December 7, 2005 2:59 PM

Urban Sprawl headingChelmsford Lib Dems are appalled at the breathtaking lack of vision the Conservative Council has shown in its long-awaited and flawed plans for forcing 14,000 plus new houses in Chelmsford. Having thrown out the Lib Dem idea of a separate, sustainable village site clear of the urban area - with its own services and transport infrastructure, they plan to simply concrete over large areas of the green fields round the town in an ever-sprawling growth.

  • Sustainability

The Liberal Democrats place sustainability in the widest sense at the heart of our approach to future development. We stand by the principles set out in the previous draft Local Plan, which was withdrawn by the new Conservative administration of the Borough Council in 2003. In particular we oppose peripheral development as NOT being sustainable. Peripheral development places too great a strain on already stretched infrastructure.

  • Accessible transport

We welcome the commitment to sustainable development in which work opportunities and community facilities exist alongside new housing, all of which are accessible by good public transport links, on foot and on bicycle. In the case of community facilities and transport nodes, these should be within 800m of the most distant housing - principles widely accepted in studies such as the Urban Task Force report.

  • Public open space; quality design

We agree that higher density housing should be provided in the town centres (Chelmsford and South Woodham Ferrers) with density decreasing as distance from these centres increases. We would caution that it is essential that good design is integral to new developments and, with particular reference to high density developments, that there is good provision of public open space.

  • New station

Transport systems to serve all members of the public and to reduce car dependency are essential. The most sustainable and fixed public transport is rail and we strongly support the provision of a new rail station to the north-east of Chelmsford.

  • Map of North & East Chelmsford

    Map of North East Chelmsford

    Low energy use

Where possible under existing planning laws, new building should have a requirement for low energy usage and energy efficiency. Developers should be encouraged to build in sustainability e.g. the use of "grey" water. Social inclusion should be a priority and we believe that new housing should be integrated - not designed so as to produce ghettos of social housing. A minimum target of 35% affordable housing should be sought on new developments - with higher levels where this can be achieved e.g. where the Council is able to negotiate as a landowner.

  • No to 'urban sprawl' north east of Chelmsford

We agree that brownfield sites and existing built-up areas are the prime location for development but we also recognise that the Regional Plan sets a figure which cannot be met from these sites alone. We recognise that some 85% of the 14000 houses required up to 2021 are generated from the existing population of Chelmsford Borough.

  • No to being a dormitory town

In the previous plan, Essex County Council was requiring the Borough to accept 2,500 houses for which the demand was generated in South Essex. This requirement has now gone and we question whether we should be providing the additional 15% i.e. approximately 2000 of the 14000 figure. The Region seems to be arguing that they are necessary in order to deal with incoming employment opportunities yet, ironically, Chelmsford is outside of the areas identified regionally for employment expansion. We oppose further development of Chelmsford as a "dormitory" i.e. where the number of new houses is detached from targets for new jobs in the Borough. We already have one of the largest numbers of residents in Essex commuting to London.

  • No to piecemeal village growth

Turning to the location of new housing (having used the brownfield and urban sites available) we agree that we should not build in the Green Belt except in very limited circumstances e.g. to provide sensible development in a village where part of a proposed site might cut into the Green Belt and is acceptable there. Village expansion in order to provide homes for local people may be appropriate but a general expansion that just leads to increased car-based commuting out of the villages will not meet our objective of sustainability. This will still leave significant housing to be provided on green field sites.

The consultation paper argues that, following Government guidelines, peripheral growth should occur to the north and east of Chelmsford or to the north of South Woodham Ferrers. Dealing with South Woodham Ferrers first, the town has now reached a point in its maturity where second generation children are now looking to set up homes on their own and a debate is needed within that community as to how they want that housing demand met. Do they wish for some limited expansion or are they prepared for the second generation to move away? Further study of this question is needed before a decision can be made but, if housing is to be provided there, then north of the existing settlement or around an improved Battlesbridge station are the only alternatives.

Peripheral development of Chelmsford raises other problems. A "ring" expansion - adding a few roads all the way round the north and east from Roxwell Road to Colchester Road - may spread the pain but does nothing to improve the already overstrained infrastructure of the town and is therefore not sustainable.

  • One, sustainable new settlement

We firmly believe that the previously identified site north of the A12 and railway, north of Boreham, provides the most sustainable option available to us.

  • Proper funding for local facilities

We echo the Regional Assembly's concerns about the lack of Government funding on infrastructure. Unless there is funding from central Government for the North Eastern bypass, it is not going to happen, despite its presence being a major easement of the congestion in and around White Hart Lane. It is foolish to think that Section 106 agreements can raise sufficient funds for this and the other infrastructure needs we believe to be essential. A requirement for housing must be accompanied by the necessary funding.

  • Diverse economy

It is important that we should maintain a diverse economic base in the Borough. To this end we welcome the growth of Chelmsford as a sub-regional shopping centre but we must not regard this as the be-all and end-all of Chelmsford's employment opportunities. Broomfield Hospital, APU, Writtle College and Essex County Council are major employers and the planning system needs to take account of their needs, while balancing the needs of residents.

Opportunities for encouraging inward investment, both to existing employment sites and new ones, should be encouraged. Mixed-use development applies not only to new areas but also to existing ones - we should not allow employment sites in the urban areas to be redeveloped for housing except in exceptional circumstances and after exhaustive attempts to find other employment uses.

  • No major new road across the Chelmer valley, or north west of Chelmsford

Most of the projects raised in this section have already been covered. There are two major exceptions. One is the proposed cross-valley road from the North-East bypass to Essex Regiment Way to Broomfield Hospital. We oppose this on the basis of serious environmental harm to the river valley and Broomfield village. We acknowledge that Broomfield might enjoy some convenience from a full standard cross valley road but this would be greatly outweighed by the many problems connected with large volumes of extraneous traffic rat-running through the village from a wide area to link with the new road.

Neither are we convinced of the case for a north-west bypass which, we believe, would increase the chances of Writtle becoming a suburb of Chelmsford in the same way that Springfield and Great Baddow have. We do however see merit in a dedicated, single-track road, sensitively designed to link from the proposed Town Park & Ride site on Essex Regiment Way with Broomfield Hospital, as a satellite service.

  • Local area plans for particular sites

We concur with the desire to achieve high quality design and to gain improved community facilities. Further development of Broomfield Hospital, APU and Writtle college must proceed as a result of detailed development documents - as has been the case in the past.

  • Protecting rural areas

Although half of the Borough is outside of the Green Belt, we believe that the rural areas outside should have the same degree of protection as those within. It is the quality of the landscape that is important - not whether or not it happens to be nearer or further from London. However, conservation of our rural areas is not the same as "pickling in aspic" and planning policies must allow appropriate development and changes of use to occur.

  • Biological diversity

Biological diversity is an important part of our heritage and we welcome attempts to preserve existing habitats and develop new ones. Changes in agricultural practices and land usage which minimise mono-cultures should be encouraged and specifically dealt with in the core strategy.

  • New approach, not past failures

The Borough Council must not miss the opportunity presented to make a break with the past policy of incremental / peripheral development. If we continue in that direction, we risk greater congestion, a poorer sense of community and an environmental impact that will do nothing to meet wider objectives on genuine sustainability.

  • Tories leave Chelmsford in planning limbo

The issues raised in the consultation paper are not fundamentally different from those raised in the now abandoned Borough Plan. If it had not been discarded in 2003, it would now be in place. It is deeply regrettable, therefore, that this local development framework will not have passed through all its stages until Spring 2008. Until then Chelmsford remains in planning limbo.

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