Basildon Council loses fight against town centre tower blocks

Basildon Council has lost its fight against hundreds of new homes being built in Basildon town centre after an inspector overturned their refusal.

Planning permission has now been granted for 429 new homes across three blocks up to 17-storeys in the town centre, according to a decision published on December 17.

Orwell Real Estate went to appeal against Basildon Borough Council over stalled plans to demolish the existing buildings at Market Square to build the mixed-use development earlier this year.

Twice approved under the previous Labour-Independent administration, the current Conservative council felt the development would be “harmful to the health and well-being of the resident”, and its height and massing would negatively impact the character of the town and nearby landmark Brooke House, according to the decision.

But the Planning Inspector said the council’s claim of harm was a “misplaced overstatement” and that the proposals would offer good quality living conditions for future residents in a suitable, brownfield location.

Additionally, the inspector said Brooke House, which is 14 storeys tall, would remain distinct and legible in the town centre, although the scheme would erode it as a singular landmark.

In a statement, council leader Andrew Baggott said the decision would not prevent the council from fighting other town centre developments and that it remains committed to preventing “skyscraper style monstrosities”.

He said: “Throughout this process we have been committed to honouring the views of our local communities. We would like to thank the Planning Inspector for taking the time to hear the appeal, consider all aspects of the situation and come to a decision.

“While obviously disappointed, we will be reflecting on the Inspectors decision over the coming days as we continue to work towards the best possible outcome for the people of Basildon.

“This particular planning process began over a year ago and the scheme had already been partly through the planning process before the change in administration. If we had been in administration then this development would not have met our vision for the town centre, which was very different.”

When the appeal was announced in August this year, Cllr Baggott addressed residents via a video on his Facebook page.

He said: “We are very much aware with that appeal we will have to fight it and we may win and we may lose.

“The cost of it though we reckon is going to be in the region of £2m and that is the cost of listening to residents and actually following through on what residents want to do.

“Am I happy about the fact that it’s likely to cost the public purse that amount of money? No of course not, but what I am resolute on is the fact that if the public wants us to fight their corner that’s what we will do.”

Basildon is required to build a minimum of 6,048 homes between 2021- 2026, it continues.

Orwell went to appeal on the grounds of non-determination in August 2021 and the planning committee confirmed later that month it would not have granted permission for the scheme.

The council is also fighting two other appeals by developers over non-determination, for proposals for Town Square and at Eastgate Shopping Centre.

In addition to one and two bedroom build-to-rent flats, the scheme will also consist of commercial floorspace, parking and amenity assets, including two podium gardens and three smaller rooftop terraces.

Charlie Ridler

Local Democracy Reporter