Essex Local Plan Watch - Autumn 2020
Emerging local plans are now at an advanced stage across the majority of Essex, with a few notable exceptions. However, many of the draft plans are being examined against the requirements of the 2012 NPPF and will require early review to address the current standard housing need methodology, or its replacement if confirmed by the Government. This will provide widespread opportunity across the county. The proposed changes to the Government’s standard methodology would increase development requirements across the majority of Essex, with particularly significant increases in Chelmsford, Maldon, Colchester and Uttlesford, as shown on our annotated map.
- Uttlesford – a policy vacuum opens. Uttlesford is without an up-to-date Local Plan following withdrawal of its draft replacement Plan from examination in the Spring. The Council is now starting the Plan preparation process again, but in the meantime it will need to approve a substantial amount of development on unallocated sites to address its 5-year housing land supply deficit – or face the prospect of planning by appeal.
- The North Essex Authorities’ Part 1 Plan moves forward, but two Garden Communities are deleted. Braintree, Colchester and Tendring have followed the Inspector’s recommendation to remove two of the three Garden Communities proposed by their joint Part 1 Plan. Completion of the Part 1 Local Plan process will finally enable examination of their respective Part 2 Plans, which will allocate the majority of sites in each district, to commence.
- South Essex Plan is progressing…slowly. In 2018 the South Essex Authorities forecast adoption of a new joint strategic plan by 2020, but the first round of consultation is still yet to take place. The Authorities have indicated that they intend to consult on an Issues Paper in early 2021.
The examination of Basildon Council’s emerging replacement Local Plan has been suspended for some time whilst the Council considers the implications of a Direction issued by Defra regarding the need to improve air quality on the A127. The Council estimates that hearings will resume in early 2021 once evidence gathering has been completed. Its likely to be 2022 before the Plan is adopted, if it can be found sound.
Brentwood Borough Council submitted its Local Plan for Examination in February. In June the Inspectors raised a series of initial questions seeking clarity on the Council’s approach to matters including legal compliance, Green Belt review, the strategic site allocation at Dunton Hills Garden Village and housing need and supply, which the Council responded to through several topic papers in July and August. A timetable for examination hearings is awaited.
Following threats of intervention from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) due to lack of progress, Castle Point consulted on a revised Regulation 19 Local Plan at the beginning of this year. The Council is due to submit the Plan for examination imminently.
Chelmsford City Council adopted a new Local Plan for the period up to 2036 on 27 May 2020.
The Plan proposes growth in various locations across the City Council’s area, with the largest scale of focused on North-East Chelmsford. Its delivery will be supported by a £218 million grant from the Government's Housing Infrastructure Fund towards the construction of Chelmsford North East Bypass and Beaulieu Train Station. This looks set to provide sufficient funding to deliver the city's long awaited second station in the mid-2020s, together with the remaining stages of the missing road link between the A12 at Boreham, the A131 at Great Leighs and the A120 further north.
Following the close of the examination hearing sessions in June 2019, the Inspector wrote to the Council to request Main Modifications to the emerging Local Plan. An outstanding objection from Natural England relating to mitigation for impacts on air quality levels upon the Epping Forest Special Area of Conservation has held up the expeditious completion of this process. The Council has been engaging with Natural England and published an update in April 2020 confirming that it intends to consult on Main Modifications from October 2020.
Harlow’s emerging replacement Local Plan is at an advanced stage. It has now passed through the majority of the EiP process and is likely to be adopted once examination participants have been given the opportunity to comment on newly published household projections which suggest housing need may be lower than anticipated. The Council has confirmed its view that the new projections do not represent a meaningful change and that is wishes to proceed towards adoption.
A new Local Plan for Maldon was approved in July 2017. There are no immediate Plans to review it, but if the Government’s proposed changes to the standard housing need methodology are confirmed a review will be required to address dramatically higher housing targets
North Essex Authorities (Braintree, Colchester and Tendring)
The Inspector appointed to examine the soundness of the draft ‘Part 1’ Local Plan for Braintree, Colchester and Tendring confirmed in May that two major Garden Communities would need to be deleted from the Plan in order to make it sound, due to concerns over their deliverability. The Garden Communities to be removed are West of Braintree and Colchester/Braintree Borders. A third, Tendring/Colchester Borders, was found sound.
The Councils have confirmed that they wish to proceed with the Plan and have formally requested Main Modifications from the Inspector. These will include the removal of the two Garden Communities and other consequential amendments. Due to the amount of time that has elapsed since the submission of the Plan and uncertainties around the housing target that will apply in Braintree (see below), it remains to be seen whether the Inspector will require alternative sites to be allocated to compensate for their loss.
Before the detail of the Main Modifications is confirmed and a consultation on them is held, the Inspector is seeking views (until 12 October) on the implications of newly published 2018-based household projections which suggest that housing need may be significantly lower in Braintree than previously anticipated.
None of the North Essex Authorities can currently demonstrate a five-year land supply but their situations may be improved when the Part 1 Local Plan is adopted, because its housing target will be lower than currently applies via the standard method.
Southend and Rochford
Southend-on-Sea and Rochford Councils are currently considering the merits of different collaborative approaches between the two authorities. Both authorities have already consulted on ‘Issues and Options’ and are moving towards the preparation of ‘Preferred Option’ drafts. Whether individual plans or a joint approach is taken, further consultation is expected in 2021.
Work is underway on preparation of a new Joint Strategic Plan for South Essex, called the “South Essex Plan”. The plan covers the administrative areas of Basildon, Brentwood, Castle Point, Rochford, Southend-on-Sea and Thurrock Councils. Draft documents are being prepared with the first stage consultation expected in Q1 2021. Submission to the Secretary of State is currently expected in Q1 2022 but could be subject to delay.
The South Essex Plan will distribute housing across South Essex via a new spatial strategy and guide more focused Local Plans to be prepared by the individual authorities. The emerging Local Plans currently at an advanced stage are likely to require early review.
A Statement of Common Ground prepared in 2018 identified five ‘Strategic Areas of Opportunity’ which may be a focus for growth through the Joint Strategic Plan and subsequent Local Plan updates. These are:
- The Thames Estuary
- London Southend Airport and the surrounding area
- The A127 corridor
- Crossrail, the A12 and A129
- The Lower Thames Crossing, Thurrock Thameside and the A13 Corridor.
Although much of South Essex is designated as Green Belt, now is a good time to be promoting development opportunities in this location.
Thurrock Council is taking forward a new Local Plan which is expected to release a significant amount of Green Belt land. Issues and Options consultation closed in March 2019 and a draft (Regulation 18) Local Plan is due to be published for consultation in the next few months, although it has been subject to delays already so there is some uncertainty in this respect.
The Issues and Options consultation sought views on a range of spatial growth options in Thurrock, but the preferred option has not yet been formally established.
Following the withdrawal of the emerging Local Plan in the Spring, Uttlesford District Council is implementing a fresh approach to the new Plan’s process and governance arrangements. A draft Local Development Scheme was presented to the Local Plan Leadership Group in August which identified an intention to consult on Issues and Options in Autumn/Winter 2020, with adoption forecast in mid-2024.