The government is pressuring Southend Council to build more homes or risk developments being given planning permission regardless of the consequences for residents.
Details of a letter sent to the council by housing secretary Robert Jenrick were revealed during a cabinet meeting on Tuesday afternoon and councillors were warned the letter is “incredibly serious”.
Council leader Ian Gilbert explained that if the speed house building isn’t improved there will be consequences for the council’s planning policy.
Specifically, it will be harder for councillors to challenge or refuse planning applications for housing.
“A week ago, I received a letter from Robert Jenrick which was really putting pressure on Southend, in common with all local authorities, to speed up the delivery of housing against our assessed housing need,” said Mr Gilbert.
“It is something all authorities are struggling with or at least the vast majority but the consequences of not delivering housing are significant and we are being warned that the government may extend the presumption in favour of sustainable development, which has already happened in one or two authorities, including Basildon I believe.
“This would have the effect of making it harder for councillors or us as a planning authority to object to housing developments we feel are inappropriate.”
A housing delivery plan published by the council last year outlines that using the government needs assessment, between 909 and 1,176 homes will need to be built each year for the next 20 years.
Mr Jenrick’s letter, seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, states: “Over the last three years you have fallen short of your target in Southend. I understand these targets are very stretching and that each area has its own challenges.
“However the government has set out a clear ambition to build the homes this country needs, aiming to deliver 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s”.
Between 2015 and 2018, there were 1,223 homes built, representing just 49 per cent of the 2,495 required to meet the housing need during that period.
Just 749 affordable homes have been delivered between 2001 and 2018.
Cllr Gilbert added: “We are not being singled out but they expect us to deliver on our action plan and if we do not deliver there will be consequences in terms of planning process.”
Cllr Carole Mulroney, who is a member of the development control committee, said: “It is incredibly serious.
“It has huge implications for our local plan and for our delivery of our housing over time.
“We don’t own all the land, but it has got serious consequences and I would urge members to take it with that serious frame of mind.”