Five More Things We Learned At Thursday Night’s Council Meeting

What did we learn ?

1. The number of outstanding planning enforcement cases is currently a shockingly high FIVE HUNDRED AND SEVEN. That compares to 466 last October. Chris Black (who asked the question about this) was very critical. Cllr Keith Hudson, who is the cabinet member with responsibility for planning enforcement , said that the numbers won’t come down without more staff (there are currently only two officers dealing with this workload). He added that only 10 cases were “Category A”. Warning to anyone breaching planning regs: it seems that if you have done something without planning permission and one of those 507 logged cases is yours, it’s very likely to crop up on the search if you try to sell.

2. Multi-party politics is alive and well in Rochford District. The three leaders of opposition parties – Cllrs Black, Hoy and Mason were very active in the meeting, standing up and speaking , almost like a Rochford equivalent of the Three Tenors:

(though we spoke separately, not at the same time! And Councillor Hoy is a lot slimmer than that.)

Incidentally, the three small opposition parties sit next to each other in the chamber. Whereas the three political heavyweights on the Conservative side (Cllrs Cutmore, Hudson and Seagers) are well separated from each other, making it hard for them to confer during meetings.

It should also be mentioned that a couple of Labour Party activists were watching from the public gallery, plus a couple of Hockley campaigners…

And there was even a faint sign of life from the Tory backbenchers. A proposal to stop councillors ever deciding on homelessness appeals and always let officers decide things has been deferred after an apparent backbench revolt. The report is here, (69kb)

3. The situation with the Local Development Framework gets murkier and foggier. It’s difficult to explain it simply (Cllr Mason is the best at doing that). But basically:

  • The Eastern Region had proposed that 250 new homes be built each year in Rochford District
  • The District Council came up with a set of locations for this housing – including some very unpopular ones like “SW Hullbridge” and “Land North of London Road”.
  • When the new government came in, it said that regionally-set targets like this 250 per year would be abolished, councils would be allowed to set their own targets if they were reasonable.
  • The Council responded with a framework that reduced the build rate to 190 new homes a year – but extended the time period to 2031 , so all the old bad sites were still included.
  • Developers nationally have challenged the governments power to scrap the regionally-set targets. There’s been lots of court cases going on. It looks as if that 250-per-year target is still legally valid until the Coalition Governments new Localism Bill is passed, hopefully later this year. If the government inspector looking at our framework finishes her work soon, she may be obliged to impose that 250-per-year figure.
  • So to avoid this 250- per-year target, the council wants to ask the Government Inspector if she can suspend her examination of our framework until December. This was agreed at the council meeting. The Conservatives voted for it (and so did Chris Lumley on our side), Chris Black , Ron Oatham and possibly one or two Conservatives abstained. The Greens and the Rochford Residents voted against.
  • A developer emailed councillors before the meeting warned that they thought suspending the plan might be illegal. This is not the view of council legal officers.
  • The generally stated views of the parties seems to be:

  • The Conservatives are content with 190 new homes per year and the locations chosen.
  • The Greens and The Rochford Residents are firmly opposed to some of the locations and think there should be a new housing needs survey to see how many new homes are needed. (The Conservatives say that a new housing needs survey might open up a whole new can of worms).
  • Liberal Democrats have said that 190 per year isn’t unreasonable, but some of the locations are totally unacceptable. The plan shouldn’t be extended beyond 2026, because it’s much too soon to decide things for 2031.
  • 4. The Conservatives treat public consultation with contempt. Perhaps the most interesting point of the evening was the motion from the Green Party that asked the council to recognise that over 90 percent of responses to the councils consultation last year on housing sites were against.

    You might have expected a kind of ” Yes, but..” response from the Tories on this. Something like “Yes, we know that people are concerned, and we are sorry but we don’t think we can do any better’. Instead it was an almost sneering “So what?” response. They don’t think 2000 responses across the district is significant. They don’t even think that 867 objections from Hullbridge Residents alone is significant. Much too much arrogance there.

    5. On the positive side, the council’s financial team did pretty well with our investments over the past year. We received ?64,200 more interest than what we would have expected as standard – the “7-day London Interbank Bid rate”. You can download the annual report on our investments here (209kb).

  • A key point of the night has not been mentioned – that not one of the supporters of the motion put by Green Party Cllrs Mr & Mrs Hoy will indicate publically a number for how many houses they think should be built annually in RDC, not even being prepared to indicate whether they wanted more or less than 190 p.a., or where (any?) should be put within RDC.

    I wonder what Hullbridge residents were told during the recent by-election recently about the Green Party’s national policy for housing, which on their national website starts in 2010 and ends with 2011, and how it fits with their local policy promises?! Most are totally uncosted anyway, but read it and weep at http://www.greenparty.org.uk/policies/housing_2010/housing_detail.html and draw your own conclusions. However, assuming there are 1 million empty homes, mostly up North it seems, is it logical to build even more up there? And just how would they ‘persuade’ our local residents to occupy those, some form of ethnic cleansing for the forceable relocation of homeless offspring of current Essex residents perhaps?

  • Colin – no one has a figure for housing because RDC have not done the ground work and researched this. I think that is what’s called an “own goal”. When will the council start looking at this professionally and objectively?

  • Thanks for the link Colin. Makes for interesting reading. Quite woolly in places.

    On a lighter note, personally I would like to see Peter Tatchell of the Greens forcibly relocated but please don’t send him up north. Being from up north, I wouldn’t want anyone getting the idea that it’s a barren wasteland full of layabouts and mass unemployment. It’s full of friendly people and rolling countryside. Oh, and good football 😉

  • Brian
    Are you another candidate for the ‘Passport to Pimlico’ parties then? As you should well know, the study has been completed and submitted, for RDC and appropriate surrounding areas.
    Do you not think it reasonable for the ‘Passport’ parties representatives (and you?) to at the very least indicate even a preferred direction of travel from 190 homes p.a. then? N.B. That figure will equate to barely 0.5% p.a. growth in RDC dwellings over the period to 2031.
    regards
    Colin

  • And Lo! Still no one in the ‘Passport to Pimlico’ Parties will answer the questions……….

    HOW MANY HOUSES PER ANNUM and WHERE IN RDC??????????

    or does NIMBYISM and UNVARNISHED POLITICAL OPPORTUNISM RULE??

    Chris, I had understood you to believe 190 p.a, IS a reasonable number for RDC?
    So beware, as I suspect Hullbridge would jump at a Rawreth Newtown only type solution – while Rawreth may prefer a Hullbridge et al solution – and would not Hawkwell perhaps prefer both those??? You well know that objectors will always be in the majority on any planning matter, but no new housing is simply NOT an option.

  • @RDC Cllr Colin Seagers

    I published what I think you you might be looking for on Sunday afternoon, 24 July 2011.

    Councillor Chris Black picked this up and published an extract from this on this web site at this link which in turn published a link to my own web site here.

    The calculation I have made is based on Rochford District Council data for local affordable housing needs and although I do not think for a moment that you will agree with the alternative put forward at least you might apologise publicly for your last posting above because it is incorrect and unnecessarily hostile in my view.

  • Colin – thank you for your input. I may not agree with your views but at least its the closest we come to democracy in Rochford. I get particularly pleased when you resort to name calling because it clearly indicates. Thank you.
    Under the Labour imposed target, Cllr Hudson correctly complained at the imposed number. But, when the Coalition came to power, he did a U turn and increased the numbers. Why?
    If you have evidence to support your numbers please poublish it.

  • Cllr John Mason

    Thank you. At last some figures from a ‘Passport to Pimlico’ party in a belated response to my questions, now the public can have a proper debate. I quote from your website below.

    “So RDC has no need to build affordable houses for 593 Applicants only 576 to meet our local needs.
    Bearing in mind that 3800 houses over 20 years seems to relate to the whole housing list of 1200 then because there are only 576 who need homes that seems to suggest just 29 affordable houses need to be built each year for 20 years rather than 60 which is 50% against a total number of houses of 1920 over 20 years rather than 3800.”

    I can see the potential headlines now, ‘ROCHFORD RESIDENTS PARTY SETS 20 YEAR TARGET FOR HOUSING WAITING LIST’.
    So even assuming your calculations and assumptions were correct, you seem prepared to condemn those already on the waiting list (a rolling requirement remember not an unmoving snapshot) to an unsustainably long wait. Your numbers would not even allow for the current and expected growth in population at all levels in the district, region and nationally stemming from increases in both birth rate and longevity. The ignoring of those two demographic factors alone destroys your argument for affordable homes numbers, but are we also required to assume that our 4x larger private home owner segment of the population will somehow be totally immune from those same demographic trends affecting their needs? Methinks you should reconsider and recalculate.

    Now we await the Green Party response.

  • Colin – The public can have a proper debate? The public made their contribution to a proper debate last year in their 2000 or so responses to the sites allocation document. A consultation that has been completely ignored. I know that’s not your direct reponsibility, you are the finance chap, but even so……

  • Chris
    Are you intentionally missing the point? The public need to know the policies of all the parties as regards provision of dwellings for current and future needs, there is no justification for political opportunism, nimbyism or fudge in this matter, and certainly not for providing none.

  • Okay Colin, this seems to be a debate in public rather than a debate by the public, but let me explain how I see things. It’s basically the same view as I had in July of last year.
    ( https://www.onlinefocus.org/?p=4804 )

    Under Labour the council were being compelled to allow the building of 250 new homes per year,. Under the coalition, we were able to reduce that figure to 190 per year.

    But the key point is this – the Conservative Group decided to keep ALL the development sites they had previously supported, and just stretch the building process out over a longer period. All of the green belt sites that residents have been trying to protect and the council intends to develop are still likely to be built on.

    In fact the council is now proposing a very small INCREASE in the amount of houses to be built in the Green Belt – instead of 2785 units by 2025, there will be 2791 by the year 2031. (on the last figures I saw)

    Of course , once land is taken out of the Green Belt, it’s very hard to protect it again. Once land “North of London Road” or “SW Hullbridge” is allocated for housing, that’s it. You might be able to delay it for a few years, but it will be lost.

    If we’d gone for a 190-per-year-until 2025 target, then we probably could have avoided using the worst sites. For example, with “Land North of London Road” we could have used a smaller site in the centre of Rawreth, as proposed by Rawreth PC, instead. And there do seem to be a few smaller sites around the district that could be used in a similar way.

    You might argue that this is only delaying the inevitable. But maybe in the next 14 years other ‘windfall’ sites might well crop up that would save us from using the really unpopular locations.

    Wouldn’t it better to let future councillors – in about 2025 – make decisions on what housing is needed then rather than have councillors and council officers try to guess things now 15 or 20 years in advance?

    Where am I wrong, Colin?

  • Colin – can you explain your greenbelt policy? The SAA restates that the policy is to minimise impact on the Greenbelt but around 90% of new houses will be built directly or indirectly on the greenbelt. Why are you deliberately misleading the public?

  • Brian
    To have any chance of sustaining your position, YOU first need to identify the available and significant ‘brown field’ sites in RDC (most of which were used in the previous plans) that you must believe everyone else is overlooking. If you cannot, then something under 1% of existing RDC Green Belt WILL be needed.

    I note that you have still yet to identify even a number or the general areas where they should be proposed, that would be acceptable to you if it is not 190 p.a. or placed as suggested in the proposals.

    Conservative local policy is very clear, we don’t like using or losing any Green Belt, but there is no other alternative to meet the REQUIRED levels of available housing land to protect ALL THE OTHER 99% of RDC GREEN BELT from ABSOLUTELY UNLIMITED and UNCONTROLLED DEVELOPMENT that could, and undoubtedly would, be legally thrust upon us under existing law should we fail to comply with those requirements. I certainly don’t believe risking 100% of RDC Green Belt for less than 1% is a sensible risk, do you?

    P.S. What name calling, what own goal?

  • RDC Cllr Chris Black

    Correction re your last posting?
    Wasn’t it under the RDC Conservative majority’s own proposals, not the Coalition Government’s, that we were able to reduce the proposed target to 190 p.a., which until quite recently you did not appear more openly, but still very begrudgingly, to support?

    As fellow members of the RDC LDF Sub-committee, we will doubtless have the opportunity to debate further the allocations recommendations for RDC areas within that forum, and eventually recommend actual sites no doubt at the appropriate time; but if any Parties wish to make opportunistic comments and propaganda for their RDC Members in Rawreth etc. in the West of RDC or elsewhere in other Parties, perhaps they should also publicly identify to RDC residents the other areas in which they would prefer to place that housing? The RDC Conservative majority has been open about its preferences.

  • Colin, I don’t need to identify brownfield sites – its TORY policy that says you will avoid greenbelt sites. The trouble is that you are severely contradicting your own policy. Why not be honest?
    So, we have established that the Tories have done a major U-turn, prioritising greenbelt sites and ignoring public opinion. So how about highways? The recent council policy document stated, if I recall correctly, that you hope to have a strategy by 2016. Yet the Core Strategy will start building houses in 2012 (probably!), so clearly cart before horse.
    Your the finance man – how will we pay for any road improvements anyway?
    Sorry but simply nothing in the CS makes any sense!

  • Brian Guyett
    Re your posting #16.
    Please refrain from questioning my honesty, it is both unseemly and most inadvisable.

    I’m extremely sorry to read that ‘nothing in the Core Strategy makes any sense’ to you. Providing you feel able to benefit from it, perhaps you should consider undertaking some necessary training? It may enable you to make reasoned replies in future to the pertinent questions (in posting 14) that you have left unanswered, avoid making further uninformed criticisms, and perhaps allow you to begin providing any viable alternative solutions, which you believe are obvious but have apparently eluded so many. I note especially your giant and rather disingenuous leap from ‘avoid’ to ‘prioritising’ green belt use in your own very personal interpretation of local Conservative policy, but that YOU ‘have established’ absolutely nothing.

    Re ‘Your (sic) the finance man’ – you should first understand that Essex County Council Highways has responsibility for roads in this District, so fortunately neither RDC nor my Finance and Resources Portfolio has the responsibility to fund road improvements from its budget.

    I trust the above will help to address a part of your confusion.

  • This is descending into abuse, so I won’t say much more. Except it’s sad when honest attempts by councillors from the minority parties to improve situations are mocked as being ‘propaganda’ and ‘opportunistic.’ Is that how it’s going to be from now on?

  • Chris, thanks for the wise words. As I’ve said before, I give Clr Seagers due credit for being the only conservative councillor to publically try and defend the indefensible. It is particularly regretable, therefore, that he undermines his own arguments by resorting to personal attacks. Again, as I’ve said, I would suggest such comments do his case more harm than good, and I’ll continue trying to debate the facts.
    No Colin, I don’t think its easy and have never suggested otherwise. But the place to start is by properly researching the actual number of homes required. If its less than the figure of 3,800 conjured up in the Core Strategy, then it would make it easier. Why won’t the Conservatives do this?
    Returning to Highways, I note that you are already abdicating from responsibility. The Core Strategy says, and I quote: “some impact on the highway network is inevitable and the Council will work with developers and the Highway Authority to ensure that appropriate improvements are carried out. The Council will seek developer contributions where necessary.” So I would respectfully suggest that either your understanding is wrong or the Core Strategy is incorrect. Which is it?
    Concentrating the intial phases of development in the middle of the District, with no road improvements, can only result in increased problems in the ‘gateways’ of Rawreth/Hullbridge; Hockley/Hawkwell; and Rochford. Scattering housing across 13 sites means diseconomies of scale. We know ECC’s budget has been cut, so how will any improvements be funded?
    Can we please have some factual answers to factual questions?

  • As usual, Cllr Mason has made some very good points in his ‘Open Letter’ above. His closing argument that “if the Inspector agrees to the suspension, she could be viewed as being in direct contravention of the principle established in the Cala II Appeal [para 24] as she would, in effect, be encouraging the authority to have regard to the proposal to abolish the Regional Strategy” strikes me as particularly likely and worrying. I fear that the District is at evercreasing risk from unwelcome, large-scale, planning applications. Its hard to see a way forward at this time.

  • Brian Guyett

    I almost admire your apparent stubborn refusal to believe that anyone else can ever be right or yourself wrong.

    However, re the extract from your posting #20 below
    “Returning to Highways, I note that you are already abdicating from responsibility. The Core Strategy says, and I quote: “some impact on the highway network is inevitable and the Council will work with developers and the Highway Authority to ensure that appropriate improvements are carried out. The Council will seek developer contributions where necessary.” So I would respectfully suggest that either your understanding is wrong or the Core Strategy is incorrect. Which is it?”

    It is a common misunderstanding, but I am very surprised that Cllr Black has not already advised you that ECC Highways (the relevant Highway Authority for RDC) and NOT RDC, receives and holds any monies arising under Section 106 agreements from developer contributions if those relate to specific Highways needs as approved by Highways in Development consultations. So it is again wrong to accuse me of ‘already abdicating responsibility’ because both the supposed interpretations you offer are incorrect; I repeat, NEITHER the RDC budget NOR my Portfolio has responsibility for funding Highways improvements.

    However, none of the above surprises me as apparently this site is only for ‘Little Enclaver’ parties and any fellow travellers to make unwarranted criticisms of those who are prepared to state their beliefs and intentions designed for the benefit of RDC as a whole, whilst not revealing their own. If you really want more facts Brian, why not ask the minority parties to address the same questions repeatedly answered by RDC, me and other Conservative Members, and which have been repeatedly asked of those other parties without reply? Or would that be just too embarassing for them? So I wish you ‘The very best of British Luck’ because, until they do, it is utterly pointless for me to continue bothering to participate in this website. ‘BYE ALL.