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Sunday, 26 October 2014

Its Time To Defend the Countryside Around Colchester

The countryside around Colchester is under unprecedented attack from developers and local councils. In particular Tendring Council has earmarked land to the east of Greenstead, near the A120 and Ipswich Road, for 3000 houses. The new residents of these homes will pay their council tax to Tendring Council yet it is Colchester that will face the consequences in terms of more demand on school places, hospitals and other public services since the houses would be on our doorstep rather than Clacton's. In addition to this, Colchester Council is now reviewing its own local plan with the possible consequence that a further 3000 houses could be dumped on greenfield sites within Colchester borough.

Tendring Council are doing this because their initial plan for between 4000-6000 new homes was overruled by central government and a new figure of 12,000 homes imposed on them from on high. It is a simple fact that the planning system in England is neither democratic or based on localism. For all the coalition's talk about localism, in reality the legislation allows local communities to ask for more development (the so-called 'right to build') but they are not allowed to ask for less development. It is pure deception. The Conservative Housing Minister Nick Boles has reduced a 5000 page planning regulation document to 50 pages, ditching most of the protection for the environment and countryside from the planning system. This was at the instigation of the Chancellor George Osborne and is part of what David Cameron was refering to when he famously spoke about, "dropping the green shit". Most Conservatives on Tendring Council fully support the imposition of 12,000 houses on local communities, because they are singing to the tune of their central government masters. However they would rather dump a significant number of them on Colchester than have to face the problem of providing more infrastructure in Clacton to support the new residents.

Tendring Council's plan for 12,000 new homes states only plans for 5000 new jobs. It does not require a BA in Mathematics to  see the problem here. Also both Tendring Council and Colchester Council insist that the new homes are for local residents and not over spill from London. Yet there are not 12,000 homeless people in Tendring or 3000 people on the streets in Colchester. Again, a degree in Mathematics is not required to see the situation. The houses are being built to cover population increase. It is about encouraging more people into the area without providing either the infrastructure or the jobs to support them. It is coupled with the government's 'social cleansing' agenda for London, ie using the benefits cap to shift the poor out of London and into places such as Tendring.

Clearly, as a Green Party, it is up to us to take the lead in opposing this top-down imposed increase in development on green field sites. It amounts to the concreting over of huge swathes of our countryside and no attempt to dress development up as 'eco-homes' or 'carbon-neutral housing' will alter this fact. Vast areas of farmland and countryside will vanish under buildings and that includes both wildlife habitats and green spaces for people to walk in and enjoy. 
None of the other main parties can be trusted to oppose this assault on our countryside. The Conservatives and Labour have both made it crystal clear that they support it. The Conservatives on Tendring Council have backed the 12,000 homes and so has Labour's Tim Young on Colchester Borough Council. They would rather speak up for profit-hungry developers and their national masters Cameron and Miliband than defend the interests of the local people who vote for them. The only solution is to place your vote elsewhere. As far as the Lib Dems are concerned, Colchester MP Bob Russell has an excellent record of opposing these development plans and is quoted in the Evening Standard as having said:

"Tendring Council has a huge acreage of land from the Stour to the Colne and from the North Sea to Colchester and it should not need to plonk a significant part of its housing on Colchester's doorstep."

Unfortunately, if you look at what Mr Russell has actually said he is not opposing the building of the houses on green field land, just the dumping of 3000 of them next to Colchester. Fair enough, Mr Russell is standing up for Colchester here and the Green Party should be prepared to do business with him. However his position is essentially that of a nimby : not in my backyard (not necessarily a bad thing) wheres we need to be niabys : not in anyone's backyard. Massive housing estates dumped on local residents without their consent in order to facilitate population increase and boost developers profits are not acceptable anywhere because the cost in terms of the destruction of our countryside is too high. No ifs and no buts.

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