Chairman’s Letter – February 2013
This year I can report some good news. Due in very large part to the indefatigable work of Stour Valley Underground and David Holland in particular, National Grid are proposing to underground the new 400 Kv line across the Stour Valley from Dorking Tye through to a more discrete point west of Alphamstone, thereby removing not just the 132Kv line, but also a further three pylons and about 1km of the 400 Kv overhead line. This is a great achievement. There is, however, still much more work to be done, including dealing with the threat of the substation, assisting our colleagues and Suffolk County Council in getting more of the route from Bramford underground, preparing for the planning application when made and in the longer term pressing to have the existing 400 Kv line also put underground. David Holland has kindly written a very informative article for us on what lies ahead.
The principal reason for National Grid’s underground proposal is its acceptance that the Stour Valley around Lamarsh, Henny and Twinstead enjoys very many of the same landscape and heritage features as the existing Dedham Vale AONB. As I reported last year, The Dedham Vale AONB and Stour Valley Partnership have applied, with the support of all local authorities, to have the AONB extended up towards Sudbury. This will take several years. Success will depend on the ability to produce a compelling Landscape Character Assessment. We will be doing all we can to assist wherever possible.
This area and the upper Stour Valley above Sudbury towards Clare are especially beautiful. The Stour Valley Partnership does sterling work in managing it. We have therefore responded to Braintree District Council’s consultation on its draft Local Development Plan, including the section dealing with renewable energy, to try and ensure that development which adversely affects the character, views and distinctiveness of this part of the Stour Valley, or which is otherwise not supported by the Partnership’s Management Plan, will not be allowed.
I mention renewable energy because there are two current proposals for large scale wind turbines near Clare: a single 78m turbine midway between Hundon and Stokeby-Clare at Maple Hill and up to ten 126m turbines on an adjacent farm, Lords Farm. The planning application for the Maple Hill turbine is due to be heard in April. Planning permission for a meteorological test mast has already been granted at Lords Farm to assess suitability of wind conditions. A planning application for the wind farm itself has yet to be submitted. The developer, West Coast Energy, is currently undertaking an environmental impact assessment. We have objected to both. The damage which these wind farms would cause to the environment in this lovely part of South Suffolk far outweighs any contribution they may make to our renewable energy needs. Many of you may think that East Anglia has more than contributed its fair share with the extensive off-shore wind farms off the East coast.
At the Eastern end Buntings, or as it is now known The Stour Valley Visitor Centre, appeared once again. I suspect some of you may have thought that after last time that would be the end of it. How mistaken we were. Nevertheless, what a victory to have persuaded the Council to refuse permission against the recommendation of the Planning Officers to approve it! We are, I am sure, immensely grateful for the steadfast determination of Will Pavry and SVAG. Many of you wrote in to object, for which I thank you. Although we have yet to see the Committee’s full reasons, this was, undoubtedly the correct decision. The Committee were, rightly, very doubtful whether the proposal would ever be financially viable. Not only would this mean that the trumpeted benefits would not be realised, but, once permission had been granted for change of use from the agricultural land within the AONB, the door would be opened for other unsuitable activities. The Committee were disturbed by the extent to which the Buntings withheld their Business Plan from public scrutiny, regarded the so called “Constable Experience” and Chinese Garden as speculative, without any firm supporting detail to back them up and considered the project unsustainable because of the huge increase in generated traffic. Surprisingly, the Highways Authority, when recording no objection, had failed to have any regard to “sat navigation” directing cars down the protected lanes. Finally, the project was seen as conflicting with a number of the objectives of the Management Plan for the AONB. However, judging by past experience this is unlikely to be the last we hear of the Buntings.
Although your Committee meets quarterly to consider and, where appropriate, comment on current applications. Please do not assume we are abreast of everything in your area with which the Association should be concerned. If, for example, you suspect land may be being bought by Travellers, or existing planning conditions are not being complied with, do please contact someone on the Committee. The District Councils are short of money and are no longer able to police the area in the way you might presume.
You will have read that Stansted Airport has recently been sold to Manchester Airport Group for a reported £1.5 billion. Although they have been reported as having no plans for a second runway, given the huge price paid, they must be looking for a substantial increase in flights and passenger numbers. With the Government review into where to develop London’s hub airport, there can be no assurance that Stansted is safe.
Two important matters going on at national level, which may concern us, are first Lord Taylor’s review of planning guidance, in which he has reported that current government planning guidance, dating back to the 1960s and running to 7,000 pages, is “unfit for purpose.” A complete revamp is proposed by July 2013. How far this will affect us remains to be seen, but judging by the Coalition Government’s drive to prioritise jobs, housing and growth (important as they are), there must be a fear that this will override all else. The same fears apply to the Government’s Growth and Infrastructure Bill, currently going through Parliament. I can do no better than quote from CPRE’S Briefing note:- “This Bill… proposes a further weakening of local communities’ ability to make planning decisions for themselves…and will risk making it harder for councils to insist on getting development in the right places, including on brownfield sites. It will be easier for developers to target Greenfield sites which are cheaper to build on and provide them with greater returns.”
We now have over 689 members (including parish councils and societies), but to be an effective Association which carries weight when it comes to dealing with local authorities and the like, we must ensure that our membership numbers increase. For those with families, do try and get them to join. What a wonderful present for Christmas: life membership of the Colne Stour Countryside Association!
Our AGM is due to take place on Thursday 2nd May, when we will hear from Chris Burton of The Stour Valley Project who has been in charge of the “Managing a Masterpiece” project. There is much to learn about our area of the Stour Valley. Our Summer Party will be held this year in the gardens at Colne Park, the home of Georgie and Kit Hunter Gordon on Tuesday 9th July, who unfortunately had to pull out of hosting last year’s Summer Party. I would like to thank Jeremy and Virginia Hill for stepping into the breach and providing us with such an enjoyable occasion. I hope to see as many of you as possible at one or preferably both occasions.