Should local councils get into large scale speculative property development?

That is the approach that four Essex councils are taking to the garden communities project.

Although the councils won’t be building the houses (the easy bit) they will be investing large sums of public money in building land and infrastructure (the risky bit).

Many will be uncomfortable with this expansion in state ownership and will question whether it is necessary.

Councils are now consulting on design detail before establishing whether their ambitious new strategy is sound or “fundable”.

Their approach has proved impervious to all external input, including from experts such as Lord Kerslake and their own advisers.

The proposals, presented as a “straw man” to stimulate discussion, are embarrassing given that £2 million has already been spent on them.

The plan for West Tey makes no attempt to establish an identity for the community.

We are presented instead with a sprawling commuter town, a town centre divided by a main line railway and a split-level road junction – exactly the sort of severance that undermines Marks Tey.

We are shown how councils plan for significant housebuilding before the A12 or the A120 is improved, an idea which everyone knows will cause gridlock and undermine the local economy.

The answer is emphatic – councils should not be gambling with our money.

They would do better to leave private housebuilding to the private sector, concentrating instead on balanced growth and better collection of developer contributions.

Not as exciting for councillors, FEELING BLUE but more acceptable to the rest of us.

By William Sunnucks of Coggeshall