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The Eight Ash Green (EAG) Parish Council has mandated, what is now known as the "Eight Ash Green Neighbourhood Plan Group" to develop a Neighbourhood Plan and I am writing on their behalf to respond to the Colchester Borough Council's (CBC) Preferred Options consultation document.
As anticipated, the Preferred Options consultation document is a large publication with a wealth of detail which can be quite difficult to absorb, despite it being a comprehensive and well written document. In that connection, we would like to suggest the following either when a further draft is published and/or when the Local Plan itself is produced in due course:-
* Reference is made to the document being in two parts:-
o Part 1 being the Shared Strategic Plan across the North Essex Authorities (pp 8 et seq) and
o Part 2 being the Local Plan for Colchester (pp 49 et seq)
* So as to aid the reader and remind them which part they are considering, may we suggest each Part is produced in different coloured pages eg white for Part 1 and yellow for Part 2
* More crucially perhaps, whenever we consult our villagers about our Neighbourhood Plan and the potential number of houses proposed for EAG - see below, the refrain we keep being faced with goes something like this "Surely not! The infrastructure is not there - the roads can't cope - there are not enough schools/school places - what about more GP surgeries - what about the future water supplies? etc".
* Naturally, reference is made to all these and other infrastructure issues within the consultation document but again, it is difficult to tease these out, not just for the individual reader but also for Groups like ours who wish to reassure their residents that CBC has them fully on board. I am sure we are not alone in trying to answer these difficult points - in effect on your behalf!
* So, we would like to suggest, perhaps right at the start of the next publication, there is a distinct and separate part or chapter headed "INFRASTRUCTURE ISSUES" where all the key issues can be displayed and answered in one place. Further reference or if needed, clarification can be included, where appropriate, within the document but this does not obviate the need to have a distinct section covering what is a really key set of issues. They are fundamental and ones we, collectively, need to address to get our respective constituent audiences on board - I am thinking here of the Referendum stage in particular.
EIGHT ASH GREEN ISSUES
Additional housing numbers
* In our regular discussions with CBC, we were advised that EAG will be expected to take "up to 150 additional houses over the Local Plan period 2017 - 2033". Probably, like most places - villages, ideally we would prefer to stay exactly as we are in terms of housing numbers, currently 680, but we recognise this is not possible, nor is it practical. Indeed, in our discussions with villagers, there is an acceptance that we should play our part in the future development and expansion of Colchester.
* Naturally, concern has been expressed about the advice given to us so we are very pleased to see what was advice has now turned into something much more concrete with the statement in writing on page 139 of the consultation document which says "In discussion with the Neighbourhood Plan Group, it is agreed that Eight Ash Green could accommodate up to an additional 150 new dwellings (my emphasis) over the next 15 years". Paragraph 6.150 and Policy SS7 refers. This is most reassuring.
The location of additional houses
* Also, as a result of our discussions with CBC, based on our part following detailed consultations with our villagers, it had become clear there was a divergence of views about where the additional houses might be located. We made the point that "why wouldn't CBC go with the site preferred by the village" (Site 226) rather than perhaps the site CBC thought we might prefer. The real issue for the Borough of course (and their annual target), is the number of houses that needs to be built over the Local Plan period, not the precise location in each village.
* With that background, we were also reassured by the map on page 289 of consultation document which clearly indicates, by way of a big arrow, what is Site 226 - our strongly preferred site. We note Policy SS7 specifically states "....the Eight Ash NP will....identify specific site(s) for housing allocations to deliver up to 150 dwellings."
In summary, we hope these few points are helpful and we look forward to maintaining and developing our good relationships with CBC.
Eight Ash Green Neighbourhood Plan Group