Chairman’s Letter – February 2014
This has been an eventful year, with the sudden, and for some unexpected, postponement of National Grid’s new power lines and substation, the financial collapse of Buntings & Sons and their consequential failure to call any evidence on the Horkesley Park Visitor Centre Appeal and the announcement that there would be no second runway at Stansted.
Before mentioning some of the specific issues which may affect some of you, I would like to say something about the threat to our countryside. To stimulate the economy and meet the housing shortage there is mounting pressure from central Government to increase development in the countryside, including on green field sites, by for example, no longer requiring the protection of environmental impact assessments in many more cases, and enabling developers to push through development where Councils are considered to have delayed unnecessarily, dealing with applications. We must be vigilant. Helpfully however, Braintree DC has recognised the importance of our area in its Landscape Character Assessment, and accepted the need to protect it in the Site Allocation & Development Management Plan, now going forward for final approval. It is now up to the Planning Committee to see that this is followed.
A major issue now facing some of us in this part of North Essex, is the threat from a large number of solar farm applications in the Belchamp/Foxearth area, prompted by Government subsidies, and proximity to the UK Power Networks substation. At the time of writing this letter, there has been one application for 25,000 PV panels on a 17.5 ha site at Belchamp St Paul. There are known to be two more in the pipeline (for 60 and 40 acres) and the possibility of yet another. Although your Committee is not opposed to all solar farms, as a matter of principle, and recognises that if appropriately located, and screened, they may be acceptable, we are exceedingly concerned about the cumulative effect these could have on this very attractive open landscape. Some of you will be aware that because of public concern over the growth of large-scale solar farms, the Department of Energy & Climate Change issued guidance last November to ensure that the landscape, visual impact, heritage and local amenity were protected. The Minister said in no uncertain terms, that he would “crack down” on inappropriately sited solar PV.
Even though the Department’s letter made it clear that Planning Authorities should listen carefully to the views of local communities, Braintree paid little attention to the letter and allowed a somewhat smaller and less obtrusive Solar Farm at Great Henny, in the face of very strong local opposition, and in the knowledge that this was likely to be within the area for inclusion in the extended AONB. Brooks Newmark, MP raised the threat of a large influx of solar farms in the Belchamp area and Braintree DC’s apparent disregard of the letter, in a recent Parliamentary debate. In response the Minister made it clear that the guidance must be followed, that the character and beauty of the landscape, and views of rural communities within it, must be recognised and that, where possible, siting solar farms on high grade agricultural land should be avoided. Whether Braintree will now pay greater attention to the guidance remains to be seen.
Whilst on renewable energy, unfortunately, and in the face of substantial opposition, permission was granted by St Edmundsbury Borough Council for a single 78m wind turbine near Hundon, to the West of Clare. Construction has yet to commence. Permission has also been granted for a wind monitoring mast between Stoke-by-Clare and Hundon to test wind strength for a possible wind farm of 10 turbines up to 126.5m high, which could have a devastating effect on this lovely area. The test mast has not yet been constructed, and no application for the wind farm itself has so far been made. We will be carefully monitoring this.
Following years of uncertainty, Stansted is now not to have a second runway until at least 2050. Nevertheless there are too many night flights permitted; 12,000 per year. With Manchester Airports Group (The new owners) looking to increase passenger flights, all those particularly affected should support Stop Stansted Expansion’s attempt to get the number of permitted night time flights reduced.
I shall say nothing here about National Grid or the progress in extending the AONB, as both are dealt with extensively in separate articles by David Holland and Robert Erith.
We may have received the Secretary of State’s decision on the Horkesley Park Visitors Centre appeal by the time of the Annual General Meeting; expected to be announced on or before the 6th May. The financial report by the administrators, Deloittes, reveals that Buntings and Sons had been very heavily insolvent for some time and were not in the end even able to fund Counsel and experts to present their case at the appeal. Although the outcome cannot be predicted for certainty, the evidence presented to the Inspector at the hearing was strongly against the project. It looks as if they may have been intending, for some time, to sell the site on to a developer, if they obtained planning permission, just as many of us always suspected.
Those of you who have driven down from Wormingford towards Bures may have noticed the large grey clad pumping station down near the river, and wondered how such a building could have been allowed. It appears that it was not taken up sufficiently seriously by the relevant Parish Council, and insufficiently addressed by the planning officers at Colchester. Neither we, nor the Stour Valley Project, picked it up when the application was made. Recently, however, the Project and the Association have had meetings with Anglian Water to see if they can come forward with proposals which will help to blend the building in with its surrounding area. We are awaiting suggestions.
Persimmon’s application to build 170 homes east of Carson’s Drive, Cornard, in view of the Grade 1 listed Abbas Hall, was refused by the Inspector, following a public inquiry, but I doubt this will prevent them coming back with yet another revised scheme.
We have, as usual, an interesting summer schedule. The speaker at this year’s Annual General Meeting on the 1st of May will be Michael Kuhn, a film producer probably best known for Four Weddings and A Funeral and Notting Hill. Until recently Michael had a weekend bolt hole in Little Henny. (See full CV in Editor’s Notes) Mark has again arranged two interesting gardens to visit at Bradenham Hall, and Hilborough House, both in Norfolk. (See Garden Visits).
We are exceedingly fortunate to have our Summer Party with Geoffrey and Ellen Foster-Taylor at Tilbury Hall, Tilbury Juxta Clare. Those of us who braved the awful weather, last time we went there, were able to glimpse a little of what is a truly magnificent garden. To whet your appetite, it features in Tim Richardson’s book, “The New English Garden”. I hope to see as many of you as possible there.
Finally, we have a continuing need for more members, particularly younger members. If any of you are able to recruit family or friends or know of newcomers into the area who may be unaware of us, do please see if you can get them to join. You can always contact Mark for more copies of the Magazine and Membership Forms to hand out, or give their names to Mark, or myself, for us to write to them.
Thank you all for your continuing support.