Many of you will already be aware of the proposals and also the current public consultation ahead of the (re)examination of the Local Plan which is continuing to push forward the New Towns (‘Garden Communities’) including West of Braintree which is immediately adjacent to the village. Others may be less familiar with the plans.
It is essential that as many people as possible respond to the consultation so that the Planning Inspector - who has already rejected the same sites once - understands the extent of local opinion. This is effectively your last chance before the New Town at West of Braintree is potentially irrevocably confirmed, with building starting in 2025 and running into the 2060s.
The volume of evidence can be daunting but below are some of the key areas which you may want to consider when responding to the consultation:
1) Housing Numbers. Braintree already has 98% of its Government-required housing numbers to 2033 (end of Local Plan period) allocated without any Garden Community. Is a 10,000 home site being built through to the 2060s, which will change the character of this area forever, therefore disproportionate to plug such a small gap?
2) Viability. The Council’s revised numbers show land purchase values significantly below their previous minimum benchmark £100k/acre when suitable building risk contingencies are considered. Do these challenging site economics likely mean developers will over time force the Council to water down sustainable development principles/protection for nearby villages?
3) Rapid Transport. With all of the new traffic from a large town, the Council’s own modelling suggests road congestion would be immense (given the heavy car focus due to the remote location). Proposals to reduce congestion are centred on a bus network which primarily runs in traffic on the old A120, although potentially also turning the Flitch Way into a bus lane. Does this sound like an acceptable solution to a problem which could blight the area for generations to come?
4) Area Character. The Council’s work says that there will be no change to the character of the villages because the New Town will be more than 500m away. Given it is widely accepted that the area’s character arises from its rural nature and the loosely interconnected pattern of the settlements, does it seem like the Council’s analysis is accurate or perhaps more focused on justifying a large new development at all costs?
5) Andrewsfield (airfield). The future of this key local asset is uncertain because Braintree and Uttlesford cannot agree about its role in the New Town - it has no protection. As well as losing a valuable community meeting place, flights from Stansted would be able to fly much lower over surrounding villages. Is it right that the Councils’ proposals are threatening the airfield?
6) Heritage. The villages in this area are richly concentrated with historic buildings and parks, yet the Council’s very basic analysis ranks it identically to many sites not selected for development. Can this really be right - can this work be relied upon?
7) Boxted Wood. This ancient woodland, such an important landmark in the area, is another item which will be threatened by the New Town proposals. There is no detail around protection for it and little recognition for the importance of associated wildlife. Should such important natural assets not prevent development?
8) Biodiversity. The rural character of the area means that it is unusually rich in biodiversity - both in depth of species and rarity. Indeed the connectivity of existing fields and hedgerows is vital for this. How can the Council possibly prevent mass erosion of this biodiversity if it builds a New Town over this land?
The Parish Council can help to answer questions and provide guidance on consultation submissions. There is also a drop-in centre (run by local people on behalf of the Saling Parish Council as the District Council is not doing any public engagement for the consultation) in Great Saling Village Hall, with regular opening hours, where you can find further information. Key documents can also be found online at the locally-created www.woblibrary.com