SEEAGA press release: Javid intervention in South Essex - 21 Nov 2017
The South-East Essex Action Group Alliance (SEEAGA) is an alliance of fourteen groups seeking to protect Green Belt in the six boroughs of South Essex. The people of the region need 30,000 homes over 20 years, but the ‘Objectively Assessed Needs’ are for around 90,000 – the excess being built to accelerate out-migration from London.
1. Significance of Javid intervention in South Essex
Basildon, Castle Point, Brentwood and 12 other English authorities have been threatened with the prospect of the Secretary of State, Sajid Javid, taking over management of their Local Plan process. The authorities in question have until 31st January to respond.
Javid has preceded this with a series of patronising and inaccurate remarks about those he calls ‘Nimbies’; people engaging with what the government once proudly called ‘Localism’.
It may be telling that Basildon and Castle Point, together with some of the remainder, are among the local authorities which have begun to listen to their resident’s concerns and hope to use Green Belt to moderate housing targets. These Plans are relatively well advanced, compared to many around the country, and the threat of intervention risks causing further delay.
Until now, Central Government has had it both ways with Green Belt; proclaiming its green credentials by repeatedly stating that it can be protected, while allowing enough ambiguity so that Councils feel obliged to surrender enormous areas of Green Belt to unaffordable housing.
SEEAGA has contributed to CPRE research1 which shows that land for 160,000 houses, enough for a city the size of Bristol, is under threat in London’s Green Belt alone. This is based on incomplete data, so the true figure is significantly higher.
However, if central government takes over the Essex Plans then the ambiguity can’t last.
The people of the south Essex boroughs have shown their overwhelming support for Green Belt protection and the area is demonstrably unsuited to large scale growth.
If Javid steps in, he must deliver Plans which once and for all demonstrate that Green Belt can be protected – the alternative is that he sets a precedent that Green Belt cannot be used as a constraint to moderate housing targets and that it therefore serves no useful purpose any longer.
He would be proclaiming to the country, and to parliament, that Green Belt has been quietly abolished in all but name.
The SE Essex interventions are Test Cases and there is now national significance for what happens here.
While the Secretary of State turns his back on Localism, SEEAGA has redoubled its engagement, bringing forward research paper into what it shows to be the insurmountable limitations of the regions commuter rail links to the capital.
There is a black hole in strategic planning in the UK at present, with little thought to which areas are most suitable or unsuitable for the growth that must indisputably take place; suitability which is largely dependent on commuter rail transport.
The Alliance has stepped into the void and examined the supply and capacity challenges in the two South Essex rail corridors, challenges which make these routes a suitable Case Study of rail corridors all around the Green Belt.
It is often forgotten that one of the reasons for creating the Green Belt was to protect London’s commuter infrastructure, and with it its economy, from excessive growth at and around its perimeter. Rail infrastructure in the Green Belt is pressured because the proportion of people there who commute to the capital is so very high, while beyond the Green Belt the proportion drops off.
The study shows that despite major investment in capacity on the Anglia and C2C lines, the options for improvement are running out and that capacity can only keep up with soaring levels of demand for up to 10 years. Failure to protect Green Belt will lead to further overloading of the railways, damaging the economy of London and the Green Belt areas from which many so of its most skilled workers commute.
The Executive Summary and full Paper can be found here: