The Kerslake Review of North Essex Garden Communities – perhaps not what you thought?

28 Jan

sir-humphrey

Some commentators seem to think that this recently completed report supports the plans of the local councils to create 32,000 new homes in three different locations. For example, the Essex County Council website has an item entitled ‘Leading housing expert supports Garden Communities project’.

However, it helps, when reading this report (available at http://bit.ly/2ky7cTu) to recall that Lord Bob Kerslake – a former permanent secretary of the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) is rather a ‘Sir Humphrey’ character. As readers of a certain age will know, Sir Humphrey was the fictional civil servant advising the hapless Jim Hacker, and was master of the rather subtle way of saying things.

A reading of the report shows that some translation is required from mandarin-speak of the Sir Humphrey variety to the modern idiom. For example, when the report says ‘The council’s ambition for this project is impressive’ we can translate this as ‘there’s little chance of them delivering this as it stands’. Similarly when referring to the timetable as ‘ambitious’, and strongly advising  ‘that they complete the Planning Advisory Toolkit to evaluate their readiness’ we can see clear mandarin-speak for ‘you are not ready – there’s a lot more work to do’.

Perhaps the most damning but understated finding is on delivery capacity: ‘the current team is too small to deliver the next stage of the project; all but two staff deliver this project alongside other work (italics added)’. This is an incredible statement for a project designed to, as the report notes, ‘add over 80,000 to the existing population – equivalent to the City of Bath’.

Against this background it is no wonder that Braintree District Council have pushed back a key meeting to 5th June from February.

But the report is not content to challenge delivery and timescales – it has an appendix saying that the concept needs a clear ‘strategic narrative’. A good challenge – which invites the local councils to come clean on whether they simply plan more dormitory suburbs or have a genuine strategic plan for a significant expansion of North Essex.

In short, it’s a good report – but it doesn’t give the support to the North Essex Garden Communities project that some commentators think it does.

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