Section 1 - Publication Draft Local Plan

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(6) 1. Introduction

1.1 North Essex is a vibrant and attractive place to live and work. The area has experienced significant population, housing and employment growth in recent years and this is forecast to continue. The local authorities and their partners wish to respond to this opportunity by planning positively for the area as a whole. Working together to address some of the key strategic issues in North Essex will get the best outcomes for current and future communities. In particular, it will deliver sustainable development that respects local environments and provides new jobs and essential infrastructure.

1.2 For these reasons Braintree District Council, Colchester Borough Council and Tendring District Council have agreed to work together to address strategic planning matters across their areas. Collectively they are known as the North Essex authorities.

1.3 The North Essex local authorities border a large number of other local authorities who will continue to be engaged and involved on an active and ongoing basis on strategic cross border issues. These authorities include Babergh Chelmsford, Maldon Mid Suffolk, St Edmundsbury, South Cambridgeshire, Uttlesford, and Suffolk and Cambridgeshire County Councils.

1.4 Essex County Council (ECC) is a key partner in its strategic role for infrastructure and service provision and as the Highway Authority, Lead Local Flood Authority, Local Education Authority and Minerals and Waste Planning Authority.

1.5 An initial outcome of this collaboration is this strategic planning chapter, which each of the local planning authorities have included in their Publication Local Plan. The Local Plan together with the Essex Minerals Local Plan and the Essex and Southend-on-Sea Waste Local Plan (prepared by ECC) and any Neighbourhood Plans, form the Development Plan for the respective areas.

The Need for a Strategic Approach

1.6 In Essex, as elsewhere, the influences of population and economic growth do not stop at administrative boundaries. Settlement patterns, migration flows, commuting and strategic infrastructure needs all have significant influences within and between local authority areas.

1.7 Local Plans are the main vehicle for conveying an area's growth requirements and how these will be accommodated. However, individual local authority boundaries cannot encapsulate the geographies of issues that transcend those boundaries. Through active and on-going collaboration the authorities can jointly plan, manage and review strategic objectives and requirements for the effective implementation of sustainable development (including minerals and waste) and enhanced environments.

1.8 The geographic and functional relationship between the authorities' areas is demonstrated by the fact that, with Chelmsford City Council, they form a single Housing Market Area (HMA) for planning purposes; and they are a major part of the Haven Gateway, an established economic partnership. Within this context, the forecast levels of future population growth together with the geography of North Essex means that considerations for future growth will include options that have clear cross-boundary implications. These include both the expansion of existing towns and villages as well as possible new communities.

1.9 Consequently, Braintree, Colchester and Tendring have agreed to come together because of their shared desire to promote a sustainable growth strategy for the longer term; and the particular need to articulate the strategic priorities within the wider area and how these will be addressed. Central to this is the effective delivery of planned strategic growth, particularly housing and employment development, with the necessary supporting infrastructure.

1.10 Uttlesford District Council, Maldon District Council as well as other neighbouring authorities, sit within separate housing market areas. However the authorities are actively and continuously engaged to ensure that cross-boundary and strategic issues are dealt with.

1.11 The Localism Act 2011 places a Duty to Co-operate on local planning authorities and other public bodies. This requires them to engage constructively, actively and on an on-going basis in the preparation of plans where this involves strategic matters. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) adds to this statutory duty as it expects local planning authorities to demonstrate evidence of having co-operated effectively to plan for issues with cross-boundary impacts.

1.12 This strategic chapter of the authorities' Local Plans reflects the Duty to Co-operate as it concerns strategic matters with cross-boundary impacts in North Essex.

1.13 Against this background, the main purposes of this strategic chapter of the Local Plan are to:

  • Articulate a spatial portrait of the area, including its main settlements and strategic infrastructure, as a framework for accommodating future planned growth;
  • Provide a strategic vision for how planned growth in North Essex will be realised; set strategic objectives and policies for key growth topics;
  • Set out the numbers of additional homes and jobs across the area that will be needed covering the period to 2033.  The choices made, particularly in relation to the location of garden communities, will also set the framework for development well beyond the plan period; and
  • Highlight the key strategic growth locations across the area and the necessary new or upgraded infrastructure to support this growth.

Spatial Portrait

1.14 Braintree, Colchester and Tendring districts are located to the north of Essex between the east coast ports and London Stansted airport. The principal towns are Braintree, Colchester and Clacton-on-Sea and a number of secondary settlements: Witham, Halstead, Wivenhoe, Tiptree, Brightlingsea, Manningtree, Harwich, Walton and Frinton. Map 3.2 identifies the settlements that link with the main road and/or rail infrastructure.

1.15 Beyond these settlements much of the area has a rural character.

1.16 The area covered by this strategic planning approach comprises a large part of the Haven Gateway, an established partnership area which is identified in a range of existing strategy and investment documents. The Haven Gateway includes the Essex administrative areas of Braintree, Colchester, Maldon and Tendring Councils and extends northwards into parts of Suffolk.

1.17 The area's strategic road and rail network is heavily used, particularly given the proximity to and connectivity with London. The principal roads are the A12 and A120, while the A130, A131, A133 and A414 also form important parts of the strategic road network.

1.18 The Great Eastern Main Line provides rail services between London Liverpool Street and the East of England, including Witham, Chelmsford, Colchester and Clacton-on-Sea. It also carries freight traffic to and from Harwich International Port, which handles container ships and freight transport to and from the rest of the UK. Harwich is also one of the major UK ports for ferry and cruise departures.

1.19 Crossrail is expected to start operating in the first part of this plan period with services commencing just south of Chelmsford in Shenfield. The opportunities that Crossrail will bring in terms of additional capacity and quicker journeys to a wider choice of destinations will be a contributor to the continued attractiveness of north Essex as a place to live and to do business.

1.20 The growing demand for the use of airports, including London Stansted, will create additional associated pressures on road and rail infrastructure. The County Council, along with South East Local Enterprise Partnership, local and national agencies and other organisations, will also need to work collaboratively with the Local Planning Authorities to ensure infrastructure meets demand for enhanced economic growth.

1.21 Braintree and Colchester are the major centres of employment within the strategic area. While there are high levels of commuting to London, many residents work and live within the area with significant commuting across borough and district boundaries, reflecting a functional economic geography.

1.22 The area has a mixed economy focused on the service sector, including wholesale and retail, business services, tourism, health and education, alongside manufacturing, logistics and construction. Due to the extensive rural area outside urban settlements, agriculture and its related industries play an important part in the overall economy.

1.23 This rurality also means that there are large areas of open countryside, including protected natural and historic landscapes. Areas of importance for nature conservation are to be found particularly along the coast and river estuaries, while the villages and towns include many built heritage assets.

1.24 A more detailed assessment of the characteristics of each area is provided in the second part of this Local Plan.

Key Issues: Opportunities and Challenges

1.25 Due to its strong economic base, proximity to London and attractiveness as a place to live and work, North Essex has seen significant growth over recent years. The area is well-placed and connected to key growth points in the wider region including London, Cambridge and Stansted Airport and as a result is likely to continue to be a successful location for growth.  In particular Braintree and Colchester have regularly exceeded planned house building targets and this is expected to continue. Planning for and managing future population growth requires an appropriate response from the local authorities to ensure that sufficient homes, employment premises and land, and supporting social and other infrastructure are provided in a sustainable way.

1.26 Notwithstanding its strong economic base and steady growth, the North Essex area faces a range of challenges, notably the need to improve economic and social conditions across the area and reduce health inequalities, pockets of deprivation, infrastructure deficits and low skills; the need to ensure that the infrastructure needed to support continued housing and jobs growth is in place at the right time; and the need to ensure that continued growth does not erode the special environment, heritage and urban assets and qualities of the area or exacerbate pressure on natural resources.

1.27 The education, health and other service needs of a growing population must be addressed, requiring careful planning to assess future needs such as pupil numbers and further adult education needs. The assessed need must in turn be translated into new or expanded education, health and other facilities which are available to meet the needs of new communities at the appropriate time. The ageing profile of residents also requires a proactive response to provide the right type of homes, including independent living and supporting services; as well as sufficient healthcare facilities to support both older residents and the population as a whole.

1.28 New development should be located and designed so that day-to-day needs of residents can be met locally and be accessible by sustainable forms of transport, including walking and cycling, and wherever possible reduce the number of car based trips. Growth will create demand for additional road and rail use with the associated need for new and upgraded infrastructure. Future planned growth provides the opportunity to address some of these infrastructure needs, although growth locations and sites need to be considered carefully with regard to the balance of providing necessary infrastructure and the viability and deliverability of development.

1.29 The NPPF expects local authorities to set out the strategic priorities for the area in the Local Plan. Of those listed in the Framework and based on the above key issues, this strategic plan chapter addresses:

  • the homes and jobs needed in the area
  • the provision of infrastructure for transport and telecommunications
  • the provision of education, health, and community infrastructure, and
  • conservation and enhancement of the natural and historic environment, including landscape

(12) Vision for the Strategic Area

1.30 It is important that addressing growth at any spatial scale is founded on a clear vision of how and where change should occur. The vision for North Essex sets this out at a strategic level and provides a context for the more detailed vision for the growth of each individual authority's area. The NPPF (paragraph 52) sets out that the supply of new homes can sometimes be best achieved through planning for larger scale development. The high housing need identified for North Essex, constraints in many existing urban areas and the desire to support a sustainable form of development in the long term, as part of the strategy for the development, Local Plans are proposing standalone new settlements that follow the principles of Garden Communities.

Vision for North Essex

North Essex will be an area of significant growth over the period to 2033 and beyond, embracing positively the need to build well-designed new homes, create jobs and improve and develop infrastructure for the benefit of existing and new communities.

Sustainable development principles will be at the core of the strategic area's response to its growth needs, balancing social, economic and environmental issues. Green and blue infrastructure and new and expanded education and health care facilities will be planned and provided along with other facilities to support the development of substantial new growth; while the countryside and heritage assets will be protected and enhanced.

At the heart of our strategic vision for North Essex are new garden communities, the delivery of which is based on Garden City principles covered by policy SP7. The garden communities will attract residents and businesses who value innovation, community cohesion and a high quality environment, and who will be provided with opportunities to take an active role in managing the garden community to ensure its continuing success.

Residents will live in high quality, innovatively designed, contemporary homes, accommodating a variety of needs and aspirations, located in well-designed neighbourhoods where they can meet their day-to-day needs. There will be a network of tree-lined streets and green spaces, incorporating and enhancing existing landscape features and also accommodating safe and attractive routes and space for sustainable drainage solutions; and leisure and recreation opportunities for both residents and visitors of the garden communities.

Suitable models for the long term stewardship of community assets will be established and funded to provide long term management and governance of assets. All Garden City principles as specified in the North Essex Garden Communities Charter will be positively embraced including new approaches to delivery and partnership working and sharing of risk and reward for the benefit of the new communities.

Strategic Objectives

1.31 The following strategic objectives are designed to support the vision for the area and provide a basis for the development of strategic topic-based policies that will help in achieving the vision.

Providing Sufficient New Homes – to provide for a level and quality of new homes to meet the needs of a growing and ageing population in North Essex; to achieve this by ensuring the availability of developable land in appropriate locations and that the market delivers a suitable mix of housing types and tenures.

Fostering Economic Development – to strengthen and diversify local economies to provide more jobs; and to achieve a better balance between the location of jobs and housing, which will reduce the need to travel and promote sustainable growth.

Providing New and Improved Transport & Communication Infrastructure – to make efficient use of existing transport infrastructure and to ensure sustainable transport opportunities are promoted in all new development. Where additional capacity is required in the form of new or upgraded transport infrastructure to support new development, ensuring that this is delivered in a phased & timely way to minimise the impact of new development. To ensure that enabled communication  is provided as part of new developments as enabled communication is essential for modern living and broadband infrastructure and related services will be critical for business, education and residential properties.

Addressing Education and Healthcare Needs – to provide good quality educational opportunities as part of a sustainable growth strategy, including practical vocational training and apprenticeships linked to local job opportunities. To work with partners in the NHS, Public Health and local health partnerships to ensure adequate provision of healthcare facilities to support new and growing communities.

Ensuring High Quality Outcomes – to promote greater ambition in planning and delivering high-quality sustainable new communities. Overall, new development must secure high standards of urban design and green infrastructure which creates attractive and sustainable places where people want to live and spend time.

Strategic Issues and Policies

1.32 This section includes the Councils' response to the opportunities and challenges facing the wider area, in the form of strategic policies that will help to deliver the vision and objectives. These policies only cover those matters that are of strategic relevance to all three authorities. Policies that address local matters are included in the following section of the plan.

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