Developers ‘trying to exploit’ Castle Point local plan withdrawal says MP

Developers looking to develop 60 new homes on green belt land in Castle Point are ‘trying to exploit’ the council’s decision to start its housing plan afresh, the local MP has claimed.

But development company Rainier Developments say the plans for green belt south of Daws Heath Road in Thundersley is intended to help the district council meet two specific housing targets “neither of which have been met for a number of years”.

The plans for the wedge of land which has not been included in any past drafts of the Castle Point local plan has sparked opposition across the borough including from MP for Castle Point Rebecca Harris who has said they would be trying to exploit the fact the council has withdrawn the previous draft plan if they submit this as a speculative planning application.

She said: “It is therefore very clear that you are intending to exploit the fact the council do not have a published draft of a local plan in place following the previous draft plan’s withdrawal, to deny local people a democratic say over preferred strategic development in their area.”

But Ranier have said the council has failed to meet key housing targets “for a number of years” and its proposal is intended to help the council to “address these housing needs”.

In a statement Ranier said: ”Castle Point Borough Council’s 2017 Strategic Housing Market Assessment identified a need for 288 new affordable homes in Castle Point every year. The Government’s approach to identified local housing needs – known as ‘the Standard Method’ – also identifies a current need for at least 355 net additional homes in the borough per year. Neither of these housing targets have been met for a number of years, and our proposal is intended to help the council to address these housing needs.”

Although the council has not had a local plan in place for some time, it is currently in the process of preparing another draft. As part of that it is carrying out an assessment of its housing need which may be different to the number quoted in the 2017 Strategic Housing Market Assessment.

Ms Harris added: “You should make the arguments you wish to make regarding the site in the emerging local plan process and let democratically elected politicians decide its suitability as a strategic site. You should not try to force the issue now with a planning application.”

Castle Point Borough Council has committed to spend up to £1.65m to develop a new local plan – but cannot guarantee green belt will not be ultimately earmarked for development at the end of the process. The money – to fund the “unavoidable costs of examination and the evidence” – comes after around £685,000 was earmarked to develop a plan for 5,325 homes that was started in 2018 but scrapped earlier this year.

It is anticipated that work on the new plan will start in January 2023 with a period of engagement to find out what people value about the places in Castle Point, and what people would like to see changed.

At the same time, work will be undertaken to collect data about the borough and importantly to see if all its allocation can be accommodated in brown fields and urban areas. Among the major concerns with the 2018 plan was to allocate land in Canvey Island for housing.

Within the previous draft east of Canvey Road had been allocated for 300 homes, land west of Canvey Road had been allocated for 199 homes and land at Thorney Bay caravan park had been allocated for 820 homes.

Grant Stevenson, planning director at Rainier Developments, said: “As a firm we are passionate about creating developments that enrich communities – such as Thundersley – both in terms of meeting housing needs alongside improving local facilities.

“We have noted concerns in respect of the principle of developing the site at this time, as well as the specific comments on flood risk, ancient woodland and highways, and we will ensure that they are considered as our proposals evolve over the coming weeks.

“The current Castle Point Local Plan turns 25 years old this year, meaning that Castle Point Borough Council has one of the most out-of-date local plan positions in the country, at a time when the local community’s need for more housing intensifies.

“Castle Point Borough Council’s 2017 Strategic Housing Market Assessment identified a need for 288 new affordable homes in Castle Point every year. The Government’s approach to identified local housing needs – known as ‘the Standard Method’ – also identifies a current need for at least 355 net additional homes in the borough per year.

“Neither of these housing targets have been met for a number of years, and our proposal is intended to help the council to address these housing needs.

“We believe our plans for a development for up to 60 new homes strikes the right balance between providing much-needed new homes to Thundersley whilst mitigating the development’s impact on the local natural environment.

“This includes a site layout that respects existing landscape features including existing surrounding hedgerows and trees.

“Achieving a net gain in biodiversity is a priority for us, and as such, the plans will include the planting of a wildflower meadow alongside a woodland boundary to protect ancient woodland to the south. Alongside this, we are also proposing recreational walking routes, as well as a new children’s play area that incorporates natural play trails.

“We are committed to working closely with the local community on our proposals, and would encourage people to share their views between now and January 23 2023.”

The council has said it cannot comment on individual planning applications.

Ian Butt, head of place and policy at Castle Point Borough Council, said: “The council is preparing a new plan for the borough and an important part of that plan will be a local assessment of housing need and we will be working with the local community to help define that so it best suits the need of the community.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter