Say No to Dunton Garden Suburb
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R.A.I.D (Residents Against Inappropriate Development, see our constitution) is a campaign started in response to the joint proposal by Basildon and Brentwood Councils to build 4000 to 6000 new homes on green belt land to the west side of Basildon. They gave the development the smooth name "Dunton Garden Suburb" claiming that it will be a pleasant new community to accommodate the growing population of local residents. In reality it would be a commuter dormitory for London's low paid workers who are being forced out of London by the removal of provision for the affordable homes in the capital that they need.
One year ago we fought the development by asking residents to submit comments to the Dunton Garden Suburb public consultation. After a long delay the councils finally published the Statement of Consultation showing that 84% of those responding were against the development. However, consultations are not meant to be a democratic vote. They are a means of gathering rational evidence-based comments about the development. It took a persistent Freedom of Information request from R.A.I.D to make the councils publish the full comments submitted to the consultation. We found that not only were they overwhealmingly against the development but they included a high proportion of long well-thought-out arguments explaining why the Dunton Garden Duburb development would be harmful. Brentwood council had been given the task of responding to individual comments but they never did so. We can only conclude that they have no reasoned responses to offer.
The Dunton Garden Suburb joint project has now ended and won't be revived unless Brentwood provide more evidence in its favour. However, it lives on in two developments advanced separatly by the two councils. Brentwood are proposing to build 2500 homes on their half of the site in what they are now calling "Dunton Hills Garden Village" in their new Local Plan. This will also include a huge new traveller camp with an intial size of 20 pitches. Basildon is also continuing with its half in Dunton Village according to policy "H10" of its local plan which includes 2300 homes in the area. Now we have to continue our campaign by getting people to take their comments from the Dunton Garden Suburb consultation and submitting them to the Consultations being run by both Brentwood and Basildon on their Draft Local Plans. This time they will not be able to avoid responding because they cannot cancel the preparation of their Local Development Frameworks.
What is going on?
Local councils are setting inflated targets for numbers of new homes to be built in the next 15 years without taking into account the constraint to preserve green belt land that government policy sets out in the National Planning Policy Framework. They are seeking support from the public in a consultation so that they can remove hundreds of hectares of valuable countryside from their green belt map. Such alterations should only be made in exceptional circumstances which are not met by the plans. To get public support for this move they are using biased language to appeal to the NIMBY side of residents living away from the proposed area by telling them it will protect them from dense housing and traveller camps in their neighbourhood. They say that we must build on green belt land somewhere to fulfil conditions imposed by the government so residents just need to decide where it will happen. This is simply not true. We must tell them that they should not touch any green belt land or other green spaces that are an important to biodiversity.
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Dunton village has a character and history that goes back to at least the doomsday book. The surrounding countryside is a wildlife corridor carrying protected animals from its ancient woodlands and ponds along ditches and hedgerows to the nearby nature reserves of Langdon Hills Country Park. Parts of it have been designated as Local Wildlife Sites but the planners conveniently neglected to mention that in their habitat assessments. We must continue to protect it from the forces of urban sprawl for benefit of future generations, and we must remember that this is part of a bigger battle to save the green belt and protected countryside everywhere.
The local infrastructure of roads, rail, schools and hospitals are already used way beyond their intended capacity and in these times of austerity there is little prospect of the major improvements needed to cope with the ballooning urban areas. We face ever more congestion on the roads, oversubscribed schools and long waiting times at health centres.
The green belt is designated as a permanent resource in UK law and despite a population growing rapidly due to immigration there is no need to abandon its principles. Over the last five years the number of homes approved for building on the green belt has doubled to over 5000 a year. The proposal for Dunton Garden Suburb could top that figure in just one development and it promises to be the first of many as councils draw up new local plans around London and other large cities. This is not necessary. We can cope with the growing population by building more well managed high rise accommodation in cities where they are needed, but we must also seek to create more jobs away from London in the South West and North East where there is more space. The only force that is driving this threat to our countryside is the power of money behind big construction companies who can make huge profits. Agricultural land that is worth just thousands of pounds per hectare soars in value to as much as a million pounds per hectare as it becomes land for housing developments. We must let our councillors and MPs know that we are not fooled by the double talk from the town planners who are backed by these big corporations.