I live in a village close to Maldon in Essex. Over the next few years, our population is going to increase by as much as 40 percent as a result of a new development that has the green light to commence this year. The plans include 1138 homes and have been agreed by the planning department at Maldon District Council. The development, called Westcombe Park, will be built in five phases, surrounding Heybridge Wood.
The nearby villages of Great Totham and Langford will be affected by this development. But with it sitting across Great Totham and Heybridge, the greatest impact will be felt where I live in Heybridge where our current population of 8,000 will increase dramatically.
Unsurprisingly there has been much discussion, debate and concern within the community about the impact on local biodiversity and habitat. We have questions about the strain on local infrastructure and how the community will be impacted as the build takes place.
It is big enough to have been designated a ‘Garden Village’ development. As residents we are calling for better communication between us and the District Council to ensure we are involved during building works. The community has taken the step of formerly requesting of Maldon District Council:
‘…that the Community Liaison Panel as promised on Maldon District Council’s website is set up immediately.’
As far as we are aware, it doesn’t currently exist. Meanwhile, following months of requests for detail, the developer, Countryside Properties, has initiated a point of contact. They are doing it via a communications company called DevComms. However, residents are still finding it extremely difficult to ascertain details.
There’s a general feeling that neither we nor local issues and challenges are understood or represented by a communications company that isn’t located within the Maldon District and so is unfamiliar with it.
How could they understand local bus routes for example? Or why questions are asked about medical provision. Or why people feel so strongly about a wood and its wildlife that we have great love for. It is sad to have to say it, but many residents also feel underrepresented by local councillors.
With these issues in mind, and until we get our Community Liaison Panel, three local residents felt compelled to step forward. We have worked together to produce a 1700-word open letter from the community that was recently presented to Maldon District Council
The letter includes questions and concerns relating to biodiversity, wildlife and green space. With such a large development, the increased human footprint on local habitat and biodiversity will be considerable, and that includes the building works which will be ongoing for some years. In addition, we have many questions about local infrastructure and how it will cope.
These are the areas of concern that were raised in detail (more could easily have been added):
- Biodiversity and habitat
- Wildlife mitigation
- Green gaps
- Public rights of way
- Biodiversity net gain
- Public and school transport
- Cycle routes
- Special needs provision
- Public libraries
- Community communication
- Provision of medical facilities
Expanding on that last point, for example, medical provision is already under great pressure in this area. Residents are understandably concerned that even though space has been allocated for a medical centre, it will not be built by the developer. It will be up to our local Clinical Commissioning Group to decide if one is needed.
Our hope is that by approaching the District Council with our letter, it will open a communication channel with them. We hope this will lead to establishing an open dialogue as a permanent community feature that will continue throughout the process of the build and into the future.
Building work will be ongoing for some years. Open lines of communication would greatly benefit and improve community cohesion and a sense of belonging amidst such great change. We remain optimistic of positive change and will continue to pursue it.
Along the way, we have found support from several sources.
Rosie Pearson, a planning campaigner said, “Community engagement is encouraged and expected in the National Planning Policy Framework and leads to better outcomes for all. I hope that the council will heed the community’s call for answers and will also set up the liaison group they have been promised.”
We have also received encouragement from the Essex branch of CPRE, the Countryside Charity, who have applauded our endeavours for improved community engagement and information sharing. And we have had support from wildlife NGOs on our many areas of concern for established wildlife and its habitat. This support is invaluable.
We are now waiting for a response from Maldon District Council and hope their promise of a Community Liaison Panel is forthcoming.
Penny D Calvert
Heybridge, nr Maldon, Essex