Basildon Council votes again to pull local plan despite government warning

Basildon Council has voted to pull a major blueprint for tens of thousands of houses for the second time, despite a warning from the Government that it could intervene.

The council voted to withdraw its local plan last month, but had to hold a second vote on Thursday March 3 after an intervention from officers, who warned it hadn’t fully considered the implications of doing so.

The authority’s local plan allocated more than 20,000 homes to be built across Basildon, Wickford and Billericay.

Stuart Andrew MP, the Minister of State for Housing, also wrote to council leader Andrew Baggott (Con, Burstead) this week saying the government is prepared to intervene if the council does not make enough progress in making a new plan.

The letter can be read in its entirety below.

Councillor Richard Moore (Con, Burstead) said last night the council’s monitoring officer raised concerns the council had made its decision without “without having given due consideration to all relevant factors”.

But Cllr Moore continued to say councillors now had been made aware of all the implications of pulling the plan, so could now confirm its previous decision.

According to the report, these include wasting resources which have already been spent preparing the plan and spending time creating a new plan which would still be reliant on the green belt and the town centre, during which the borough would be vulnerable to speculative developments.

At the meeting, Cllr Baggott said the council was committed to producing a new local plan which met the government’s housing targets, but called on the government for a review of the number of houses needed.

He said: “The decision we’re facing today, to withdraw the local plan, is fundamentally and absolutely the right decision.

“It’s the right decision for the council, it’s the right decision for residents.”

Cllr Baggott also said he thought the level of engagement with the public needed to be better.

Labour’s Alex Harrison (Lee Chapel North) said a new plan would still need to allocate housing both in the green belt and in the town centre, and if the government did take over then the council would lose its say over where the houses would go.

He said: “All members have seen the damning letter sent to the leader of the council by the Minister of State this week. This administration has been put on notice.

“We can get the local plan through, or we can risk the government building whatever and wherever they like in our borough.”

The planning inspectorate had increased the required number of houses in the borough from 17,791 to 20,160, according to an earlier council report.

9,130 houses were allocated in rural areas in Basildon, Billericay and Wickford, as well as 4,738 in the town centre, 11,060 in brownfield land, and a major link road in west and south Billericay.

Several high rise developments in the town centre have already gone to appeal, with 429 apartments across three blocks up to 17-storeys in Market Square having been given permission by the planning inspectorate in December.

The letter in full:

Dear Cllr Baggott,

I thought I would take this opportunity to write to you given my recent appointment as Minister of State for Housing, as I have been following the recent developments with the Basildon Local Plan.

Due to the Secretary of State’s quasi-judicial functions in the planning system I am unable to comment on the details of a specific local plan, however, I would like to take the opportunity to make the following general comments ahead of your Extraordinary Full Council meeting on 3 March.

Having an effective, up to date plan in place is essential to planning for and meeting housing requirements; in ways that make good use of land and result in well-designed and attractive places to live.

The Government’s priority for getting up-to-date plans in place by the end of 2023 has not changed.

The Basildon Local Plan was adopted in 1998, with subsequent alterations in 1999 and accordingly Basildon have not had a plan under the 2004 Planning Act. The then Secretary of State wrote to the council in 2017 regarding potential local plan intervention based on the intervention priorities set out in the 2017 Housing White Paper. F

Following the Secretary of State’s letter, considerable progress has been made in preparing a plan, culminating in it being submitted for examination in 2019. It is, therefore, very disappointing, having reached this advanced stage of plan preparation, that the council is now considering withdrawing the emerging Local Plan.

I note that the council will be considering a report which sets out the details of the implications of any decision to withdraw the plan from examination. If the plan is withdrawn it will take some time to ensure an up-to-date plan is put in place.

Not having an up-to-date plan puts Basildon at more risk of appeals and speculative development. An out-of-date plan can result in development being built on a speculative basis with no coordination and limited buy in from local people.

If the council decides to withdraw the plan at the extraordinary full council meeting on March 3, I will ask my officials to carefully monitor your progress on preparing a new local plan.

Given my continued commitment to ensuring up-to-date local plans are in place, I must remind the council that the Government remain prepared to intervene where local authorities fail to make sufficient progress in accordance with the existing statutory powers in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004.

I will carefully consider all appropriate action using available statutory powers, including whether to direct with regard to the local development scheme and inviting the county council to prepare a local plan for Basildon.

Yours, Stuart Andrew”

Leader’s statement

A day after the meeting, council leader Andrew Baggott issued the following statement:

Last night councillors made the difficult but necessary decision to withdraw the Basildon Borough Local Plan. We need to reflect on the plan – to look at the data behind it in much more detail to understand what each of our five towns needs in order to grow and prosper in the coming years.

I realise this decision may cause unease and uncertainty for residents of the borough, but I want to reassure the public that it is essential if we are to deliver a Local Plan that truly meets our borough’s needs.

We are also keen to engage with residents as to their views. We now have an opportunity to reflect their aspirations for the future of the borough and it is vital for us to understand what residents want, rather than what they don’t want.

The Local Plan in its current form is bound by algorithms set by the government. These determine how many homes the borough must build in the next decade. But that algorithm does not reflect or respect the unique qualities of our borough. The greenbelt. The infrastructure. The diversity of our towns and villages.

We will continue to challenge the government on the national algorithm and ensure we develop the right plan for our borough.

It is important to understand what last night’s decision means and what it doesn’t mean. It means that we have an opportunity to review every aspect of the plan in detail to make sure it works. It does not mean that inappropriate development will be supported.

Last night’s decision provides us with an opportunity to set a new standard for Basildon Borough. We have a lot to reflect on in the coming weeks and a great deal of information to unpack and review. I know we are up to the challenge and I know we will come to a conclusion which paves the way for a bright and prosperous future for our borough.”

Charlie Ridler

Local Democracy Reporter