It’s all happening in Basildon

By Mike Hardware, Associate Director

Of all the local authorities currently going through the local plan process, Basildon must rank as one of the most exciting, if exciting is a word to describe such things. Within a year, we have seen two changes of administration, the local plan altered and then withdrawn. Things move fast in Essex despite the authority being on the Secretary of State’s ‘naughty list’ with the Sword of Damocles hovering menacingly over it.

All was going well in 2016 with a Conservative administration carefully nursing the local plan through the complex process. There were objections from the opposition suggesting Basildon was taking too much growth while Tory-dominated Billericay was taking relatively little, but this was all par for the course. Then the Labour, UKIP and Independents all collaborated and ganged-up on the Conservative administration, banishing the largest party into opposition and promptly reverting the council from the cabinet to the committee system, which took effect in December 2017.

The new administration worked feverishly to bump up the local plan numbers, especially around Billericay, and approved the plan for Reg 19 consultation in April this year. But the intervening local elections and purdah meant that the consultation was postponed until later in May.

This gave the Conservatives an opportunity, which it promptly took, taking back the council with a small but workable majority. Wasting no time, the new administration ordered a special meeting and withdrew the local plan saying it would review some of the allocations, surprisingly including some around Billericay.

Many expected MHCLG to come knocking, and the new Secretary of State, James Brokenshire, did indeed visit Basildon and met with the new leader, Cllr Andrew Baggott, in June. Much to the new opposition’s frustration, the substance of the discussions was not divulged, but it appears MHCLG is going along with the slightly delayed timetable.

Basildon is now looking forward to relative calm with the local plan scheduled for approval for Reg 19 consultation in the autumn, with submission expected in the New Year. What the Inspector will make of the plan is another matter, and perhaps another chapter of this story.