Towns like Saffron Walden can’t be frozen in time and need to continue to evolve to stay thriving and relevant. But because they are small, little things can upset the balance; they are more fragile than you would think as we have seen by the huge increase in traffic jams that a minor set of roadworks has caused, and the closures of a number of local stores, including recently Chew and Osborne. Local stores need more local people, roads need to be properly planned for growth, and particularly in the South East, homes must be available and importantly affordable for all income levels.
Good planning is all about the right mix
Sustainable development isn’t a phrase that sets the pulse racing, but it is key – and it’s all about managed evolution, not revolution.
A broad set of local needs must be met while a town evolves, but at the same time all that is good needs protecting. Importantly sustainability is at the core of all the national planning policies. It means that plans must contain more than just throwing up new houses; it means a good mix of affordable amongst the market homes; it means new local jobs, classrooms, doctors, traffic management, sewage, water, and other things like sports facilities that excite and solidify communities.
But sustainability is often brushed to the side in the rush to approve new homes to meet centrally driven targets. Certainly this has been the case in Saffron Walden where the district council has only been recommending development on the inaccessible east of town with no committed spending on infrastructure to make is sustainable.
The mix has been all wrong for too long
Every new housing development in an existing settlement comes with its issues. But some are worse than others, and the current crop in Saffron Walden is poor: the Kilns site trades jobs for houses; the Willis & Gambier housing development has zero affordable homes; and Kier delivers almost nothing in terms of incrementally tangible benefits to the town in the way of jobs, classrooms, traffic reduction or air quality improvement. None of these bring any real benefits to the existing residents of the town – in fact they make it much worse. That’s why many residents have been critical of the draft Local Plan and the new housing estates it recommends.
The one emerging development that ticks more boxes than others is the Ridgeons development on Ashdon Rd. The site is owned by a long-time local business and they have a bit of a problem. The original site of industrial warehouse units was built in the 1950s for a different era when the site even had a direct rail link. There isn’t a need for these types of buildings anymore, and actually they are falling down and much of the site is now unusable and vacant. So Ridgeons want to do something about it. They want to stay in town as one of the largest employers, but need new buildings for themselves and for the types of business that could be attracted to Saffron Walden.
New homes to raise capital for a new business park
To raise the capital to do this they say they need to build new homes on half of the site; and they believe that on the other half they can generate more new jobs than today by building newer office-style business units that would be focused more at companies that employ people rather than just warehouse bits of fence and paving slabs.
Ridgeons also state that they intend to fully meet UDC’s 40% affordable new homes target, which will allow nearly 70 new families get on the first rung of the property ladder. To complete their proposals they are seeking to attract a Travelodge style hotel to service the new business park and a convenience store so that locals don’t have to drive to get milk and papers.
Affordable homes, local jobs, new businesses, and appropriate retail all packaged together – and all of it from a local business that is one of the largest employers in town. It seems like the best offer that that town has had to evolve in a long time and certainly better than all the others on offer.
But not the full package
But like any developments there are downsides, and in this case quite significant. The site is on the wrong side of town for anything, and the housing will generate 220 new cars that will need to travel down already traffic-jammed streets. That probably means new one-way systems and more yellow lines that will prevent existing residents from parking outside their homes. The new traffic will do nothing to reduce the already illegal pollution levels in the town centre as all the cars will need to drive right through.
There will be 100 new students and all the schools are full and can’t expand. The town needs new classrooms, not financial contributions that disappear into county council coffers.
The sewage plant is full and there are no plans to increase capacity until 2020. Finally there is a loss of a football field and no suggestion of a replacement.
On balance, is this development right for Walden?
This application is a difficult one. It’s from a well-respected business looking to invest in the community; it’s not from a faceless developer looking to build huge tracts of new homes. It also seems to tick many of the boxes that residents need, particularly new affordable and market homes and jobs.
It would seem an application that residents could support in principle provided that there are more concrete stipulations for roads, residents’ parking, pollution reduction, new classrooms, and protection of the existing football field. These can all be made legal obligations by UDC as part of approving the outline planning – but residents need to tell their councillors that’s what they expect.
WeAreResidents.org supports the intent of the application in principle, but in practice objects to the fact that none of these issues have been adequately addressed as part of the planning application, and so wants to see it amended. You can read our formal submission of objections to UDC here.
What do you think? Here is how you comment to UDC yourself.