Cllr Lewis Barber (Lexden & Braiswick Ward) explains why the top-down approach to planning in our borough is yielding, understandably, great dissatisfaction among Colchester’s communities.
It is no surprise because planning touches every aspect of our lives. The planning process impacts how we travel to work, where we socialise and, of course, where we live, plus much more.
That is why it is imperative to get planning right and, for too long, this borough has fallen short of residents’ expectations.
Colchester Council’s top-down approach, most prominently manifested in its backing of the largely undemocratic North Essex Garden Communities Ltd and current garden community plans, leaves existing communities exasperated.
Colchester’s communities far too often seem to be viewed as an inconvenience to be overcome for the achievement of political objectives by Colchester Council’s Liberal Democrat and Labour leadership.
The most recent example of top-down planning was the attempt to develop a deeply unpopular and flawed scheme at, what should be, the town’s cultural quarter off Queen Street. The application was fortunately rejected but it was driven to the edge by the political backing of the council’s political leadership.
However, there is another way.
A bottom-up approach to delivering infrastructure, services and housing, empowering residents to take greater control of the planning process and to determine the future of our neighbourhoods, is the much needed alternative.
The tool for residents to do so is "neighbourhood planning". This gives the power to our communities to have a greater say and determine policies on areas such as housing, infrastructure and services.
My ward is fortunate to have a fantastic group of volunteers who have driven ahead with neighbourhood plans in Braiswick, Eight Ash Green and West Bergholt.
These neighbourhood plans, completed or on the verge of being completed, set the future direction of these communities, and the benefits are significant with clear policies, shaped by local people, on the aforementioned policy areas.
Simultaneously, plans to work with the local authorities and central government to deliver larger, strategic infrastructure is also being worked on.
Neighbourhood plans are not just suitable for rural areas but can shape urban areas too, such as the Cultural Quarter and Vineyard Street.
Conservatives believe that the council must empower people and provide the resources to the diverse areas of Colchester to embrace this bottom-up approach to planning.
This way we can all have a stake in the diverse neighbourhoods of Colchester and end the mistakes of the past.