Castle Point approves 5,000-home Local Plan by majority to avoid Government intervention

CASTLE Point Council has passed its Local Plan by a majority vote and will now hold one final consultation before submitting it to Government.

Tory council leader Norman Smith told members that if they did not retain control of local development by passing their own plan, they would cede control to Government planners.

The Local Plan is a legal document ordered by Government, which allocates land to accommodate Government targets for new houses.

Government claims Castle Point needs 5,130 new homes by 2033.

Prior attempts to create a Local Plan for Castle Point have failed due to massive opposition to building on green belt land.

Public turn-out for last night’s meeting was expected to be so high that an overflow room was set up in the atrium, where residents were able to watch live on a video link.

Deputy mayor Pat Haunts, chairing the meeting because mayor Colin Riley was unwell, told those in the public gallery that if they clapped, cheered, or made any interruption at all, the meeting would be adjourned and all members of the public would be removed from the chamber.

Urging members to back the plan, Cllr Smith said it had been ‘member-led’ and that his group had insisted all brown field (previously developed green land) were included in the plan, to reduce the need for green belt development.

But, he said, even after all of these sites were included, there was a ‘shortfall’, meaning green belt development would be required in order to hit Government’s housing targets for the borough.

Cllr Smith said: “We were fully aware that this was a course unpopular and had to weigh up the risks of the alternative of not moving ahead with the plan.

“This would undoubtedly, firstly, lead to speculative applications and planning by appeal – then, ultimately, handing of the future decision-making on these sites to an outside body, which would come after intervention.”

Castle Point was threatened with Government intervention in 2017, then again in 2018, over its ‘consistent failure’ to adhere to the rules on creating a Local Plan.

Cllr Smith said he had met with a senior Government planner just three weeks ago to discuss the continuing threat.

He said: “He asked me numerous questions about how things were progressing and said he really did not want to intervene and hoped that the council would be controlling the future planning of Castle Point by approving its own plan.

“He made it clear, though, that he was under pressure to deliver new homes and that another refusal of a development plan would leave him with a real difficult decision.

“Members, I am fully aware of the pressure applied on us not to bring more family homes to Castle Point, but I can honestly say I don’t think this is in our control anymore.

“The option to us tonight is, are we going to control these sites with our elected members and public representatives, or do we vote this down and allow an outside body to do the development and design the future of our borough? I ask you all to please keep control in our hands.”

But Dave Blackwell, leader of the Canvey Island Independents, said the public had made its opposition clear and the council should take heed.

Holding up a document box, he said: “The will of the people is here in this blue box; 11,000 residents on Canvey Island who signed a petition against this plan; 3,000 residents who signed the consultation against the plan. Do we not, in Castle Point, care about the will of the people?

“Infrastructure, no matter what the plan says, is a massive thing in this area. Canvey Island is desperate for a third road.

“Everywhere in this borough, County keeps saying the roads have capacity. But of course, the people that say that don’t have to sit in the traffic jams when they’re trying to get home from work every night or going to work every morning. Can you imagine 5,000-odd houses – maybe 10,000 extra cars – trying to get through this borough?

“Most of the time, the houses are built to take the spill from London. If it was for local youngsters trying to get on the ladder then yes, we would be in favour. There’s a development just gone not far away, down the road here, and the starting price of the houses it about £499,000. So is that for people, local, to get on the housing ladder? No, it’s not.

“What is the purpose of green belt? To stop urban sprawl. When you look at this plan, that’s what it’s going to create. It’s going to create urban sprawl.”

Cllr Blackwell concluded by quoting Prime Minister Boris Johnson: “Going onto someone quite famous, who said something not long ago, I would rather die in a ditch than vote for this surrender of this green belt plan.”

Conservatives voted unanimously in favour of approving the Local Plan, outnumbering the 16 opposition members who voted against it.

The meeting heard that after a final consultation, the council planned to submit the plan to Government in summer 2020, leading to its adoption in spring 2021.

Charles Thomson

Chief ReporterEmail: [email protected]