Brentwood housing plan comes under scrutiny

Plans for a huge new settlement in Brentwood are akin to the “emperor’s new clothes” – it has been argued during a detailed scrutiny of its viability and suitability.

Brentwood Borough Council has allocated in principle green belt land south of the A127 for housing that could eventually grow into a community of 4,000 homes – while leaving a small sliver of green belt between it and West Horndon village – where the existing railway station is seen as pivotal to the sustainability of the garden village’s connectivity.

The site is seen as critical in the delivery of Brentwood Council’s local plan – which sets out where 7,752 new homes should be built between 2016 and 2033 – by delivering a minimum of 2,770 homes within the plan period up to 2033, and around a total of 4,000 homes altogether.

Outline plans are expected in the summer 2021, while first completions are expected in 2024 to 2025.

But inspectors scrutinising the local plan say that national planning policy – set out in paragraph 138 of the framework – states that plans should give first consideration to land which has been previously developed and/or is well served by public transport.

Charles Banner, representing E&A Strategic Land – which has plans of its own to develop West Horndon – told the examination: “I was reminded of the tale of the emperor’s new clothes. It all sounded very nice but when you look at the substance and the evidence base there is nothing there.

“There is in the southern part of the transport corridor served by the C2c line , a huge opportunity. Instead of locating growth as close as possible to the station to maximise the opportunity the proposal is to locate it in a location divorced from it which is dependent on infrastructure.”

Plans to widen the A128 Tilbury Road to the Halfway House junction on the A127 costing £14.25 million is said to be achievable and would be delivered alongside phase one of the development.

Mr Banner added: “There is so much uncertainty, so much remains to be agreed and remains to be assessed. I really question, ‘do you have that robust evidence?’ And I suggest the answer is plainly no.

“We know the assumptions that completion starts are 2024 to 2025 and that is not far away at all.

“And in the meantime all this essential infrastructure that needs to be in place before the development starts has got to be costed, and the costs are still as far as we can see are largely unevidenced (sic). It has got to be agreed with the relevant bodies that need to agree it and if consent is needed, it has to be obtained and it has got to be delivered.

“And there has to be teeth to ensure the assumptions that are being relied on to promote this are enforced. Otherwise you end up with a timeline that is very different to that which is being put forward now.

“And the consequences are either going to be delay while the issues are being resolved and or early starts without important infrastructure which would fundamentally undermine sustainability.

“Even if you take everything you have heard at face value this is still second best.

“No one is saying this is going to be a more connected to the public network solution – even with all this expensive and uncertain infrastructure.”

David Barnes from CEG, which is promoting the Dunton Hill Garden Village, said a number of improvements will be put forward for the A128 Station Road into West Horndon and the A127 junction.

“There is a high degree of confidence from a CEG perspective that what is being put forward is deliverable,” he said.

“The transport consultant identified that Dunton Hills is well served by public transport.

“Is this an appropriate strategy? The obvious answer to that is yes because no one has said it is an inappropriate strategy.”

The area is central to the council’s long term housing needs – West Horndon industrial park has also been designated for 580 homes.

The parish council has said it gives its tentative support to Dunton so long as a strip of green remains between the village and the garden suburb. It also gives its support to the industrial estate development so long as the junction to the station car park is improved.

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter