REBEL councillors are questioning whether Castle Point’s green belt can be saved after a meeting with Government planning inspectors.
Inspectors from the Department of Communities and Local Government visited Castle Point Council to give advice on forming a Local Plan as the authority is still formulating its housing strategy setting out sites for 4,000 new homes.
Controversially, half of them would be built on green belt – which has sparked protests from residents.
The meeting raised questions over whether the authority may have to re-think its housing strategy as councillors felt new planning policies mean they could get away with scrapping development on green belt altogether.
However, the council said they were misinterpreting the regulations and the authority could face having planning powers revoked if the local plan is not watertight. Simon Hart, Conservative councillor for Victoria ward, said: “The inspector was speaking generally about the local plan and that we could do it without any houses on green belt, if we can justify it and give reasons why.
“Castle Point is very small and therefore it needs a buffer to separate it from other areas, so we could try to prove we are stuck and ask them to accept a smaller amount of homes.
“This has thrown a spanner in the works, but a good spanner as this is definitely good news.
“It has given us hope. We do not want to raise people’s hopes as we have to get a plan past an inspector.”
Around half of the 4,000 homes will be built on green belt, including 800 homes on Jotmans, Benfleet, 430 homes on land east of Rayleigh Road, Thundersley, and 275 homes on the Dutch Village on Canvey.
This comes as developer Persimmon Homes recently lodged an appeal to try to push forward 265 homes on green belt off Jotmans Lane, Benfleet.
Last week, councillors also agreed to carry out further investigations into whether or not up to 1,500 homes could be built on the Blinking Owl site off the A127 to try to save the borough’s virgin green belt land.
A source close to the council said: “The inspector said he could accept a local plan that didn’t involve building on green belt whatsoever, which is very interesting.
“All we have to do is try to meet the housing need, but frankly I don’t think 4,000 homes is what we need.He said we have a responsibility to approach other authorities to see if they are willing to take some of our housing allocation.
“If they all turn around and say no, it doesn’t matter, we just have to show we tried.”
CASTLE Point Council says it can only keep green belt if it manages to find other sites for all 4,000 homes.
A spokeswoman said: “The visit was about plan-making generally.
“Green belt is an important part of Government policy – as is meeting housing needs and boosting the economy.
“The inspector made it clear alterations to the green belt boundary were a matter best dealt with as part of the plan-making process, something the council is currently considering.”
The spokeswoman said green belt could only be left untouched if the council met housing need and, if it couldn’t, it must ask other councils if they can take some of the new homes. If that fails, the council needs to persuade an inspector it has done all it can to meet the requirements.
She said green belt would be developed if there were no other, non-green belt sites to use.
She added: “All authorities must cooperate with each other.
“The council has presented its plan and background evidence to neighbouring councils.”
She also made it clear that any alterations of the green belt would not be imposed on the council by a planning inspector at examination as this was a matter for the local planning authority.