It is very disappointing that after more than four years, several ‘consultations’ (in name only), and with millions of pounds spent, local concerns about the ‘garden communities’ remain unaddressed.

Still we don’t know why three vast new towns across thousands of acres of much loved north Essex countryside are needed when no other authorities feel the need for such destructive ‘ambition’.

Still we have no idea how the 100,000 people in the three new towns will fit onto our roads and trains, into our hospitals and doctors’ surgeries and how affordable homes will actually be paid for. How will the infrastructure we are airily promised be paid for and delivered? How many times do we have to ask?

John Spence wrote a letter to the paper last week but did not answer any of the questions that CAUSE, Hands Off Wivenhoe and SERCLE had posed in our own letter.

Then, in an opinion accompanied by a delightful new artist’s impression of West Tey, we heard from Graham Butland that too much is at stake to take a short-term view on housing.

In the now characteristically familiar approach which involves reassuring promises but no substance, we heard that the garden communities will solve the problems of the 8,000 families on north Essex’s waiting list, that council leadership will overcome traditional problems with developers, and the biggest myth of them all, that ‘housing pays for and generates infrastructure’.

There is simply no evidence to back these statements up.

Any family on the waiting list hoping for a garden community home will have to wait some time. NEGC will take many years to deliver anything other than a pile of professional fees. Then there is the prospect of the social housing being bought up for “London overspill”. The whole project will take, using the Inspector’s figures, nearly 100 years to build. And if the families hoped that the private housing would be affordable they should note that the plan assumes that they will be sold at a Garden Community premium – a higher price.

There is no reason why council people disguised in the cloak of a development corporation will be able to manage things any better. Developers will still need 15-25% profit. They will still negotiate with the councils and, with their greater expertise and resources, will still call the shots. If they can’t make money, they won’t deliver.

Under the proposed model, tax-payers bear the risk - NEGC neglects to remind us that borrowing on a huge scale is required to fund the new towns.

How on earth does large scale housing pay for infrastructure? Where is the evidence? The inspector couldn’t see any. CAUSE’s analysis shows that in developments over 2,000-homes viability begins to fall, and the amount available to pay for infrastructure begins to decline. Until we see NEGC’s latest numbers, there is no reason to believe any of the promises of infrastructure first.

Perhaps if the authorities had put their short-term house in order it would be sensible to take a long-term view. Instead, the focus on the 50 year horizon ignores the immediate needs of north Essex and is creating a developer free-for-all. Mr Butland does say that views must be listened to and that ideas and alternatives must be challenged. Let’s see this approach put into action.

Let’s start by imagining a different scenario, one which would have left north Essex in a much better position than the one in which we now find ourselves. It is not too late to take this path.

Imagine if last summer, when the Inspector wrote his letter setting out the many problems with the garden communities, the council leaders had issued a frank apology for money wasted and warnings ignored, and for not listening to local people.

There is now ample evidence that the garden towns are not viable or deliverable. Imagine if the authorities had chosen the Inspector’s ‘Option 1’, instead of continuing to stumble blindly onwards with the garden communities. By now each district’s Local Plan might well be on the way to adoption. That would have given protection from unplanned speculative development.

Now, let’s imagine that in the meantime the authorities had worked to improve the collection of developer contributions, particularly with regards to affordable housing, and to start to put in place a Community Infrastructure Levy. (This is a levy which captures land value uplift of around £10-£20k per new home and which our authorities, inexplicably, neglect to collect.) And with social housing borrowing caps relaxed by government, there has been an opportunity to look at how the authorities deliver social housing.

And, let’s imagine that the bids for infrastructure from government’s Housing Infrastructure Fund had been reviewed, asking local people what they thought. The £100m bid for the re-routing of the A12 to accommodate 8,000 additional homes at West Tey could have been resubmitted for infrastructure that we need and want. Moving the A12 brings no benefit to anyone.

In the meantime, the work on long-term strategic sites could have continued, and local people could have been consulted in a refreshing two-way engagement process. Maybe a garden village or two, capped at around 2,000-homes, might be the end result, but communities should be in the driving seat, not an elite few on the NEGC Ltd board...