Ridgeons development brings benefits to Walden, but issues need to be addressed before it can be supported

Ridgeons LogoTowns 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.

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Posted in Consultation, Economy and Tourism, Education and Schools, Employment, News, Planning, Planning Application News, Pollution and Air Quality, Traffic, Uttlesford District Council, Uttlesford Local Plan, Water and Sewage
4 comments on “Ridgeons development brings benefits to Walden, but issues need to be addressed before it can be supported
  1. Alan Dean says:

    This is a well reasoned challenge to the planning system. One of the biggest weaknesses with the planning committee is that valid issues like these, even when made in representations at the meeting, are ignored by both officers and councillors as though they had never been spoken.

  2. Peter Olds says:

    Firstly it would be helpful if you actually gave out correct information- the last date for comments is the 10th of OCT . not the 11th.

    Secondly Isn’t it strange that we are residents are so vocal and anti any building -except the Ridgeons site-I suggest that they would be alot more anti the development if they had the misfortune to have had the disruption that the near residents have had to-and are still enduring with the Persimmon development!!!
    How you can even consider supporting the development beggars belief, it was reported recently that unemployment in Saffron walden is at an all time low .Let us be under no illusions that Ridgeons wish to extend their site for any alturistic reasons – using employment is just about clever marketing .
    Why not just rip the centre out of the town completely ?
    Why do we need another public house ,retail units,commercial units(half of Shirehill is empty ,plus the commercial units being built next to the Persimmon development) and a hotel..let alone all the housing .Add to this all the extra traffic with a high percentage being lorries , and the fact that we already have the Persimmon development on the opposite side of the road -oh and the fact it will all be built opposite the aviation fuel dump!!!
    How on earth will we cope with all the traffic…it already takes 20-25mins. to get to the other side of town…..or shall we go the whole hog and just eventually join up with Sewards End and Ashdon. I can not see how as supposed representatives of residents of the town you could even contemplate this development going ahead
    …..Ah unless of course you do not live this side of town.

    • Dan Starr says:

      Peter, many of your comments are right. The traffic is appalling, Ashdon Road is a mess and this proposed development is in the worst possible place. Our point is that out of all the applications, it has fewer problems that the others. And we said we’d only support it if the application were amended to properly fix the cross-town traffic, preserve residents parking on Ashdon Road, keep the football pitch, put the proper spending in schools, and all the other things. Without this mitigation it’s not a sustainable application.
      With regard to employment, Ridgeons is the biggest employer in town after the council. About 200 people are employed in total on the site. They could just pack up their business and move it to Pampisford and turn the whole lot to housing. 350 houses on that site would be a disaster for the roads and people that want to work locally. And the council aren’t allowed to say no housing by the government. Plus UDC are so far behind with their 5-year housing supply they will pass any old application currently, including probably this one as was shown by the Kilns and Walpole Farm applications 2 weeks ago. That means that it would go ahead without any pressure to fix the problems – and if we don’t push for addressing these issues, we just end up with an application that gets approved without an fixing of the issues.
      It’s a difficult balance.
      Dan Starr
      By the way the Standard Consultation Expiry Date is Friday 11th according to UDC’s website: http://publicaccess.uttlesford.gov.uk/online-applications/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=dates&keyVal=MSPQM5QNAN000

  3. Peter Olds says:

    Actually ….the letter sent out by UDC states the 10th so that says it all really.

    Is it right that Ridgeons can dictate what they want with scant regard to residents or shall it become a Tesco scenario were they say jump, and the council appear to jump.Don’t the buisnesses and people who work in the town centre equally deserve
    the right to keep their jobs? Because if the white elephant that they are proposing on the ridgeons site goes through…..then there will an even more marked decline in buisness and more loss of jobs in the heart of the town which will have a major impact all round.
    Sewards end has become a rat run where people have to go out of town to get back in!!! Ashdon road is gridlocked each morning and evening from school traffic and lorries from Ridgeons and the industrial estate. Elizabeth way obviously has the traffic lights which then impact on to the Thaxted road lights .This is without the extra traffic which will be generated by the Persimmon site.The roundabout half built at the bottom of Devigier Avenue already floods at the slightest amount of rain …it will be interesting for the new houses on the Persimmon estate( when they eventually finish the roundabout) as to where the rain water will flow.
    As I said before one wonders if you would feel this development viable -if it lay on your side of the town.

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