Housing has alway been a complex issue for local councils looking to provide enough affordable and sustainable housing development. An interesting move for housing and development in Colchester are the proposed “Garden Communities”. These are plans to deliver central government housing targets set for Colchester, Braintree and Tendring. The idea is to club together and build larger stand-alone communities outside of the existing urban centres, rather than adding more housing to those already congested urban centres.
As we have seen, when it comes to development, local councils don’t get to choose how many houses to build, they just get a (limited) say over how the targets they are set get delivered in their local communities
The rationale behind developing the Garden Communities route is that it gives the councils involved greater control over what type of housing and facilities are built, meaning they are able to cater for local residents and their needs. These Garden Community proposals provide a higher level of potential funding for infrastructure, such as roads, schools and doctors surgeries to support that new housing. This has been a clear issue with some small scale developments within Colchester, with residents communicating about the lack of GPs, schools, community spaces. It, therefore makes sense to plan these essentials in before the housing is actually built and occupied.
The plan is for Colchester Borough Council, Braintree District Council, Tendring District Council, and Essex County Council to create a Locally-Led Development Corporation (LLDC) under their control, which would then buy up the necessary land and sell it on to councils and developers, allowing them to build homes and important community facilities at the same time. This is in contrast to the usual process whereby developers buy up land and the council tries to manage which bits gets built on and what gets built there.
At the same time, by delivering larger developments in one go rather than adding piecemeal to existing urban areas, the councils hope to be able to access high levels of funding for essential infrastructure and deliver that as the communities are built, rather than infrastructure investment lagging behind the development as is the case currently.
Garden Communities are big and ambitious project and as such it comes with bigger risks so the councils involved will be investing a lot. But simply adding housing to existing urban areas in a piecemeal fashion has its risks as well, not least in terms of adding to the additional pressure on existing infrastructure like roads, schools and medical services, which are already struggling under existing development- and it is unlikely to deliver the same level of funding for infrastructure improvements.
Ultimately, this is a case of the Government dictating to local councils how much housing they have to build, then shirking their responsibilities for providing the funding required to invest in the infrastructure that local people in those communities need.
In those difficult circumstances, our local councillors are trying to find the best solution they can and the Garden Communities certainly offer some exciting opportunities to get a level of infrastructure investment that our Colchester simply wouldn’t get otherwise.