Residents of Benfleet and Canvey are right to be alarmed!

Our area is being swamped by overdevelopment with a distinct lack of infrastructure to support it. We have old road systems unable to cope with traffic generated by extra housing. At the same time public transport is shrinking, leaving the elderly and young marooned at home. Police, GP surgeries, school places and dentist appointments all in short supply. But our government is giving a major boost to developers to exploit the few open spaces left in our already intensively developed area. . So what is being proposed? The Conservative Government has published details of its upcoming Planning Bill. It has been described as the biggest shake-up of the planning system for 70 years. If it goes ahead, it will mean:

- Land in England carved up into zones for housebuilding.

- Automatic planning permission granted.

- Power handed to developers to build on green spaces.

- Residents' right to oppose developments removed.

Co-incidence? According to respected think tank Transparency International UK 'One in every five pounds donated to the Conservative Party between 2010 and 2020 came from companies and individuals with a substantial interest in the housing market'. They say this is worth over sixty million pounds and amounts to over four times as much as given by the sector to all other political parties combined. They also state 'that this unhealthily high reliance on those with certain interests creates a risk that ministerial decisions are incentivised by their party's financial ties to housing developers, major landowners, and those with large property portfolios'.

Much of what makes our area so special is now at risk. Everything from the small but still significant to the large and consequential. Residents came together to protest about the loss of an old oak tree in Poors Lane, Hadleigh - threatened with felling to improve access to a potential development site. A vast area in Benfleet designated for development hugging the A130 from New Thundersley to the railway line could lead to traffic chaos for decades to come. On Canvey development has been pencilled in for both large chunks and smaller remnants of what remains of the open land outside of the flood plain.

Castle Point Council's local plan could allow an additional five thousand homes to be built in the borough over the next 12 years. But who believes these new homes will come with the infrastructure they need? How can that be described as a local plan? Existing facilities will be stretched to breaking point and beyond. Indeed some community facilities could be demolished to allow for the planned urban sprawl. Some side roads may become rat runs for the extra traffic and air quality plummet. Effectively our area could become a vast concrete jungle with our town centres gradually taken over by intensive housing in the form of flats. A bit like London but without the employment.

In the past our Borough Council failed to make a local plan, leaving the area vulnerable to a developers' free-for-all. Local plans are essential these days, but Councils should make strenuous efforts to avoid anti-development groups being pitted against each other as they strive to save their local open space. The process cannot be allowed to degenerate into a dog eat dog race to the bottom.

Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey has written an article for the Local Government Association about the government's planned changes:

'this Government's plan is to centralise even further control of what happens in our community. To cap it all, these reforms take no account of the significant changes to our working lives, to our daily travel and to where people will want to live, post-Covid, post-Zoom. These planning reforms are profoundly wrong.'

But it is not just the Lib Dems against the Planning Bill:

The Campaign to Protect Rural England charity stated 'Under the proposed zonal system these green spaces will be under increased threat of becoming a free-for-all for development'.

Former Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May 'Unless the government looks again at planning proposals, we will potentially see the wrong homes being built in the wrong places'

Former Tory leader Ian Duncan Smith "Local residents will be left with no say over new developments".

Let's hope we can stop these changes before it is too late.

Liberal Democrats

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