while previously and, by comparison to Rochford, a far more diverse and less cohesive community. I just didn't expect Rochford to be as disenfranchised as one of the poorest parts of Southend. What sits behind this level of dispondency? Is it that, with the exception of a couple of Independents, Conservative dominate the Council, and there is a belief that one vote will not make any difference and, anyway, the Conservatives do a reasonable job in running the Council. If it ain't broke..etc. I tried to keep an open mind towards the elections, and read all the campaigning literature that came through the door. It would have been nice to meet some of the candidates as well, though none called. What struck me is that some of the proposals put forward would cost a gigantic sum of money that we know isn't available to spend. It was difficult therefore to take some of the Candidates' wish lists seriously. For example, one Candidate mentioned the building of a bypass to take the pressure of Ashingdon Road. Yes, we know the roads in the district are congested for many hours each day, but realistically we know that it's a bonus if the potholes are repaired. I don't personally believe we are likely to see any significant road schemes in the District for many years, and I'm not sure that they would even be desirable (Southend bypass?) However, just because there is a lack of cash, I strongly believe that should not be an excuse for making improvements in the area where possible. I believe there are a number of opportunities, some outlined in this Blog already, which could improve Residents' lives which would cost the Council very little. Realistic, imaginative, and attractive proposals are the way to get people on board in my view, and ensure the District moves forward from 1965.