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Friday, 12 August 2011

Rochford forced to build more houses more quickly?

The Government Inspector's refusal this week to the Council's request to suspend its core strategy until December places Rochford under greater pressure to agree more house building schemes.

When the Coalition Government announced its Localism Bill, it gave Councils the opportunity to review the annual housing targets foisted upon them by central Government. Rochford reduced its annual requirement from 250 units to 190 (though the total numbers remained the same as the annual build was spread over a longer period). Unfortunately for Rochford, and other Councils, various legal actions have found that it was illegal to change annual house building targets until the Localism Bill becomes fully effective. Coupled with the Coalitions's desire to free up the planning process, and for the country to "plan for growth" it is looking increasingly likely that Rochford will be under pressure to build more, not less.

Rochford's core strategy, its development plan for the district, which includes its housing commitments, has been significantly delayed due to the change of Government and advice from central Government which was successfully challenged in the High Court (above). It decided recently to suspend the Core Strategy until December when, it believed, it could take advantage of new legislation (the Localism Bill) which would free it from centrally imposed targets. The Government Inspector, overseeing the progess of the Core Strategy has, however, declined the Council's request to delay and she has given it two choices, either to withdraw its Strategy altogether or to continue but make a firm and early commitment to address the housing shortfall. In effect, if choosing the latter path, the Council may feel it has a "get out of jail card" because it can get its Core Strategy in place with the lower annual housing numbers. They will then look to the Localism Bill to enable them, in the early review required by the Inspector, to try to avoid making any changes to its plans. However, the same Bill, whilst apparently giving Council more freedom, will also give Developers more ammunition to challenge Councils if planning schemes are refused under the planning for growth clauses.

The Council will meet on 31st August to discuss their preferred route forward.

It looks as though Rochford's green belt will be under continuing and increasing threat with the Coalition, surely not what the Electorate thought when casting their vote. The Coalition promised, in their campaigning literature, to return decison making to local Councils as they were in the best position to know what the local area wanted. The reality is looking to be something quite different.

UPDATE 23rd August 2011
Council Officers have recommended that Rochford Council reverts to an earlier version of the core strategy, and submits this for Government approval. Whilst this will force the Government to build more houses more quickly - 250 pa instead of the 190 pa proposed in the later version - the rationale is that the Council will have more control over new housing sites. By having a development plan in place, sanctioned by Government, Developers will have less likelihood of succeeding in legal challenges to build on non preferred sites (eg Coombes Farm). Click on the title to see the Officers' Proposals for debate at a full Council meeting on 31st August.

UPDATE 1st September 2011
Majority vote to revert to earlier version of core strategy.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Stambridge Mill planning application goes in



After much speculation, a formal planning application to redevelop Stambridge Mill has finally been submitted to the Council. In what is a significant scale down of original plans, the intention is to build 45 houses plus a total of 51 flats across four blocks up to three storey in height. Originally, there was talk of approx 250 units at this site, so the reduction to a total of 96 marks a sharp reduction in numbers. This is probably due to the economic climate, although some will question whether this leaves open the option for further development in the future.

This has been a challenging project for Inner London Group, the owner, which has seen a number of architectural revisions aside from the number of units proposed. Not only will it involve the bulldozing of most of the existing Mill structures (though parts will be retained), the scheme also requires a significant investment in the flood defences on this river front site, as well as associated landscaping works, including the bridle path, bridge, communal spaces and the river frontage itself.

ILG will be focused on making a return on their 4 year old investment. They acquired the 4.1 acre site in 2007, paying £1.8million to previous owners, Associated British Food (Allied Mills).

The Council originally wanted to retain the site for industrial/employment use, but changed planning permission approx two years ago to allow the possibility of residential development.

The reduction in units, if this is the total planned, will offer some relief to nearby residents, though there will be objections due to the increased pressure it will place on the local road network and utilities.

There is no news yet whether ILG will hold a community event to display their plans, but the Council are broadly in support of the scheme, not least because it saves the tax payer the expense of urgent remedial work of the ageing flood defences.

This Blog will be following this project as it progresses.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Rose Garden Restaurant - Fine Dining comes to Rochford


Sumptuous food, fine wine, super surroundings - not normally a description you would instantly associate with Rochford's dining options. But for those of us who feel that our area has been left off the food map, a new arrival may just be the emphatic answer to our prayers. Although The Rose Garden, located above "The Miley" in Union Lane (click on title of post for link to website) is not strictly a new restuarant, rather it has relocated from Hockley after protracted planning battles. Still Hockley's loss is our gain. I'm told that it wasn't unusual to have to book 3 months' ahead at times to secure a table and after visiting last night, I can see why.
The menu (accessible from their website) provides a choice of European dishes, including Vegetarian. We opted for Beef Wellington and Monkfish. Quite simply, it was one of the best meals we have enjoyed in Rochford, and sadly left us too sated to enjoy the famous dessert menu.
Sunday lunches are also likely to prove successful, along with a monthly "Curry" night.
Whilst located above a popular local Bar, you could easily imagine you were somewhere else with the modern dining furniture and white painted brick walls, and soft relaxing music playing in the background.
This is going to be a very popular Restaurant, and we'll defnitely be returning shortly.