Weekend Word – EDITOR’S COMMENT
On the week when Persimmon Homes finally gained permission to start the first phase of what is ironically called the North Felixstowe Garden Neighbourhood, I watched David Attenborough’s new series ‘A Perfect Planet’
Having spent a lifetime making wildlife documentaries you would be forgiven for thinking Attenborough had nothing new to tell us. Yet this series shows more clearly than any other how everything on our planet relies on everything else in order to function. From volcanoes to storms, nature has an incredible ability to work everything together to ensure we all have enough to sustain life. The fly in the ointment of course is human beings, more especially the greed of developers. For let’s face it – whatever we do individually is a drop in the ocean if big companies are continuing to carve up the Amazon rain forest or concrete over vast swathes of the land.
If this covid pandemic has shown us nothing else it has proved beyond doubt how important it is to have a suitable and healthy environment on your door step. Not everyone is fortunate to live in such a beautiful county as Suffolk – but doesn’t that mean we should preserve what we have? And the other thing we have been taught by both covid and Brexit are the benefits of being self sufficient and the downside of importing too much of our necessities. If we build on all our farmland – how will we grow enough to feed ourselves when the next pandemic wave closes the borders once more?
In 2019 East Suffolk Council, along with most other councils in the East Anglian region, declared a climate emergency. Great – but what does that mean? Is it just a PC gesture? We as a community of individuals have to do our part of course – but what are the councils doing?
This week ESC approved the beginnings of a massive house building project on AONB and grade 1 farmland on a peninsular that already has problems with road access, whose senior school is at capacity and where over a number of years various groups have relentlessly yet fruitlessly campaigned against such developments.
But this in itself is the tip of the iceberg. Drive through Trimley and you see large plots of land already being staked out at Seamark Nunn and Reeve Lodge. And there are plans in the pipeline for another big development at Howlett Way, plus there’s the Walton North project opposite Felixstowe Academy adding to the big development already built by the school.
Drive towards Old Felixstowe and there is the development along Ferry Road – misleadingly called Laureate Fields yet consisting of mainly ‘barrack block’ style housing more in keeping with an inner city of the industrial north than the edge of AONB land on the banks of the beautiful river Deben.
And in this area there is more to come, swallowing up what is left of the countryside and obliterating ponds, ancient hedgerows and wildlife habitats with cheaply designed ‘little boxes’.
But of course developers are there to make money – they want as many houses as they can fit on a piece of land – even if it means they are poorly built (the new Cavendish estate in Trimley has had endless problems with cracked ceilings ) and lacking adequate gardens or the space to swing the proverbial cat.
And all of these houses will have cars attached. All will be using the antiquated Victorian sewage system and the dwindling water resources. Most will have children needing school and leisure facilities, which in turn leads to more development.
Of course if you complain you inevitably end up being called a nimby – or a dinosaur afraid of progress. But as with the Amazon rain forest – what starts as a nibbling on the fringes soon becomes the opening of the floodgates.
On Wednesday night ESC approved a local plan for the Suffolk coastal area where more than half of the 11,353 houses planned for East Suffolk over the coming years will be built in Felixstowe and the greater Ipswich area by 2036
Among the biggest developments are the 2,000-home Brightwell Lakes development – which already has planning permission – as well as more than 1,500 additional new homes in Felixstowe and 800 in Saxmundham.
How is any of this protecting our fragile environment? Surely rather it is adding to our climate emergency.
The old counter argument of course is that people need homes. That’s true. But they also need an environment to enjoy for mental and physical health, they need farm land to grow food – and they need jobs.
Part of the green argument is that people need to be closer to work in order not to use cars so much. Where are the jobs in this area? The Port is cutting back on recruitment as it becomes more automated, and every big employer of any worth has closed in Ipswich – Ransomes, Cranes, Manganese Bronze, all gone . And with the demise of the high street retail jobs are following hard on their heels.
More frustrating still is the feeling that as a community we have no voice. You have to admire the dogged determination of groups like KATCAG who have been fighting the Trimley & Kirton village developments for years. But there is no getting away from the fact that money talks – and in the long run the big landowners like Trinity College Cambridge and greedy developers like Christchurch Land & Estates will inevitably win.
Moreover very few of our elected councillors will ever stand up to be counted.
Labour councillor for west Felixstowe, Mike Deacon, is an exception to the rule and he should be thanked for giving the community a voice. During the recent discussions round the Local Plan, he urged for the plan to be paused while the uncertainty around Covid-19 and Brexit remained, and said there was too much concentration of homes in Felixstowe proposed.
He said: “I cannot support this local plan with its concentration in Felixstowe; its destruction of large swathes of rich, agricultural land; its lack of attention to changes in employment realities and new patterns of work; and its failure to adequately sustain the essential established community life of Suffolk.”
“I firmly believe the volume of development we are now faced with should be spread across the whole of Suffolk Coastal.”
But he is very much a lone voice.
Other councillors raised concerns about specific areas and use of agricultural land, but the majority felt it would be far worse not to have the plan in place as that would open the gates for predatory developers.
Even the leader of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group Graham Elliott said: “If we don’t adopt we are at even greater risk of getting what we don’t want,” and added that the Waveney plan had already “kept developers at bay”.
The plan was approved by 34 votes to six, with four councillors abstaining.
So where will the new homes be?
Listed below are the anticipated housing numbers up to 2036 for communities where 50 or more homes are to be built.
These do not include developments where permission has already been secured or applications working through the planning system already.
Felixstowe – 1,520
Saxmundham – 800
Martlesham Heath – 300
Wickham Market – 220
Woodbridge – 220
Rushmere St Andrew – 150
Trimley St Martin – 150
Darsham – 145
Framlingham – 100
Leiston – 100
Grundisburgh – 70
Eyke – 65
Otley – 60
Benhall – 50
Back to the first phase of a 2000 home development in Felixstowe which has been given the go-ahead.
East Suffolk Council’s planning committee were asked to consider the initial 260 home development to be built on land at Gulpher Road and Candlet Road by developers Persimmon Homes as part of the North Felixstowe Garden Neighbourhood.
As well as 2,000 homes, the “garden neighbourhood” will include a new £20million sports complex – basically rebuilding the Leisure centre here instead of where it should be on the seafront, a ‘community hub’, whatever that might be, and 630-place primary school.
Felixstowe Town Council had previously asked for the initial plans to be refused specifying a number of concerns that had yet to be resolved including drainage and sewerage arrangements and disappointing housing design.
East Suffolk planning officers outlined during the meeting that a great deal of work had been done with Persimmon to address concerns remaining on the site and that improvements had been made.
So the plans were passed and another nail dropped into the coffin lid.
Until the authorities start joining the dots and recognising that if they are serious about climate change the solutions are in their hands, nothing is going to improve. It will never matter how much recycling I do, or giving up meat or cutting my carbon foot print if our local and national authorities continue concreting over great swathes of our green belt land and changing the nature of our environment for ever.