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VOTE: Should Castle Point Council spend £1.25million to defend green belt sites?
12:00am Friday 20th September 2013 in News
TORY councillors are creating a £1.25million fighting fund to take on developers who want to build on green belt.
Conservatives on Castle Point Council met last week to discuss the Local Plan to set out where thousands of homes will be built in the next 15 years.
Nine major green belt sites, including Jotmans Farm and the Dutch Village on Canvey, are among those which could be targeted by developers, leading to the council upping the amount in its reserves to fight such plans.
However, while deputy council leader Jeffrey Stanley has the money in place, he wants colleagues to sort out the Local Plan as soon as possible, to prevent certain sites being targeted.
Mr Stanley said: “The situation is that unless we have a Local Plan, all our green belt is open for developers to come in and submit applications, because Government guidance gives presumption in their favour. If we refuse an application on green belt, they would almost certainly chance their arm on appeal.
“Looking at the expressions of interest we have received so far from developers, we estimate it could potentially cost £1.25million in legal costs. Because of the increased risk of having to fight appeals, we will increase our minimum level of reserves from £1.1million to £2.3million, just in case.
“It does mean almost all our reserves will have to be kept aside for that, which is a shame.
It’s not a good use of public money. It would be far better all round if we put this Local Plan to bed for the better protection of our green belt and free up the money for other things.”
The council is already facing a legal battle over plans for Glebelands, in Benfleet, as developer Fox Land and Property is taking the case to the High Court, which could result in another public planning inquiry.
Opposition members fear setting aside £1.25million could have an adverse effect on front -line services.
Dave Blackwell, leader of the Canvey Independent Party, said: “The budgets have been set for the next few years, so if they have to spend that money it will throw them all out. If they have got to spend that amount of money, how will that affect council services? Will they have to be cut? Will council tax have to rise? They need to be honest about what the situation is.”
Mr Stanley said the council hoped to have a draft Local Plan prepared by the end of the year.
It is the council’s third attempt to put together a new housing strategy as the original proposals were rejected by a Government inspector in 2010 and again in September 2011, following overwhelming opposition from residents and backbench councillors who wanted to protect the green belt.
The plan included proposals for 500 homes on green belt in Daws Heath, 650 in Thundersley, 300 on Canvey, and at least 600 between Benfleet and the outskirts of Pitsea.
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