Out of the frying pan, into the fire…

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…why Monks Wood spells trouble for Braintree

Misty morning

It is rumoured that Monks Wood ‘Garden’ Town, Braintree district, will be included for consideration in the new north Essex sustainability appraisal.  The inspector required new, objective assessment of alternatives for development in his letter[1] rejecting the three north Essex garden towns[2].  However, inclusion of Monks Wood in a future version of the Plan will spell trouble for Braintree at Examination.

Monks Wood is a 7,000-home new town[3] proposed by a rural land owner in Pattiswick, near Coggeshall.

Monks Wood regional map

Monks Wood was assessed for the Local Plan and, rightly, rejected by Braintree and not included.  Despite this, we hear that some now view it as a natural replacement for West Tey should Braintree break free from the shackles of the NEGC[4] marriage, to go it alone.

I is clear that the authorities have simply not understood the complexities and problems of creating and paying for large new settlements in isolated areas, nor that there are a variety of ways of planning for long-term development[5].

The specific problems of the Monks Wood site, which are many, are addressed here, in a statement CAUSE prepared for the inspector:  http://www.cause4livingessex.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Appendix-4-SA-Analysis-Monks-Wood-9-April.pdf .  It is apparent that although we agreed with the decision by Braintree not to include it in the Plan, we also had concerns about the sustainability appraisal carried out, which we did not think was sufficiently robust.   It is also the case that the Councils’ strategy to exclude sites smaller than 5,000-homes and focus on very large garden communities, opened the door to Monks Wood proposal.

In this blog, we look at new settlements with similarities to Monks Wood which have been rejected elsewhere in the country in 2018.    More garden communities this year have been rejected than given the go ahead.

In fact, although two new settlements were given the go-ahead in the South Cambridgeshire Plan[6] last month, this was only because Cambridge, unlike Braintree, is constrained by Green Belt.  The inspector, however, recognised: “the sustainability benefits of sites on the edge of Cambridge particularly in relation to sustainable transport nodes” and agreed with the council that sustainable urban extensions (not considered in the ‘Section 1’ plan for north Essex) were the best strategy.

The examples below reinforce just some of the problems facing those attempting garden communities, and demonstrate that planners cannot simply draw a blob on a map and give a development a green label to make it sustainable, deliverable and viable.   If the authorities make the mistake of including Monks Wood in the next version of the Plan, they will struggle to justify it in front of an inspector.

Visual impact

In the same South Cambridgeshire report, the inspector rejected a site, Harborne, for reasons which apply equally to Monks Wood.  Para 78:  “…the site is in an elevated position which is part of an attractive open and rolling  landscape.  Development on the site would be highly visible when viewed from surrounding roads and villages.  Even with the incorporation of open space, landscaping and other mitigation measures, development on the scale proposed on this site would have significant adverse impact on the attractive rural landscape.”

Not a sustainable location in transport terms

Monks Wood is at a very unsustainable location, being at a distance from towns and jobs, and with no public transport.  It is accessed by narrow country lanes, including a protected lane which is designated as one of two main access routes to the new town, and located on the over-capacity and dangerous A120.

This is what the inspector said about a smaller, but similar location site known as Lodge Farm Garden Village in Rugby’s Local Plan[7], when asking Rugby to delete the garden village from the Plan:

“Paragraph 34 of NPPF expects plans to ensure that developments which generate significant movement are located where the need to travel will be minimised and the use of sustainable transport modes can be maximised. Even if the new village could viably support a new bus service and cycle route into Rugby, the distance and journey times to both Rugby and Coventry by either of these modes or a combination of them would be unlikely to encourage their use. Whilst some day to day journeys to the local shops, surgery and primary school could be made on foot within the village, trips to secondary school, employment locations and main shopping and leisure destinations off-site would be largely car dependent.

As such, I am not persuaded it is a location which could be made sustainable in transport terms. Whilst paragraph 34 also notes that account needs to be taken of policies for rural areas, the emphasis in paragraph 55 of the NPPF is that to promote sustainable development in rural areas, housing should be located where it will enhance or maintain the vitality of rural communities. It is not apparent that Lodge Farm would support existing surrounding rural communities to any significant extent, since its local facilities would be scaled to serve the needs of the new community.”

Harm to the intrinsic beauty of the countryside

As at Lodge Farm, Pattiswick is a hamlet in a beautiful rural area, with listed buildings and protected woodlands and 2nd world war sites.  Under previous categorisation it was labelled a Special Landscape Area but is still designated as a Landscape Character Area by BDC (ECC Place Services Report January 2013).   The inspector rejected Lodge Farm for just these reasons: “Lodge Farm is also located in the countryside, within the Leam and Rainsbrook Valleys. Although not subject to a national or local designation, the landscape surrounding the site is open and attractive, visible from the surrounding valley sides including the Rainsbrook escarpment, and contains many historic features, including both designated and non-designated heritage assets. The area also has a distinctive settlement pattern, characterised by small scale villages and hamlets. It is a core planning principle in paragraph 17 of the NPPF that account should be taken of the intrinsic beauty and character of the countryside. The development of a new settlement of 1,500 dwellings in this setting, even with the inclusion of landscaping and green space, would cause significant harm to the intrinsic beauty and character of the countryside in this part of the borough.”

Listening to residents

Refreshingly, but completely unlike north Essex, in Northumberland the local plan[8] was revised earlier this year to reflect local concerns.    The proposed 2,000-home garden village known as Dissington Garden Village, Northumberland was dropped- and housing numbers in the Plan reduced.    Good to see that democracy is alive and well in some parts of the country.

Significant views of new buildings from multiple viewpoints

At Drake Park Garden Village[9], Surrey, the Secretary of State found that the scheme would have a “significant impact” on the visual appreciation of green belt openness and create “significant” views of new buildings from multiple viewpoints outside the site.”


[1] Separate blog to follow.   A consultant has been appointed but officers are reluctant to share details and secrecy surrounds it.

[2] https://www.braintree.gov.uk/downloads/file/7906/ied011_-_inspectors_section_1_post-hearing_letter_to_neas_-_8_june_2018

[3] Possibly as many as 15,000-homes, as set out in original proposal

[4] North Essex Garden Communities – proposed by a coalition of Braintree, Colchester, Tendring and Essex

[5] http://www.cause4livingessex.com/what-is-the-alternative-to-north-essex-garden-communities/

[6] https://www.scambs.gov.uk/media/12102/south-cambs-report-final.pdf

[7] https://andrewlainton.wordpress.com/2018/05/17/rugby-inspector-deletes-isolated-lodge-farm-garden-village/

[8] https://www.planningresource.co.uk/article/1466431/northumberland-slashes-housing-target-axes-garden-village-new-draft-local-plan

[9] https://www.planningresource.co.uk/article/1465917/surrey-green-belt-garden-village-blocked-new-secretary-state