Update on the Basildon Local Plan Examination
As many of you will recall, the Basildon Borough Local Plan 2014 –2034 was submitted by the then Conservative Administration to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government on 28th March 2019 for its ‘Examination in Public’ (EIP), which is the next legal phase in the Plan’s development.
Basildon Borough Council was informed by the Planning Inspectorate that they had appointed an inspector for the examination and that the EIP had now officially begun. The Inspector is currently reading through all of the submitted material, including the plan itself, its evidence base, and the public consultation representations.
In June 2019, the Labour-led coalition were back in administration in Basildon and were subject to an ‘Air Quality Directive’ from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). The ministerial directive was issued to task Basildon Council with reducing a reported exceedance of harmful emissions along the A127, near the old ‘Fortune of War not-really-a-roundabout’ in Laindon. This has subsequently been the source of a great deal of smoke and mirrors by the Labour-led Administration, scaremongering about congestion tolls, but it also meant they asked the Inspector to suspend the EIP while they investigated the implications of the directive. He agreed to defer the EIP for three months.
Later, Essex County Council (as the Local Highways Authority) submitted an updated business case to Defra in October 2019, for a speed reduction scheme on the A127. The following month, Basildon was advised by Defra that no decisions would be issued in respect of the information provided in response to the ministerial directive until January 2020, so the Administration made a further request for a pause in the EIP until those decisions were issued and the Inspector agreed.
The 31st January deadline was missed by Defra and it remains uncertain when a decision on the Air Quality Directive will be reached.
The speed reduction scheme was, nonetheless, rolled out in January. Subsequently, the Council wrote to the Inspector in February to advise how the transport evidence for the Local Plan has been updated in light of the air quality challenge and requested he establish a programme for the EIP. Obviously, given current circumstances, the hearings are not expected to take place now until Autumn 2020 at the earliest.
More recently, I am advised that the Administration wrote to the Inspector in June regarding the current position with the EIP, and the proposed way forward in relation to the Administration’s megalomaniacal Basildon Town Centre Masterplan (BTCM), which has recently been put out to an entirely rigged consultation. Nonetheless, the Council envisaged the additional work resulting from the BTCM being managed in parallel with other outstanding work on transport and air quality, with the aim of maintaining the potential for hearings to take place in the Autumn.
In response to the spread of Covid-19, the Planning Inspectorate’s guidance on Local Plan examinations has been updated to explore how best these can move forward, including the use of virtual hearings and written submissions. For example, virtual hearing sessions are set to commence for the South Oxfordshire Local Plan this month and will be conducted via Microsoft Teams.
The Planning Inspectorate is looking at phasing virtual hearings in for other EIPs and I gather Basildon Council has expressed a willingness to explore this option to help expedite proceedings. They have yet to hear back from the Inspectorate.
Anyone with an interest can monitor the dedicated examination webpage for updates on the examination and when the hearings may take place: