The reality behind NUGC, a new town at Great Chesterford.
Short answers to important questions about North Uttlesford Garden Community and who will benefit by building 5,000 houses in the wrong place for the wrong reasons.
Will young people looking for an affordable home benefit? Unlikely. The term “affordable” is somewhat elastic in north Uttlesford, not least because it is within commuting distance of Cambridge, where house prices have outstripped the entire nation.
Will low-income earners and key workers benefit? Even less likely. The amount of social housing will be very limited. Access to public transport won’t be easy. NUGC will be isolated so unless you own a car it’s not the ideal place to live.
Will people looking for a job benefit? Who knows? The amount of employment space to be created inside the community is unclear. It seems the developer is more interested in selling houses to people working around Cambridge.
Will the surrounding communities benefit? Not for many years, if ever. Local GP surgeries and the secondary school in Saffron Walden are already struggling to cope. Unless vital infrastructure arrives at the outset it’s going to turn quality of life in this area on its head.
Will people living in the new town benefit? Hhmm… Nice houses but not a lot else. This will be a car dependent community, so the traffic problems facing existing communities in the area will also impact people who come to live in the new town. There are no plans for primary shopping in the new settlement.
Will there be Land Value Capture (LVC) for the community’s benefit? Unlikely. LVC cannot be achieved with certainty unless the land is acquired at its pre-development value. The essence of LVC is that profit stays in the community pot to fund a full range of infrastructure needs. That is not what the council intends and they have offered no credible alternative.
Will the landowners and developer benefit? Yes, big time. For every acre of land sold at development value the owners will retain around 50% of the profit while the developer takes another 20%. Development plots in this area sell for upwards of one million pounds per acre.
Will the district council benefit? Yes. For each house completed the government will pay the council a new homes bonus and there’s ongoing council tax income. Plus brownie points for a Conservative-led council loyally following Conservative govt policy.
Will the Government exchequer benefit? Yes. The Govt’s target of building 300,000 houses per year will give the Chancellor around 3.8 billion pounds in tax take per annum.
- The site north east of Great Chesterford is just about the worst place to put a new town. The council’s own people advised against it.
- When looking at a map the site appears, in theory, to be ideal. But when you drill down the roads don’t work, rail connections are not sufficiently close and public transport will be sparse. This will be a car dependent housing estate.
- Most of the new development will sit at the highest visible elevation for miles around, an ugly blot on a landscape that hasn’t changed for hundreds of years.
- It will increase flood risk in the Cam valley and impact chalk aquifers that supply water to the communities of south Cambridgeshire.
- There is considerable Roman archaeology across the site, at least one temple and many burial sites. This will inevitably slow construction and increase costs.
- Individually these are good reasons not to develop. Collectively, they present a compelling argument why this is the wrong place to put a new town.
- This is going to be a very expensive site to develop. Something will have to be sacrificed and you can be sure it won’t be landowners’ and developer’s profits.
- There is no strategic reason behind the site for NUGC. Asking landowners if they have somewhere for housing then trying to backfill evidence to justify the choice of location does not represent a strategy.
- Was the most northerly extreme of the district chosen for political reasons? Or was it to meet an inflated housing target by supplying the Cambridgeshire market? Or was it to support the council’s investment in Chesterford Research Park (*see note)? None of these justifies putting 5,000 houses in this location.
- Building on a big scale ignores local context and need. It also costs more, slows delivery of new housing, narrows options on where to live, increases densification of traffic and puts a huge negative impact on the local environment. Sadly, Government and Local Authority “groupthink” is now locked on a potentially disastrous course.
- Putting large developments on district borders is a cynical ploy increasingly used by councils. It isolates the political fallout and dumps cost on neighbouring councils.
* (note): CHESTERFORD RESEARCH PARK
In 2016 Uttlesford District Council purchased 50% of the research park that sits east of Little Chesterford and less than 2 miles from the site of the proposed North Uttlesford Garden Community. UDC claims the research park has a promising bio-medical future and is an important reason to build a new town next door. They say it’s about jobs. Yet the research park will provide barely 6% of new jobs in the district over the next 15 years. That’s about 900 jobs – not exactly a good reason to build a new town. Furthermore, those new jobs are conditional upon the park being expanded.
Buying into the research park UDC has staked £47 million (most of it borrowed) on a single bet. It has no other commercial investments. To create those 900 new jobs the park will have to expand. Some if not all the money to carry out that expansion will come from UDC. Meantime, Brexit may seriously dampen the growth of bio-medical research in the UK.
You can read UNANSWERED QUESTIONS, HOME TRUTHS AND WHY YOU SHOULD SAY NO here