By Local Democracy Reporter
MORE than £2 million has been spent in less than four years to put together Basildon’s still unfinished development plan.
A Freedom of Information request submitted by Local Democracy Reporter Steve Shaw revealed that £2,156,812 has been spent by Basildon Council since work on the Local Plan began in 2014.
This sum includes staffing and operational costs, project work and internal services.
Central government guidelines require 20,000 new homes to be built around the borough over the next 15 years but the Local Plan, which allocates where they will be built, has faced numerous setbacks and the council has missed Government deadlines.
Last November a written warning was sent to the council by former housing minister Sajid Javid who threatened government intervention if progress is not made.
A plan was approved under a Labour-led administration in March but the Tories pulled it when they took control in May in order to make several amendments.
This has resulted in 600 homes in and around Billericay being removed from the draft plan due to concerns over green belt land – leaving it 1,800 homes under the target of 20,000.
A recent review of national government guidelines means that if the council does not finalise the Local Plan by January 24, an additional 1,400 homes will be allocated to the borough. It could also result in government intervention where civil servants will plan the borough’s future from an office in London.
Councillor Andrew Baggott, leader of Basildon Council, said: “Developing a finalised Local Plan is an expensive and lengthy process in general, with the delay caused by reconsidering in detail specific matters of the Publication Local Plan as approved at an extraordinary Council meeting in June 2018 resulting in limited additional project costs. It is important that we get the job right.
“A revised Local Development Scheme, including a detailed timetable and work plan, was adopted at Full Council on Thursday 19 July. It sets out our intention to seek approval for the Revised Publication Local Plan from Council in October 2018, and to submit it to the Secretary of State in the first quarter of 2019.”
The deputy leader of Basildon Labour, councillor David Burton-Sampson, said: “Putting together a Local Plan is not a cheap business. But what these figures show is the financial impact of the Conservatives dragging their heels on our local plan making process for the last five years whilst leaving our borough wide open to intervention.
“We passed a Local Plan in March this year so this whole episode should now be moving towards conclusion and an end in sight for residents’ money being spent on this process. But once again with the Conservatives back in power we see further delays to the process as they try to appease residents in their voting heartlands.”
Kevin Blake, deputy leader of the Conservatives, accused Labour of ignoring the public.
“They tried to do something in a year, they thought they managed it only for the public to throw them out on the basis of the Local Plan. The electorate has supported our ideas and we will keep listening to local people.”