Planning reforms will not help the 1,500 Southend families on housing waiting list say Fossetts Farm campaigners

Campaigners calling for affordable and social housing to be built on former NHS land at Fossetts Farm have said the Government’s planning reforms will do nothing to help the 1,500 families on Southend’s housing waiting list.

Last week it was revealed the Government plans to introduce the biggest planning reforms since the Second World War, including scrapping Section 106 agreements, which give councils the power to demand developers build affordable homes or make financial contributions towards infrastructure.

The Fossetts For The People campaign group has spent years calling for affordable and social homes to be built for key workers on the former NHS site and believe the reforms will do nothing to help that happen.

A spokesman for the group said: “People are desperate and want to know when they will be able to move into an affordable home – effectively a ‘council home’ in today’s situation.

“This is what we at Fossetts For The People are campaigning for on the land at Fossett’s Farm, across the road from the new football stadium – we want to help these people.

“The latest government proposals won’t.”

He claims the “real problem” is not a failure of the planning system but the Government’s “inability” to organise the building of enough homes for those on average or below average incomes.

“Since the then government’s decision in the 1980s to sell off the bulk of our council housing stock, under the ‘right to buy’ scheme, there has been no attempt to replace these homes with similar well-designed properties to house the subsequent generations that are now seeking affordable homes.”

He added: “If even land that is already publicly owned isn’t used to build public housing, we wonder if there’s any hope at all for the current and future generations who need somewhere decent to live that they can afford to pay for.”

Councillor Matt Dent (Lab), who has sat on Southend’s Development Control Committee, said: “What is needed is not a bonfire to planning law. Planning law does need to change but not like this.

“The housing problem is a relic of then 1980s the fact right to buy sold off council houses dirt cheap and that money wasn’t used to replace that housing – you don’t have to be financial genius to work out that if you sell off housing and don’t replace it you will have shortage.

He admitted that the Section 106 agreements do not lead to enough affordable housing but added “if you get rid of it entirely, you will have even fewer”.

An outline planning application was submitted by Homes England in February for 145 new homes on the Fossetts Farm site. Under those plans, just 30 per cent of the properties would be classed as ‘affordable’.

The council is yet to discuss whether to grant planning permission but campaigners have been urging residents to object.

Cllr Dent showed support for the campaign shortly after the plans were submitted. Speaking at the March full council meeting, he said: “It is important the land that we have available in Southend is used for addressing the needs that exist in our housing market.”

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter