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Sunday, 7 September 2014

Overdevelopment in Colchester

It seems that Colchester is threatened with even more possible overdevelopment in the years ahead. Or to be precise the countryside around Colchester is being threatened. The latest possibility is that a 'garden city' could be built on the outskirts of town. 'Garden cities' are the coalition's equivalent of Gordon Brown's 'Eco Towns'. Such titles are examples of the kind of guff used by politicians when they wish to disguise massive housing developments as in some way being green or eco-friendly. In reality a massive housing estate is a massive housing estate. Another such disingenuous term is the acronym 'S.U.E' , which stands for 'Sustainable Urban Extension', which is.... you guessed it a massive housing estate, although with some infrastructure added on.
It seems that the possibility of a garden city has arisen because Colchester Borough Council has appealed for suggestions of sites across the borough that could be turned into housing or business land to feed into the council's Local Plan for development up to and beyond 2032. In the Call for Sites document, the council states:

"In particular, the councils- working together with Braintree and Tendering districts- would be willing to review proposals  for larger sites based on Garden Cities principles, designed to support infrastructure provision and sustainable growth". The council will accordingly work with adjacent authorities to evaluate proposals for land close to the borough boundaries that could potentially form part of a cross boundary development." 

Two terms in the above extract need clarification. Firstly councils and the government define 'sustainable' in an odd way ie not in terms of the long term survival of our countryside, wildlife and planet but simply as whether a bit of infrastructure, such as a school or new road is bunged onto the side of the massive housing estate. Secondly the term 'cross boundary development' resurrects the fear of a large-scale green field development on the border between Tendering and Colchester around Salary Brook, off the St John's estate.

Colchester has already seen massive development and expansion, much of it onto green field sites both in the town and on the outskirts over the last 20 years. The Turner Road area has been swamped with it and now there is the disaster which is the new Mile End development; thousands of houses built on green fields. It cannot in any way be sustainable to go on concreting over the countryside forever in order to use construction of buildings to foster a form of growth which disguises the woeful state of the rest of the UK economy. I've yet to hear any of the politicians who support this kind of development on green field sites, such as Conservative Housing Minister Nick Boles, say at what point such development should stop and whats left of the countryside protected ie  when is enough enough. Rather Mr Boles and his colleagues have simplified the planning rules from a document several thousand pages in length to one that is fifty pages in length, removing much environmental and wildlife protection, in order to encourage the destruction of our countryside. Now all large developments have to be judged via a 'presumption in favour of sustainable development' with 'sustainable' defined as, you guessed it, a bit of infrastructure bunged on the side.

The problem with planning and development in Colchester doesn't stop with the countryside either. While I, and the Green Party, fully support the building of homes on brownfield sites, the kind of homes being built in our town are too often inappropriate and more about developers' profits than quality. Massive ugly boxes with no gardens and no green areas are precisely the reason why so many people object to new developments being dumped on them. For example:



The ugly modern block of flats above was plonked on the end of Maldon Road against the wishes of many of the residents. It looms over the Victorian terraces around it and bears no similarity to neighboring buildings. Another example:


This is part of the new Brook Street development and is a typical of modern housing. Not a row of small affordable houses and bungalows with decent gardens but rather massive three-storey boxes built to maximise profits with tiny gardens and little green space for children to enjoy.

No wonder people object to such developments cropping up next to them.

As I see it there needs to be a complete turnaround from the current direction of travel that development in and around Colchester is taking and only the election of Green Party candidates can bring about that change. It is true that Colchester Lib Dem MP Bob Russell has a very good record as far as fighting inappropriate developments are concerned. However his party nationally, as well as the Conservatives, are responsible for the very planning reforms which are actually encouraging those developments. The Liberal Democrats and Conservatives who dominate Colchester Borough Council have a much poorer record on standing up against urban sprawl and countryside destruction. In addition, Bernard Jenkin, Conservative MP for north Essex, recently stated:

"Where housing development is to support funding for infrastructure we have got to be more open-minded. For example the A120 west of Colchester..."

In other words all a developer needs to do is promise to upgrade the roads nearby a bit or build a primary school and Mr Jenkin will support their massive urban spawl proposals.
As for the Labour Party, their stated aim nationally is to massively increase house building and I have yet to read or hear of any suggestion that environmental considerations permeate any of their thinking.

The simple fact is that only the Green Party has ecological concerns woven into its very political DNA. Colchester Green Party believes that housing developments should be on brownfield sites not over our countryside and wildlife habitats. If you are a Conservative or Lib Dem voter worried about potential green field developments next to you, then the only power you have over the coalition is to take their votes away. You can be sure that if elected to Colchester Borough Council I would fight the imposition of massive developments on green field sites tooth and nail, no ifs and no buts. Furthermore there will be no hypocrisy in terms of my position locally on issues and my position nationally. I think most people are fed up with the kind of politicians who oppose developments locally, or the closing of local hospitals, while happily trotting into the House of Commons and voting for the very national policies which facilitate such developments and closures. The only alternative is to vote Green.

Furthermore, The Green Party position on housing is to prioritise the building of affordable homes over the construction of massive expensive carbuncles. Brownfield sites in Colchester should not be wasted on massive houses, luxury 'apartments' or frivolous follys such as Firstsite. Colchester needs affordable homes, backed up with rent capping to ensure that all people get access to housing.



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