PLANS to build three new towns, dubbed garden communities, in north Essex have been found “lacking” by an inspector.

Planning inspector Roger Clews presided over a week-long inquiry into plans put forward by Colchester, Braintree, Tendring and Essex County councils.

The four authorities are working on a bid to build three new towns which could deliver up to 43,000 new homes.

One garden community would be built on the border of Colchester and Braintree, while sites are also planned to the west of Braintree and on the Colchester and Tendring border.

In a detailed letter to the authorities, which was published on Friday, Mr Clews called the scheme “innovative and ambitious” but levelled criticism at “shortcomings”, including plans for transport and employment provision.

He pointed to plans to widen the A12 and A120, and said the garden communities could not be delivered without the increased road capacity provided by the schemes.

He said: “Greater certainty over the funding and alignment of the A120 dualling scheme and the feasibility of realigning the widened A12 at Marks Tey is necessary to demonstrate the garden community proposals are deliverable in full.”

The inspector also took aim at plans to build a “rapid transit system”, using public transport, to serve north Essex.

He called the system “essential” to the delivery of the three garden communities, but despaired over a lack of detail and preparation.

The authorities aim to see 30 per cent of all journeys to and from the communities made by “rapid transit”.

But Mr Clews said: “It is unlikely those extremely ambitious targets would be achieved or even approached, unless rapid transit services to key destinations are available early on in the lifetime of the garden communities.

“Planning of the proposed rapid transit service has reached only a very early stage.

“The North Essex Rapid Transit Study is a high-level assessment of the costs and benefits of a rapid transit service.

“But it is not a feasibility study which investigates whether such a network could actually be delivered on the ground.

“Nor does it recommend which of the modal options - bus, guided bus, tram, etc. - should be taken forward, or identify a timescale for delivery.”

Included in plans for the garden community at the Colchester and Braintree border is the idea of building a railway station at the centre of the new settlement.

Mr Clews said leaving Marks Tey train station in its current location would prove to be a “missed opportunity”, and called for funding to be allocated much earlier than set out in the plan.

“Both the concept framework and policy SP9 make it clear that they do not see the relocation of Marks Tey station as essential to the success of the garden community.

“Nonetheless it would be a significant missed opportunity in my view, if a garden community on the scale currently proposed in this area were to proceed with the station on its periphery.

He said: “As the concept framework points out, a station in a town centre generates a focus of activity, supporting higher density development and helping to create an active and vibrant centre.”

He also insisted further work must be undertaken to demonstrate 30 per cent of the homes built in the three communities would be available as affordable housing.

Mr Clews also called it “surprising” that the plans contained no specific figures for the amount of employment land to be provided at each of the three garden communities.