StopNUtown Action Group has twice written to our MP, Mrs Kemi Badenoch, without receiving a reply. Will it be third time lucky with this letter, published as an open letter in the Walden Local 14th November 2018.
Dear Mrs Badenoch:
As you might expect, the proposed new town at Great Chesterford is a hot topic among residents in north Uttlesford and the villages of south Cambridgeshire. We wrote to you in May and again in October expressing our concerns about the proposed North Uttlesford Garden Community (NUGC) and the decision by Uttlesford District Council (UDC) to put a high proportion of its housing allocation on the Essex/Cambridgeshire border after developing a housing target based around economic activity in the south of the district.
You have said that you cannot get involved in the detail of local planning matters. But this is not “detail.” This affects the future of Uttlesford and the quality of life enjoyed by many thousands of your constituents.
When you visited Great Chesterford in May for the annual village meeting you cited Beaulieu Park in Chelmsford as an example of a successful large-scale development. Grosvenor Estates, the developer of NUGC, similarly cites their project at Trumpington Meadows in Cambridge. But these are examples of urban extensions and bear little comparison to NUGC. They are attached to cities where people can easily reach transport hubs and the city centre. They also represent a proportionate increase to those cities’ housing stock. They are not (like NUGC will be), stuck in the middle of the countryside, remote, massively bigger than surrounding villages and distant from shops, entertainment and the services people need. Just because NUGC will sit in the elbow of the M11 and A11 doesn’t make it workable, or right.
NUGC is destined to be a car-dependent dormitory, adding traffic to already congested roads. The cost of relieving this pressure will be massive. No source of funding has been identified for road and rail expansion and no timescale has been proposed. If we ever get bigger, faster roads in this area they will simply encourage more car journeys. It won’t answer the needs of young people who increasingly choose not to or cannot afford to be reliant on a car.
The draft Local Plan says 60% of journeys by residents of the new community will be by cycle or public transport. That is laughable – a planner’s fantasy intended to tick eco-boxes. The location is too far away from anywhere to make cycling viable for the majority. Rail connections are remote and unworkable and bus services will be subsidy dependent. Where is the rational thinking?
Then there are the problems with the site, too many to list. These will make it an expensive development. The prospect of any significant amount of low cost or social housing is slim. UDC promises 40% “affordable” housing. Affordable to whom?
Commuters are driving the bulk of housing demand in this area. So it seems NUGC will be a dormitory for commuters to London and perhaps increasingly to Cambridge. That does not resemble sustainable development. If NUGC is intended (as it should) to provide homes for people working in the vicinity there is a fundamental problem. The nearest employment growth of any substance is the other side of the county boundary. South Cambs District Council has an approved local plan that provides all the housing it needs. Thousands more cars emanating from NUGC will overload an already congested local road system.
Or is NUGC intended to provide homes for workers at Stansted Airport? That’s where UDC says 90% of jobs growth in the district will occur. But that is a 35-mile roundtrip by car with no workable public transport options. Wage rates at the airport are low so it will be no surprise if airport workers cannot afford to buy a house in NUGC.
This is patently not the right place to put 5,000 houses. So why has it been chosen? The Council previously deemed the site unsuitable. Then two things happened: UDC adopted a higher housing target (still not properly explained) and purchased a 50% share of Chesterford Research Park, less than 2 miles from the proposed site. In a convenient piece of reverse-engineered logic the research park now leads the Council’s plans for the north of the district. We are told nothing must stand in the way of creating a new town at this location because it will provide housing for new jobs at the research park. But those jobs are far from certain. At best there will be 900 extra jobs over the next 15 years and those are dependent on expanding the park and finding new tenants. It’s a gamble and poor justification for building a new town in an unsustainable location.
As our Member of Parliament may we ask that you make representations to the Secretary of State for Housing and the chancellor of the Exchequer requesting the Govt moderates its relentless drive for housing numbers, anywhere, at any cost. This is having a corrosive effect and driving ill-equipped local authorities such as UDC to adopt expedient and unsustainable policies. UDC has so far spent 12 years and more than five million pounds of your constituents’ money on the Local Plan. Now the Council is yet again trying to push through an inadequate, poorly evidenced plan – this time to meet a Govt imposed target and deadline.
It is fair to say that disillusionment with the Conservative-led council is widespread and confidence in UDC’s ability to deliver a workable Local Plan is at its lowest ebb. The Parish Council at Great Chesterford on behalf of residents in a wide area has sought to engage with UDC. Despite numerous letters and submitting a 300 page report the Parish Council has largely been ignored. We would ask therefore that you encourage UDC to reconsider the district housing target and remove NUGC from the local plan before it results, yet again, in failure of the Local Plan.