Basildon Council pulls 20,000-home local plan

Basildon Council has pulled its blueprint for more than 20,000 new homes in an attempt to protect the borough’s countryside and stop high-rise flats in the town centre.

The administration agreed to withdraw its local plan last night (February 10) after a planner inspector ruled thousands more homes needed to be built than initially proposed.

Scores of people attended the crunch meeting where councillors argued the current plan, which had been inherited from previous administrations, would overdevelop the countryside, with 9,000 homes planned for rural areas like Wickford and Billericay.

But critics warned beginning a new local plan process will leave the borough vulnerable to speculative developments.

The council will now make a new plan which would also aim to stop high rise developments being built in the town centre.

Several high rise developments have already gone to appeal, with one having now been given permission, which is why the council wants a new plan with more legal weight.

This comes after post-submission modifications had increased the total number of houses in the council’s emerging local plan from 17,791 to 20,190, according to a council report.

In addition to 10,927 houses in the main urban area, which includes Basildon, Laindon, Pitsea and Noak Bridge,  3,283 were proposed for Billericay,  3,738 for Wickford, 70 for Crays Hill, 44 for Ramsden Bellhouse, 1,353 for Bowers Gifford, 135 for small-scale green belt infill developments and 640 for windfall sites.

The now-withdrawn document set out the council’s plans for its housing and infrastructure needs until 2034.

Moving to withdraw the plan completely, council leader Andrew Baggott (Con, Burstead) said the administration intended to produce a better local plan which protects the green belt.

He said: “We have consistently sent a message to the public saying that we would do everything in our power to defend the green belt.”

Responding to claims pulling the plan would leave areas of the borough without necessary infrastructure, he later said: “Having a local plan is the one thing that guarantees local authorities can have control over the infrastructure and I would emphasise that we’re not saying there should be no plan, we’re just withdrawing the plan to produce a better plan.”

Opposition members from the Labour and Independent groups claimed the motion to withdraw the plan could be unlawful, and that Mayor David Dadds (Con, Billericay East) had received legal advice from the monitoring officer which he was refusing to share.

Cllr Dadds disputed these claims, ruling the motion lawful and saying advice had been shared with group leaders.

Cllr Kerry Smith (Ind, Nethermayne) said at the meeting: “It is bad enough when you’re playing fast and loose with planning law, but when this council steps into unlawful territory, developers will only think it is Christmas.”

Leader of the opposition Cllr Jack Ferguson (Labour, Pitsea North West) said: “There have been very few decisions that I’ve lost more sleep over than this.”

Cllr Ferguson continued to say committees would not be able to meet to scrutinise the council’s upcoming budget, which will be affected by withdrawing the plan, before it is voted on in two weeks time.

Cllr Stuart Sullivan (Con, Billericay East) told the meeting the council’s finances would be amended ahead of the vote.

He said: “If members are minded to vote to withdraw the local plan tonight, there will no doubt be budgetary implications regarding extra costs incurred, as a result of then having to go through an additional local plan setting process.”

He later said: “Nevertheless, we will work with officers to ensure that any budgetary impacts will be addressed accordingly.”

The local plan was submitted to the planning inspectorate in 2019, and was unadopted, according to the report.

It was for a period between 2014-2034.

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Charlie Ridler

Local Democracy Reporter