CAMPAIGNERS have labelled the latest garden communities engagement programme as "premature and confusing".

Cerda Planning has written to Colchester Council's chief executive Adrian Pritchard on behalf of the Campaign Against Urban Sprawl in Essex (Cause) outlining its concerns over North Essex Garden Communities (NEGC) Limited's programme.

The letter asks for answers under six headings: adoption of a closed mind conclusion, conscientious consideration of consultation responses, parallel processes, planning inspector, state aid and scope.

It states: "I am instructed by Cause to write to you in connection with the engagement programme launched by NEGC only one week after the statutory Local Plan consultation of the north Essex authorities closed, and before examination of the plan, which is both premature and confusing.

"You are of course aware, a number of residents’ groups urged NEGC in September to delay its proposed engagement programme until after examination and after an Inspector’s report.

"Ignoring this request does not bode well for one of the key tenants of garden communities - community engagement, something which must be a two-way process.

"Cause has received messages, phone calls and emails from people on this issue. Residents are confused, concerned and angry with the current behaviour of NEGC."

NEGC is the firm set up by Colchester, Tendring, Braintree and Essex councils to work on plans for three massive garden communities in Essex, which could total 43,000 homes.

In a response to Cerda Planning, Mr Pritchard said the councils, collectively called the North Essex Authorities (NEAs) and NEGC had separate and distinct roles.

He said: "The NEAs are the local planning authorities with statutory plan-making powers.

"NEGC, on the other hand, is a separate limited company, albeit wholly owned by the local authorities and potential delivery body for the garden communities.

"The engagement work referred to in your letter is being undertaken by NEGC as a potential deliverer of the garden communities and is not part of any Local Plan consultation process.

"As you will be aware, the NEAs' garden community proposals will be subject to further examination in public.

"Only once, and if, the proposals are found sound by the inspector would they be adopted by the NEAs.

"The engagement work being undertaken by NEGC Ltd cannot and does not pre-determine the outcome of the Inspector's examination into the Section 1 Local Plan."

The letter can be found at