I have been involved in a number of discussions over the last few weeks about the new Local Plan for Rochford. There is no doubt in my mind that the preparation of the Local Plan remains one of the most controversial pieces of work that a local authority undertakes. Inevitably, whatever the outcome of the process, some residents will always remain dissatisfied.
The Local Plan deals with a broad range of issues that are important and ensures that we have a great place to live. Unfortunately, many of the plus points from the Local Plan are buried under passionate debates about housing and infrastructure. There is no easy answer to this debate, but I am sure we have all been following with interest the announcements being made by the Government about options to increase the number of houses being built. The debate is moving on and the recently sent letter to a number of local authorities, including Castle Point, Basildon and Brentwood, by the Communities Secretary, seeking an explanation about lack of progress on preparing a local plan, appears to demonstrate a new no-nonsense mind-set in Government. It is not wholly clear what the sanction for not preparing a plan will be, but the recent Housing White paper implies that a team may be sent in to do the work, with the costs being charged back to the local authority. I would have thought, if that is the case, it is far better to make progress with consultation and broad community involvement, whatever the outcome, than allow a ‘task force’ from outside the area to be let loose to do the work.
There is much talk about the number of houses that will need to be delivered in Rochford over the next twenty years. At present we have as guideline figure of need, provided by the Government, of 362 units per annum. However, this is what is called an ‘unconstrained’ number before taking into account a whole range of constraints. The Issues and Options Consultation running over the next 12 weeks is your opportunity to tell us what you think are the constraints so that the next stage of Plan preparation is fully informed.
I know that a key area of concern is around the road network and I suspect this will figure prominently in the consultation responses. I was interested to read, in a recent report, that in the last 20 years LGV (vans) miles have increased by 70%, compared with a growth of only 13.5% for cars and taxis and 5.4% for HGVs. Apparently, in 2016 vans made up 15% of all traffic, compared to 9% in 1985. Interestingly, the Department for Transport suggest the growth in internet shopping and deliveries is one of three factors responsible for this increase. The other two are changes to car and van taxation and companies using LGVs rather than HGVs. Anyway, it is opportune to share this information, given the time of year – in the run-up to Xmas we now have Black Friday and Cyber Monday – so the end of November and into December results in a spike of delivery vans on our roads. The concern is that a mix of traffic that is more orientated towards vans and ‘next day’ deliveries will result in more vans and more congestion. Perhaps the increase in vans is not the whole reason for more congestion on our roads, but it does seem to be a significant contributor.
I’ll end by asking you to take the time to have a look at the Council’s website and read through the Local Plan documentation. I know there is a lot of information, but we really want to hear your views on how the District will look over the next twenty years or so. It is very easy to submit comments – little different from posting on social media – so do take the time to contribute to the debate.
Finally, can I wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy Hogmanay.