Chelmsford's local plan: weak on infrastructure, environment, affordability

June 20, 2018 4:51 PM

Building siteChelmsford's new Local Plan was passed by the full council last night but was attacked for being weak on infrastructure, environment, and the affordability of homes. Lib Dem Leader of the Opposition Cllr. Stephen Robinson said,

"The Liberal Democrats are clear that this country has not built enough houses for 20 or more years. And nothing like enough houses that can be afforded by younger people and others on low incomes, people who are vital to our society's future.

Neither do we have the infrastructure to go with it to create real communities - and communities that are genuinely sustainable.

So we are not objecting to the total; but we do object to the allocations and other policies of the Conservative ruling group.

This plan is wrong on some locations; weak on the environment; weak on affordability and weak on infrastructure.

Locations

The Liberal Democrats says that there are too many small-ish sites. Sites in the region of 200 houses are big enough to have an impact on their community but not big enough to get significant investment, such as new schools and health services. There were a number in the current plan and there are more in this proposed plan.

We tend to the view that larger sites - that deliver the infrastructure - are better. However, larger sites need multiple developers. Monopoly is bad; build out and delivery rates are at risk. Encouraging self-build and small builders to get involved in those larger sites is good for delivery and good for locally-created jobs.

Too much of the new housing is in the wrong place. The County Council's congestion strategy recognises that the Broomfield Road corridor is the most congested of all routes into Chelmsford. Yet this new local plan still has hundreds of new houses allocated in that corridor.

Environment

On environmental objectives, there are aspirations rather than requirements. For example Policy S3: 'The Council will encourage new development that provides opportunities for renewable and low carbon energy technologies'...... and 'provides opportunities for decentralised energy systems.'

Mealy mouthed if ever I saw it.

A more robust policy would require new homes to be zero carbon. That was Labour Government policy and the Lib Dems kept it as policy until 2015, and then the Conservatives dumped the policy. In the words of David Cameron "it's just all that green crap"

Affordability

On affordability, the 35% policy remains, and there are some new policies in the plan which are welcome. For the first time there is a policy on housing types. And the policy for affordable homes will apply to sites of more than 10 homes, not 15.

Good. Let's hope that this delivers more than the current plan. The Conservative administration has missed the affordable housing target in 14 of the last 15 years. If they had delivered 35% affordable of what was built, we would have had an extra 828 affordable homes. And if the actual delivery total had been met, that would have been nearer 1,000.

Infrastructure

On infrastructure, the number one objective of the current plan - a new station - has, like so many of its trains, been regularly delayed. The Conservatives attacked the Liberal Democrats who ran the council until 2003 for not having a plan to deliver the station before 2012. But it now looks like it will be 2025 before it is ready.

Infrastructure in the current plan includes a new road from Channels to the Boreham interchange. Channels were going to be blocked from building more than 350 houses until it was finished. But in January 2015 they came here asking to be let off that restriction. They offered some other road improvements but - three and a half years later - we are still waiting for any of that.

We need bold policies for the public sector to deliver infrastructure, not leave it to the whims of developers. Bold initiatives, not sticking plasters like "Baddow Bus Gate".

If the council took a stronger lead on infrastructure, it might be able to reassure residents such as those in South Woodham Ferrers who have concerns about the impact of over 1000 new houses.

So because of locations, the environment, affordability and infrastructure the Liberal Democrats vote against the plan.