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Friday, 30 March 2012

Latest Coombes Farm plans unanimously rejected

At the Development Committee last night, Cogent/Colonnades's latest attempt to develop land at Coombes Farm was unanimously rejected by Councillors. This is not the end of the matter, as Cogent is behind the legal challenge to the Council's core strategy which will be heard at a High Court hearing at the end of May. Interestingly, the Council was asked (by Cogent's legal team) to defer any decision of the planning application in view of the pending legal hearing. The Council refused to oblige.

No one knows how the High Court hearing will go but new policy guidance issued this week by the Government, the National Planning Policy Framework, appears to support the Council's position. Local Authorities should have a Development Plan in place (Rochford has) and new development should be both sustainable and environmentally sensitive. Situated under the flight path (which is likely to change in the near future, to the detriment of any new development at Coombes) and adjacent to the ever expanding Purdeys Industrial estate surely does not meet that criteria. This is before you even consider the traffic and green belt impacts.

So, good news for the protection of Coombes Farm but with an eye to the next stage of the legal proceedings...

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Rochford's Green Belt remains under threat

Tucked away in the meetings and agendas schedule for Rochford Council is the unexcitingly titled "Local Development Framework Sub-Committee". The meeting will take place on Wednesday, 21st March 2012 at 7.30pm at The Civic Suite in Hockley Road, Rayleigh. The public are welcome to attend but, given the lack of publicity, I doubt many will.

The meeting is to discuss options for an early review of the core strategy - the development plan for the local area for the next 15 years. The same core strategy that was signed off by a Government Inspector in December 2011 and which should have protected the Council against rogue housing development schemes. It was supposed to give control to local planning officials regarding where housing will be located (including the highly controversial Hall Road 600 house "scheme").

However, what many people probably didn't realise, due to the delay in getting the core strategy finalised (due largely to Government bungling) it was already out of date by the time it was signed off. Accordingly, the Council has had to commit to an early review of its development plan to ensure it is still relevant and can, amongst other things, meet housing targets for the next 15 years.

One of the options on the table is to effectively start again with the core strategy. This would mean that areas that people thought would be protected against development would, again, have uncertainty as a new 4 year process reviewed everything that had previously been reviewed over the past 4 years! Even one of the least worst options include exploring whether areas already identified, eg Hall Road, could take more housing than already agreed. It's almost a case of death is no option, just a question of what form it will take.

The Council has been forced into a corner by a number of opponents. The Government in its dictate to force Councils to build more housing (so much for the pre-election promise to allow "Localism" to allow Councils more control over what happens on their doorstep) but also by housing developers who are sulking because their particular plan to destroy green belt has been refused. Here I am particularly referring to Cogent and its ongoing attempts to concrete over Coombes Farm. This includes their legal challenge to parts of the core strategy at a High Court hearing on the 31st May and 1st June in Cardiff.

I suspect, therefore, that the meeting on 21st March, whilst required as part of the sign off the core strategy last December, is also being quickly convened with a mind to matters due to take place in Wales.

This looks likely to run for some time yet. Lawyers, Solicitors, and Policymakers, and maybe house builders will all benefit. And we will all ultimately pay for their services, one way or another.