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Dear Sir or Madam
Preferred Options Local Plan - West Mersea
The 350 new houses envisaged for Mersea are the result of the cascading of a Government target, via the County, down to local level, and rely for their legitimacy on quite arbitrary judgments of sustainability in the context of infrastructure and services.
Consultation has come to mean authorities telling people what they have already decided to do, providing an opportunity for those consulted to comment or object and then going ahead with the plans anyway with little or no modification. By any measure of democratic
legitimacy Colchester Borough Council's so-called consultation with the people of Mersea on the Local Plan was an abject failure and a disgrace. The visit to the small hall at the back of the Mersea Island Community Centre in July was badly advertised and in consequence very poorly attended. Clearly the date was driven by the timetable, but the middle of the summer holidays was an absurd choice. One couldn't escape the suspicion that this almost vanishingly low profile was deliberate.
A subsequent event on the same subject, hosted by West Mersea Town Council on 1st September in the main hall of the MICA, was packed out and people were queuing in the street, who couldn't get in. This provided a proper opportunity for Mersea residents to express a wide variety of views and demonstrated that there is no lack of interest in the CBC Local Plan proposals.
There is naturally alarm at the prospect of Mersea having to accommodate not just 350 houses, but also the implied additional thousand or so of settled population, plus probably at least 700 more vehicles. Those of us who pay our council tax and live legitimately on the island for 365 days a year will take some convincing of the statement at 6.217 that, "West Mersea is considered a sustainable location for ........ an additional 350 houses ....an 11% increase in the number of dwellings, which reflects the availability of existing facilities and services."
Telephone: 01206 382806 Email: d-mcmullen@ sky.com
Here is just a few examples of the sorts of problems that are already with us or can be foreseen:
* The medical practice is a ready oversubscribed and eliminating people from its lists, particularly those living in the surrounding area off the island for whom Mersea has been the natural focal point. Where else are they supposed to go? Mersea is a magnet for retirement, which brings with it an increasing reliance on medical and caring services.
* Mersea Primary School, constantly expanded over the years, is fully subscri6e and can expand only at the expense of precious playground space, which runs counter to national policy.
* Foul water services and sewage treatment are at capacity. The oystermen are seriously worried about the effects of already deteriorating water quality discharges into the estuary on the vulnerable oyster layings, which could bring this traditional industry to an abrupt end.
* Traffic and parking on roads and verges are already at unsustainable levels, particularly at weekends . In the worst cases it could be impossible for emergency vehicles to get through. There has been scant progress on improving roads, traffic flows or parking. Pothole management has been patchy and there is little sign of the wholesale upgrading of the island's roads to eliminate the need to service the same potholes year after year.
* Access to the island and evacuation provisions assume a renewed importance in the context of the possible Chinese prototype nuclear power station at Bradwell. It has been argued that such provisions should be a condition precedent to approval of the Local Plan for housing development.
The only emergency services on the island are the RNLI and the First Responders, both voluntary. There is no Police or permanent Fire & Rescue presence and no realistic prospect of an ambulance reaching Mersea in the target time.
Although there may be no absolute correlation between population and crime, the latter has been edging up on Mersea for a number of years.
The caravan parks put additional strain on the island's resources and the licensing of one of them as a year-round site has resulted in a number of people taking up permanent residence and avoiding council tax. Although this is dismissed as anecdotal, it would be placing too high an expectation on human nature for it not to be true, especially as the rules are so easy to game.
* The bus services rure somewhat compromised by spring tides, but their ultra precautionary approach means that buses often stop short on the mainland, even when there has been no, or only a brief, covering of the Strood. It is not acceptable for school buses to strand Mersea children on the far side.
* The cramped, almost unnavigable, Well House development was a textbook example 'of lax planning, allowing a configuration and density of dwellings per hectare that should not fall within the definition "sustainable" and has not given Mersea residents any great confidence that new proposals for major development would be more professionally and sympathetically handled.
Housing density varies in West Mersea considerably, when measured in terms of building to plot size, and in-filling has adversely affected the ratios over a number of years. If one looks on Google Earth at the houses on Seaview Avenue, close to the Brierley Paddocks site, they mostly have generous gardens and off-street parking for two or three cars and a caravan or boat trailer (for many a necessity on Mersea) with access to a reasonable sized road.
Unless one is a surveyor it is difficult to estimate the building to plot density of the proposed two developments at Dawes Lane and Brierley Paddocks, but there is an implied density much higher than on Seaview Avenue. Building density is inextricably related to population pressure and all that follows from it.
While quality of life may not be a planning concept per se, it is implicit in all that planning seeks to achieve and the term sustainability means nothing unless it serves that end. Any new development must not compromise the rights and amenities of those people already in its neighbourhood; it is not just about bricks and mortar or numbers of dwellings.
D J R McMullen