Basildon decision comes after similar moves by other home counties authorities in wake of government’s planning retreat
A Conservative-run Essex council has become the latest home counties authority to vote to withdraw its local plan in the wake of the government’s change of heart on planning reform.
Basildon councillors voted last night to withdraw its 17,791-home plan, which has been eight years in the making, and was submitted for examination nearly three years ago.
The decision follows a change of leadership at the council last May and controversy over the housing numbers, with the plan inspector having asked the council to consult on a new estimate for the number of homes needed in the borough.
Committee papers released prior to the full council meeting last night said the motion to withdraw the plan was “based upon, in part, to the current Conservative Administration views and beliefs in placing a greater emphasis on protecting the Greenbelt for current and future generations than the previous administration.”
The draft plan proposed building 17,791 homes between 2014 and 2034, which was already around 2,000 lower than the assessed housing need produced for the borough by the government’s standard method.
The local authority did not respond to requests to confirm the vote had gone through last night, however, several local campaigns group tweeted that the council had indeed voted to withdraw its plan.
Until last May the council had been led by a Labour minority administration, which had promoted the local plan alongside a controversial high-density redevelopment of the centre of the town.
However, the Conservative Group took majority control of the borough on a pledge to scrap the proposed town centre redevelopment and with a history of opposing housing development. The committee papers released prior to last night’s full council said the withdrawal of the plan will in give the council the “opportunity to make a new plan”, which addresses “the town centre regeneration and the high-rise developments.”
Basildon’s decision to withdraw its own plan comes after two Conservative-led home counties authorities last week voted to reject their own plans in the wake of the government’s apparent backtracking on planning reform.
The decisions follow housing secretary Michael Gove’s decision to review the pro-development planning reform process inherited from his predecessor Robert Jenrick, and prime minister Boris Johnson’s party conference pledge that new homes should not be built on “green fields”.
Basildon’s decision comes despite the fact the council is being sanctioned under the government’s Housing Delivery Test after having produced just 41% of the assessed need for homes in the area in the last three years.
Last summer the leader of the council, Andrew Baggott, wrote to then housing secretary Robert Jenrick to urge him to allow the green belt authority to deliver less housing than the assessed need suggested. He said: “It is clear to us that successive government have been fixated with meeting housing numbers, with little regard to what is happening in our communities or the implication of these inflated numbers on our Green Belt and Town Centres.”
Prior to yesterday’s decision Basildon was being put under pressure by the plan inspector, Paul Griffiths, to undertake the further work necessary to update the housing need assessment in the plan, which he requested in March last year. Earlier this month Griffiths wrote to Basildon urging it to undertake the consultation immediately, or withdraw the plan, saying “the Council should now reach a conclusion on this matter one way or the other, in order to end the uncertainty”.
Planning consultant Tim Burden, a director at Turley who observed the council meeting, described it on Twitter as “shambolic”, with several adjournments before the matter could be debated. He tweeted: “Everything that’s wrong with the local plan system in one meeting!”
Gren belt campaign group the Billericay Action Group tweeted its “sincerest thanks” to councillors that voted to withdraw the “awful plan”. Another campaign group, Save the Middlewick Ranges, said “Basildon Council votes to do the right thing in a climate emergency” on Twitter.
Basildon Council has been contacted for comment.