Welcome to this new, somewhat belated, online edition of the Colne-Stour Countryside Association magazine. On behalf of the committee, I apologise for its tardiness and our inability to get a print version to you at the usual time. The magazine was all but finished in the early spring but the abrupt move into lockdown on March 23 meant we were unable to pack the magazines and post them to members, even with social distancing measures in place. No matter, we are where we are, and I would like to thank our editor, Christy Simson, and Emma Stewart-Smith, our website editor, for producing this edition.
For obvious reasons, it has been an extraordinary year. The novel coronavirus pandemic has left no part of our lives untouched. Your committee has been meeting on Zoom and this summer was a useful time for BT Openreach, Gigaclear and County Broadband to roll out fibre broadband to this part of Essex and Suffolk. We lost both our annual general meeting and summer party and, despite the good news about vaccines being rolled out before Christmas, there has to be a question mark about whether these events will proceed as planned in 2021. Let us hope so.
The COVID-19 pandemic means our area faces significant uncertainty with efforts to get the countryside between Bures and Dedham designated as an Outstanding Area of Natural Beauty (AONB) delayed, along with many other nationwide priorities. This has long been an important focus for us as an association, and we must hope this is revived. In this regard, it will be interesting to watch a recent announcement from Prime Minister Boris Johnson about a ten-point plan to plough £40 million into green space in England with the aim of restoring species and combating climate change. Part of the plan will see the creation of new national parks and greater protections for important landscapes, according to the announcement on November 15.
At the beginning of the year, the Planning Inspector appointed to examine the joint Braintree, Colchester and Tendring local plan — in a long-expected decision — rejected, for a second time, proposals for two garden communities at Marks Tey and Rayne, even though he said one, near Wivenhoe, had the possibility to be found sound. The one that would have had the most effect on the CSCA area was the one near Marks Tey.
It remains to be seen whether the promoters of this scheme will go to judicial review but for now it seems as if this threat has receded. At the time of writing, we are waiting for the inspector to publish his decision on the annual target for housing for the period up to 2033 which will govern how many additional sites, if any, need to be found.
Your committee believes any celebration about the garden community result should be muted and that it may indeed be a pyrrhic victory. Braintree and Tendring district councils and Colchester Borough Council said that their aim in pursuing garden communities was to channel new development into new settlements and protect the villages from over-development.
In some respects, having an up-to-date local plan in place is less important than having a five-year supply of deliverable housing sites, as without this, anywhere deemed a “sustainable” location is at risk of development. The position is changing from year to year. This year, Braintree did not have a five-year supply and the larger villages remained just as threatened from unwanted development.
We can however celebrate a few victories. Plans for 92 houses off Colchester Road in Bures were rejected at a planning appeal in 2019 and have not come back. That would have driven a coach and horses through our AONB campaign. Plans for 212 dwellings at the factory site of Stafford Park in Liston also seem dead in the water after planning permission was refused and no appeal was lodged. A local developer has lost an appeal against the decision by Babergh to demolish two plots on the site of an old slaughterhouse in Bures, which the council deemed to have been built illegally and without planning permission. This very welcome result, published on November 27, followed a difficult six-year campaign.
Babergh and Mid Suffolk are also in the process of preparing a new local plan. Their proposals are out for consultation, with a deadline of noon on December 24. You can find their proposals for Sudbury and villages north of the Stour on their website.
Finally, a plan by Essex County Council to carve the county into multiple unitaries and a combined authority appears to have been shelved for now after meeting opposition.
Should we be able to proceed with our AGM in May, our speaker will be Charlie Hart, a local novelist, who has written some excellent books about gardening, the most recent of which is “No Fear Gardening – How to think like a gardener”.
Our annual summer party is scheduled to be held at Knights Farm, Colne Engaine, subject to a return to some sense of normality by then; do watch this space. We also hope to resume our garden visits in 2021 after a blank year.
Thank you for your continued support in such strange times. Happy Christmas and best wishes for 2021, which surely cannot be worse than the year we have all just endured.