We all know that living in Saffron Walden comes with a range of benefits, from excellent schools, to a diverse town centre. We love the green spaces, the interesting activities and the history; all of which has it voted one of the best places to live in the UK by the Sunday Times, the Guardian, Halifax and others. But underneath the gloss of the market town publicity shot much loved by local estate agents when marketing property in the area, there is a more worrying truth; that proposed large-scale development could actually damage our health.
The silent killer
A report recently published by the European Environment Agency (EEA) and the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, entitled ‘Environment and Human Health’ reveals that increased air pollution significantly contributes to major respiratory diseases. Nothing new in that, agreed. But what we should perhaps take heed of is the startling discovery that Europeans have a lifespan shortened by eight and a half months due to air pollution.
EEA executive director Jacqueline McGlade said:
“This report really reinforces some of the key links between health and the environment. People are now exposed to many different harmful factors, which together are reducing both lifespans and wellbeing.”
Countries (such as Sweden and Finland) who work hard to maintain their green spaces in urban environments unsurprisingly have a better quality of life, both physically and mentally. This is a clear contradiction to Planning Minister Nick Boles’ recent claim by the Government where wellbeing is clearly being measured in rather more temporary terms:
“The sum of human happiness that is created by the houses that are being built is vastly greater than the economic, social and environmental value of a field that was growing wheat or rape”.
Why is it relevant to Saffron Walden? Because we already have 4 areas that break the safe legal limits for air quality – and there are a number that are perilously close.
The report goes on to show that those living in towns are more likely to be exposed to dangerous particles in both the atmosphere, and through our water supply.
A flush too many?
A 2012 Water Cycle Study commissioned by Uttlesford District Council (Hyder Consulting UK Ltd, section 1.3) shows that Saffron Walden’s water supply will be placed under insurmountable pressure from any proposed development as there is no further ‘process capacity’. Apparently it is ‘Understood that extensive upgrades are required’ in order to support 880 new dwellings, let alone non-Local Plan development such as Ridgeons, and any additional business or from increased service users coming into the area.
The report recommends [section 13.3] that:
‘UDC should look at the availability of water and wastewater infrastructure as a planning condition, so that planning permission is not granted until developers have consulted…regarding network capacity and possible strategic solutions” .
The report also says that sewerage network upgrades would take 5 years to implement (10 years for a major expansion or new sewerage works) and therefore:
“…development phasing and planned development trajectories to meet Local Plan targets should clearly allow for the lead in time involved in investigating, planning and constructing the required key infrastructure needs”.
This is clearly not the case with regard to deliverability of housing in Saffron Walden where UDC state the 457 of their proposed new houses could be achieved in 1-5 years of their Local Plan (backdated) start date of 2011 (i.e. by 2016). They have not planned for, let alone even started, any new or upgraded sewerage works. So how can new housing be approved for Saffron Walden when UDC already know than new householders won’t be able to flush their toilets for 5 years?
If you fail to plan, you plan to fail
Throughout our campaign for appropriate and sustainable development in the district, WeAreResidents.org have always made people aware of the environmental impacts, including those areas within Saffron Walden that are above legally safe air quality levels. Common sense dictates that without pre-committed, costed plans for infrastructure, large-scale building will increase the levels of illegal air pollution further and could compromise our water supply and treatment.
Once again, we are being required to compromise our health and safety for poorly planned and unsupported development. UDC fail to plan, and so plan to fail; in our view they have no choice but to call a halt upon any further proposals until residents are provided with the evidence that our health and wellbeing are safeguarded. No wonder residents are calling for the resignation of UDC the cabinet councillors; they are failing their constituents.