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Monday, 28 March 2016

Challenging Lib Dem Plans For Huge New Towns Near Colchester

You may have seen my recent letters in the Gazette regarding 'West Tey'. On 23rd February I attended a borough council scrutiny meeting at the town hall in which the Liberal Democrat councillor for Castle Ward Bill Frame, who is the councillor responsible for planning, outlined plans for a series of huge new towns on the outskirts of Colchester. These would be built on greenfield sites, open countryside, with two planned in the first instance and more to follow. Countryside around Marks Tey (the "West Tey" proposal), Langham and on the Essex-Tendring border near Essex University are all being mooted as possible sites. The leader of Colchester Borough Council Paul Smith (Lib Dem) has described the proposal as having, "great potential". In other words he is all for it. A petition against the West Tey proposal already has over 6000 signatures on it, however the council are doing all they can to kick this petition into the long grass and to avoid having to hold a full council debate over the issue.
Cllr Frame is using a clever piece of flim-flam in order to disguise the nature of the proposals. He is calling the new towns "garden settlements". At the scrutiny meeting several councillors clearly had no idea what a garden settlement was, which allowed Cllr Frame to wax lyrical about 19th century urban idealism, Cadbury homes at Bournville and all to use all manner of nice sounding eco-friendly terminology. However reality soon emerged. These are new towns with as much housing as possible and the average cost of each home will be £200,000 each. Cllr Frame explained how this housing would be affordable and you could almost hear the sound of jaws hitting the floor. Out of touch doesn't even begin to cover it.
This is a classic example of green sounding language being used to disguise urban sprawl and countryside loss. "Garden settlements" conjures up images of pretty cottages in the Cotswolds with thatched rooves and lush gardens brimming with roses. The reality will be new towns crammed with expensive and large modern houses. It is a similar disingenuous approach to the use of confusing acronyms such as SUE (Sustainable Urban Extension) to disguise developments and lend them a green veneer.


Should the West Tey  plan go ahead, large amounts of countryside near Marks Tey and Braintree would be concreted over with 14,000 houses. Coggeshall would also be seriously affected and become just an offshoot of the main new town (see map below):

There would also be a large increase in traffic on the roads around Braintree, Marks Tey and Witham.
Rather than protecting the countryside, the plan simply involves moving the urban sprawl a few miles further out from Colchester and dumping it there.


Cllr Frame has suggested that the new towns will contain their own infrastructure, schools, shops and healthcare facilities so that pressure will not be increased on Colchester's already stretched services. Frankly if you believe this, you may as well believe in Santa Claus and leprechauns. Colchester has grown by 24,000 people and thousands of new houses since 2001, yet the rate of infrastructure investment has not kept up with this expansion. Our hospital is struggling to cope, our roads jammed up and our bus station remains a joke. If they can't secure the investment needed for Colchester, then why should we believe that they will do it for the new towns? Pressure will just be further increased on Colchester's services as the new residents drive to Colchester.
Developers tend to promise the earth in terms of infrastructure in order to secure planning permission. Afterwards they negotiate down their responsibilities in order to maximise profits. The basis of any negotiation process is to go in hard in the first instance so that the resulting compromises are in your favour. Unfortunately, given the lack of infrastructure to go with Colchester's huge recent growth, the current council seem to lack the energy to do this. Its almost as if their approach to developers and central government is to raise the white flag.


Cllr Frame has claimed that the new houses, 14,000 at "West Tey" alone, are to house the next generation.
Yet how on earth would young first-time buyers be able to afford £200,000 homes given the proliferation of increased student debt and zero-hours contracts which Cllr Frame's party pushed through when in government?  The reality is that this is an expansion programme and part of a growth, growth, growth agenda.
The new housing he has provided since 2001 has simply increased the Colchester population by 24,000. These were not primarily homes for the local young.


We do need to utilise brownfield sites to provide homes for local young people and families in need. We also need to make renting a viable alternative to buying as this is the only way to stabilise house prices. I explain how to do both here:


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