Article by Charles Thomson: Tory councillors met with the Government housing minister yesterday to discuss the borough’s Local Plan – but have refused to discuss what was said.
Conservative councillors have called an extraordinary council meeting this Thursday, June 7, where group leader Andrew Baggott said they would attempt to halt the Local Plan and make changes to it.
The Local Plan allocates land for almost 20,000 Government-ordered new homes in the borough by 2034. Labour councillors warned that delaying the plan’s progress could lead to Government intervention, as has happened in neighbouring Castle Point. Basildon Council received a written warning from former housing minister Sajid Javid last November, threatening intervention if the Local Plan did not come to fruition quickly.
Cllr Baggott said two weeks ago he had requested a meeting with Mr Brokenshire to ask for some ’common sense’ – but after the meeting, his group would not comment on whether or not the minister had agreed to call off the dogs.
Tory group spokesman Andy Barnes issued a press release saying Mr Brokenshire visited a regeneration project on the Craylands estate to view ’revolutionary’ building techniques being used, then met Conservative councillors ’for around an hour to discuss issues affecting the borough’.
When the YA asked Cllr Barnes whether Mr Brokenshire had agreed to postpone intervention in order to let Tories tinker with the plan, he responded:
“I’ve got no comment to make on the Local Plan at this stage.”
Asked why, he added:
“We are not commenting on the Local Plan at this point. We’ve got a meeting on Thursday and that would be the appropriate time to discuss it.”
Labour councillor Gavin Callaghan, who led the administration which passed the Local Plan earlier this year, wrote on Twitter that he believed the Tories’ silence indicated they had been rebuffed. He commented:
“Interesting to see the Basildon Tories’ language. The meeting with Brokenshire was to tear up the Local Plan. That’s what they promised. Afterwards, they want you to believe it was about showcasing housebuilding designs. Not fooling anyone. He was clear; Local Plan or else.”
Former independent mayor David Harrison, who also backed the plan before losing his seat last month, said:
“The trouble is that if the minister makes an exception for Basildon Council, he’s then got a problem with all the other authorities who have received the same warning.”
The meeting came two days after Basildon Labour leader Adele Brown claimed in a live radio debate that the Tories’ bid to delay the Local Plan could lumber the borough with an extra 4,000 homes. Cllr Brown made the statement during a live argument with Tory leader Andrew Baggott on BBC Radio Essex. Cllr Baggott said on-air that his group would make ’very significant’ changes to the plan, particularly in Billericay and Bowers Gifford.
He claimed they would remove unpopular developments without forcing them onto other communities in the borough – but Cllr Brown said doing that would be illegal. Cllr Baggott said:
“We need to address the additional houses in Billericay. What we are not going to do is take those out and dump those somewhere else... It’s not going to be at the expense of anywhere else in the borough.”
Cllr Brown responded:
“If we take houses out of somewhere, we are going to have to – in order to make our plan sound, lawful and compliant to present legislation – we are going to have to put those houses somewhere else... If we do not, we risk going into intervention.”
Cllr Brown also warned that Government’s formula for calculating boroughs’ housing needs was due to change in September and experts have warned numbers could shoot up by around 20 per cent.
Basildon’s current target is just under 20,000 homes. Cllr Brown said any delay could therefore leave the council with around 4,000 more houses to accommodate. Cllr Baggott replied:
“We have got professional officers. They have already spoken to the Government department. They know what’s going on. We have allowed for an element of slippage [in the timetable]. They are sympathetic to that regard.”
Cllr Baggott made the comment prior to the meeting with Mr Brokenshire. He continued:
“We will get a Local Plan, it will be on time, but it will be with a clear message of infrastructure first and also making some very, very significant amendments that affect the local people.”
Cllr Brown commented:
“What Andrew is proposing is we say, ’No, we’re going to break the law; we’re going to ignore you; we’re not going to do what central Government wants’. If he really thinks that suddenly, central Government priorities are going to change because the leader of Basildon Council goes to them and says, ’No, no, no, we are not doing that’, he is wrong.”
Article by Charles Thomson, Yellow Advertiser