County council would seek guarantees over a South Woodham Ferrers housing development

Essex County Council (ECC) would need a guarantee on the number of homes it could claim a 50 per cent financial return on before entering an agreement for a major housing development in South Woodham Ferrers.

The 116 acre site owned by ECC is part of a larger piece of land north of South Woodham Ferrers earmarked for development for around 1,000 new homes of mixed size and type to include affordable housing, business floorspace, and a co-location of a new primary school with an early years and childcare nursery, as well as local open space.

The masterplan is being jointly prepared and promoted by three main parties – Countryside, which already has an option on part of the site, ECC Property and the Speakman family, with Bellway.

The county council is now set to enter negotiations with Countryside to agree an Option Agreement on ECC’s Hamberts Farm site – which extends to 116 acres. Approximately 40 acres of land is developable for housing.

The option agreement – a legal process entered into between landowners and developers – essentially grants the developer an option to purchase the land by exercising the right at any time during an agreed ‘option period’ in return for an ‘option fee’. It is seen as the best way forward as Countryside  is also proposing to develop an adjoining site which they control.

It is anticipated that an option agreement would see – other than three farmhouses and some farm buildings – ECC’s entire landholding of 116 acres transferred to Countryside.

While only 40 acres are developable for housing, the remaining land will be used for development site assembly and fulfilling requirements for public open space and other planning agreement matters.

Officers have recommended that ECC enters into negotiations with Countryside for an option Agreement because it ties up with the development of Countryside’s adjoining land.

Importantly, for ECC it also offers a “guarantee on the number of houses from which ECC can derive a financial return based on a 50-50 split with Countryside”.

A statement as part of a cabinet report to ECC said: “The recommended Option involves entering into negotiations with Countryside to ultimately achieve a significant capital receipt value once ECC’s current land holding is developed rather than a) selling ECC’s interest now and b) retaining ECC’s interest in case of higher future value.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter