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I write with regard to proposals for up to 30 homes on Chappel Hill in Chappel and Wakes Colne. Whilst I accept that there is scope in the village to accept some new housing and that this site offers a natural continuation of the village envelope, I strongly believe that this particular site is inappropriate for development of this scale and that the policy, as drafted, does not guide development in a way which would support a positive addition to the community. In particular, the policy refers to access to the site via Swan Grove. A site visit to this development immediately demonstrates that this would not provide adequate access for 30 homes. Cars are frequently parked on pavements and block the road, which is residential in character and was never designed for through traffic/heavy usage. There are regular complaints on local social media and to the parish council about the limited parking and the impact on residents. It is also worth noting that a proposal for just 3 houses next to 20, Swan Grove was refused in 2012 (ref 121486), on the basis of parking and access. This was later approved in June 2013 for just 2 houses (ref 131131). However, it highlights the issues already faced by residents in terms of a significant increase in traffic movements arising from cars for 30 homes and from parking which would cause obstruction to the new development. Although the later permission has recently lapsed without being implemented (as far as I am aware), I would also be interested to know whether the applicant intends to reapply for permission or for an extension and if so, whether that scheme is factored into the Council's proposals for this site. In any case, if development was deemed inappropriate then, and at a much smaller scale, I am not sure how the Council can now justify proposals for 10 times the number of homes in the same location. There would almost certainly need to be a vehicular entrance onto Chappel Hill to protect the amenity of existing residents.
In addition, contrary to the suggestion in paragraph 6.121 that the 'site is well located relative to the existing facilities in Chappel and walking distance at 0.8km from the train station in Wakes Colne', pedestrian access from the site and into the village is in fact very poor and arguably dangerous. There is no footpath at various points along Chappel Hill and The Street, or on Station Road which is the main route to the station. Given that the village has been identified as a 'Sustainable Settlement' largely on the basis of the facilities it offers, including the school, village hall, shop and station, it is imperative that any proposal offers the opportunity to provide a safe pedestrian route to those facilities, including street lighting and a continuous pavement. Given the nature of the roads and the property boundaries, I cannot see how this could be achieved Not one of these facilities is accessible by a continuous (and in some cases lit) footpath or with safe crossings on the A1124. I suspect in reality, residents would end up driving to other destinations, such as stations and Marks Tey and Kelvedon or retail centres in Halstead or Colchester. Consequently, I do not see how this would provide a sustainable community as the Council suggests.
I also have significant concerns on the impact on the local school which currently has a small intake of only 15 pupils per year. The school is already oversubscribed and a development of up to 30 homes would simply exacerbate this. However, the scale of development is such that it would not in itself fund the expansion of the school to allow full form entry, thus putting pressure on places for existing residents. The Council has not, as far as I am aware, demonstrated that there is adequate funding available from other sources to allow the school to expand before development is completed or, related to my point above, that a safe route can be provided for children to walk to school.
As noted in the policy, the site sits in a prominent location adjacent to a number of listed buildings and is highly visible as you enter the village. I agree with the principle in the policy that there should be "good design and suitable screening/landscaping to .screen the development to protect designated historic buildings and to minimise any negative impact on surrounding landscape" (although I wonder if the drafting has gone a bit awry!). However, if the Council is minded to allocate this land, it should strictly enforce principles to ensure exemplary design which respect the character of these buildings and the historic wider setting, and do not simply result in another 'anywhere' housing estate on the periphery of the village. This would mean a layout and the uses of high quality materials (for example brick, painted render, peg tile/slate roofs, wooden windows and doors) which reflect the rural character of the village. The use of cheaper products such as uPVC windows would be inappropriate and would not respond to the setting. At the moment, the policy is not robust enough to do this and I would have little confidence at the technical details stage (assuming this site achieves Permission in Principle) that this would be enforced. If my understanding is correct, there would also be no opportunity for the community to make this point later on. Notwithstanding that I think the site is unsuitable for this level of development for other reasons, I think the policy should make specific reference to the specification of high quality materials which are sympathetic to the character of the neighbouring listed buildings and the village. At the moment, it reads as if the protection of those buildings is all about screening, which is clearly not the case. It is inevitable that the development could not be completely screened unless it was substantially set back from the road, and therefore design of the buildings will need to play a large part as well.
For the reasons set out above, I do not believe that the allocation of the site for 30 homes is appropriate, although I accept that part of the site might be able to take less than this if issues relating to access via Swan Grove and pedestrian routes into the village could be overcome and that adequate investment was made in the local school at the same time as any development to ensure it could expand to meet demand. I would add that I welcome the omission of Site 024 (the Coal Yard at Wakes Colne Mill) from the Call for Sites document. I have previously set out detailed reasons why the development of this site would not be appropriate in my letter of objection to a recent planning application for the site (ref. 152352), specifically regarding access, impact on the setting of adjacent listed buildings, poor utilities and floor risk, and am pleased that the Council appear to recognise that this site could not support a significant level of development.