GREEN belt land in Benfleet should be built on because Castle Point Council is lagging behind in providing new homes, it has been claimed.

More than 50 residents turned out for the start of a planning inquiry into the refusal of plans to build 165 homes on green belt land between Sadlers Farm roundabout and Glebelands, in Benfleet, today, December 11.

The plans, which were thrown out in April, were submitted to Castle Point Council by Fox Land and Property and refused for three reasons:

- The site is on green belt land.

- Wildlife conservation proposals were inadequate.

- The developer failed to demonstrate commitment to providing affordable housing.

Peter Goatley, counsel for Fox Land and Property, said the firm rejects each reason for refusal. He also claims the council has failed to officially define green belt land in its planning blueprint so the land is not covered by the status.

He said: “If it is not found to be in the green belt, the application would not need to demonstrate special circumstances for its release.

“There is an acute need for housing delivery in Castle Point, there’s less than a five year housing supply as found by an inspector and an acute shortfall in the provision of affordable housing.”

Mr Goatley said within the development, 35 per cent of affordable housing would be provided, something which he expected to be “greeted warmly”, instead it was met with criticism by the council.

Alun Alesbury, representing the council, said: “It’s an unusual situation, but there’s no legal basis for saying the green belt has disappeared in Castle Point - it clearly hasn’t.

“This is not a trivial piece of the green belt that can be nibbled away at or given up, it’s worth preserving and fighting for.

“The council has been undertaking a considerable amount of work and identified areas of land in Castle Point which are suitable for adequate amounts of housing.”

Peter Gunn, 78, of Mandeville Way, has lived in the area for 50 years.

He said: “The crux of the matter is whether that area is green belt, if it is declared and accepted as green belt and if you grant permission to develop on that site you will set a precedent for the whole of England.”

Councillors Jackie Govier and Clive Walter also spoke at the appeal, along with Steve Guest, co-founder of the Glebelands and Sadlers Green Belt campaign group.

Mr Walter said life “will be hell” for residents already living near the site if the development is approved due to an increase in traffic and noise problems and existing services, such as the oversubscribed doctor’s surgeries in Rushbottom Lane, could not cope if more people moved in.

Government planning inspector John Felgate said he will be considering ten points during the inquiry.

1) Whether the site is in the green belt.

2) If it is in the green belt, the effects of the development on it, including how it will affect the area’s openess, functions and the character and appearance of it.

3) If it is not in the green belt, as it has been suggested, what policies would then apply in place of that status.

4) The effects of the development on wildlife, biodiversity and nature conservation.

5) Whether the scheme would make appropriate provision for affordable housing.

6) Whether the development would give rise to any other harm, including matters raised by members of the public such as traffic issues, road safety, parking and effects on local services.

7) The need for housing in the area generally and how far the council is from having a five-year supply of housing in Castle Point.

8) Effects of the scheme on the local economy.

9) Any other benefits of the proposed development.

10) Mr Felgate explained there is also a legal undertaking to consider and whether it meets relevant legal and policy tests.

The inquiry has been scheduled to last seven days.