Councillors to hold talks with housing minister over threat to Southend green belt land

Southend councillors have secured talks with housing minister Robert Jenrick over a threat to green belt land because of Government housing targets.

Conservative group leader Cllr Tony Cox revealed details of the meeting after launching a scathing attack on Cllr Carole Mulroney, the Lib Dem councillor responsible for planning over a number of issues on the new local plan consultation.

The local plan will form the basis of jobs, homes and infrastructure over the next 20 years but the Government has demanded 23,500 homes to be built, posing a threat to green belt land off Bournes Green Chase in Shoebury if no other suitable sites can be found.

Cllr Mulroney called on Cllr Cox for support in seeking help from Southend MPs Sir David Amess and James Duddridge to persuade the Minister of State for Housing the Government’s target was unachievable.

Cllr Cox, speaking at a place scrutiny committee meeting, said: “You’ve been in the position for two years and done diddly squat and now want me to do your job?”

He added: “I can inform the committee and the portfolio holder that yes indeed in her absence I have done her job for her. I have actually approached two of our MPs and I actually do have a meeting with the minister Robert Jenrick regarding some of the wider planning reforms and this, so we have actually got off our backside whereas you have sat there for two years and done nothing.”

Cllr Mulroney was also quizzed on whether alternatives to building on green belt had been sufficiently explored, including building on MoD land and industrial sites in Shoebury and in the town centre.

Councillors heard the Ministry of Defence had been approached but had declined a request for any of its land to be included in the local plan. The use of industrial sites also had to be weighed against the loss of jobs and building high rises in the town centre, as recently suggested by deputy leader Ron Woodley, was also thought to be unworkable.

Cllr Mulroney admitted the new local plan is short of its target by 11,000 homes but she said: “If we were to go all the way into the town centre 23,500 homes equates to 150 ten-storey tower blocks and obviously the higher you go the less number of tower blocks but the airport might have something to say about that.

“That’s not taking into account the living conditions of the people who, already live in the town centre and then having all this lot as well on top if it plus the infrastructure that would be needed.

“So I don’t think although those issues are looked at I don’t think you would be able to find the 11,000 simply by building in the town centre.”

She added: “We all know sitting round this chamber that we don’t want to build on green belt unless it’s absolutely the last option we have. That is why it’s so important to try and get to see the minister and explain.”

The consultation will take place this summer, followed by further consultations ahead of the submission of the plan to Government in 2023.

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Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter