Council would have rejected Basildon Market Square high-rise plan as appeal continues

Basildon councillors last night agreed they would not have given the go-ahead to the stalled Market Square development had they been on the planning committee before May’s local elections.

The 17 storey, 492 home application by Orwell Real Estate had been twice accepted in February and April 2021 by the previous committee.

But on Wednesday evening, the current committee made up of different councillors, said it would have refused the plans over the character of the building, failure to meet minimum space requirements inside the flats, lack of affordable housing and threat to the importance of nearby Grade II listed building Brooke House.

The application had received 96 objections from the public and only 11 representations in support.

One read out by an officer at the meeting said: “This borough desperately needs well thought out housing that is sustainable for the future.

“Having torn down the Royal Court towers, which were only eight and ten storeys, I find it very hard to understand this logic of repeating past mistakes when it comes to housing and opting for high-rises.

“It is my belief that these residential units will not meet our future housing need and we will have to continue to overdevelop the borough in an attempt at meeting unrealistic housing targets.”

Mark Harris, the planning agent for the application, told the committee the developer had tried to avoid an appeal but hoped it could still work collaboratively with the council.

He said: “You will be aware this application has been the subject of two positive committee resolutions.

“It was also not called in by the Secretary of State. Compliance with policy is also clearly and robustly documented in the three reports presented to you.

“We hope you appreciate that Orwell had no choice but to appeal against non-determination, following the decision in May to put the application on hold by not signing the 106, not extending the determination period and offering no time scale

“This was also after trying to engage with your new council to avoid an appeal.”

Mayor David Dadds (Con, Billericay East) said in the meeting: “For the same reasons, I’ve listened to all the discussions and I have probably three points.

“One regarding the bulk mass and height around the design and that has an impact on the historic value of Brooke House and the openness of the town square, but coupled with that is the overshadowing and the loss of daylight and the effect of that, below the standard it’s required particularly in the winter months.

“In relation to the internal space standard, whilst I accept that colleagues previously have come to a different view, I am looking at this afresh and in relation to the minimum standards not being met, I personally would not have given consent on that basis and that basis alone, because I believe that minimum standards should be met.”

The Market Square development would replace a line of units facing the old Basildon Market with a 17 storey high-rise tower of 492 flats and several retail units on the lower levels.

Orwell Real Estate went to appeal on August 6 on the grounds of non-determination, which council leader Andrew Baggott (Con, Burstead) said is likely to cost the council £2milllion.

As part of the appeal process, the council is required to indicate how it would have determined the planning application.

This information will form part of the council’s submission to the Planning Inspectorate.

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Charlie Ridler

Local Democracy Reporter