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Plan for west Chelmsford development referred back for sustainable transport assessment

July 20, 2020 10:20 AM
Originally published by Chelmsford Liberal Democrats

The plan for 800+ houses on Warren Farm, Writtle (West Chelmsford) has been referred back for the transport elements to be reassessed on sustainability grounds.

The Chelmsford Policy Board heard from the local Lib Dem Councillor, Stephen Robinson, who spoke on behalf of himself and Cllrs. Lee Ashley and Ann Davidson. You can watch what he said here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xye1Ics5tQc at 46 minutes in. Other speakers making similar points were from Chignal Estate Residents.

The most controversial element of the proposal is a bus flyover through woodland and floodplain between the new houses and the Chignal Estate. Cllr Robinson explained why the damage done to the environment and community meant it should be reviewed, and the Chelmsford Policy Board agreed.

Masterplan comments from St Andrew's ward Councillors

We have always opposed the development of this site for housing. The Lib Dem Group voted against it at every stage and still think it is the wrong location, for many reasons but particularly because of the impact on the local area, in particular traffic issues. However, we accept that, once other Members of the Council voted to include it in the final submission version of the new Local Plan on 19th June 2018, it became earmarked for development.

This Masterplan consultation give us a chance to achieve the best outcomes possible for both new and existing residents, and as local ward councillors we are committed to that. We need to ensure that existing communities are enhanced and improved as a result of the new development, as well as deliver a new community.

We have had several meetings and correspondence with local residents over the past two years and we have listened to and taken seriously their concerns and objections.

I have a few more minor points to make about the Masterplan and will come to those, but I want to concentrate on the bus link from Warren Farm to Avon Road.

Bus link will go through forest and between two houses - see map.

Plan for bus flyover west of Chelmsford (Image from Crest Nicholson via Chelmsford City Council masterplan)

The existence of the buslink only became widely known during the first round of consultation on the masterplan. Technical evidence or modelling in support of the proposal has been virtually non-existent. Despite many requests over the last two years, transport analysis of different options for bus routes or links and locations has never been provided. Residents and councillors have had to make do with being told that it is the best option, without explanation.

The principle of improving access to non-car transport (cycling, walking taxis, as well as buses) is of course vital to being a more sustainable community. However, the first ever, publicly-available detailing of the proposal is that contained in this masterplan, available to us just over a month ago.

This raises serious issues of concern and raised more questions than it answers. Therefore we continue to oppose this proposal because the following issues have not been addressed satisfactorily.

1. Safety on the buslink. We have not been assured that the bus link will be safe for all. The narrow space is to be shared by buses, cyclists and pedestrians and, from evidence submitted by the Chignal Estate Association, it appears that the width available between the two houses on Avon Road is below the Essex Highways and Essex Design Guide recommended standards. One of the more puzzling comments made in support of the scheme is that, on the one hand, it will be low-traffic and therefore low conflict between vehicles and pedestrians but, on the other hand, will be used a great deal by cyclists and pedestrians.

2. Safety on Avon Road. The buses will be turning into and out of an already congested road that experiences regular bottlenecks with parked cars, buses, lorries and school traffic; this scheme with its traffic signals would add to those problems and make the local roads even less safe for pedestrians and cyclists. We note that CERA has always supported a cycle path and footpath at this location, with links to the wider cycle network for the area.

3. Loss of established green space. The houses on Avon Road and the development site are separated by a well-established area of woodland which is home to numerous species of wildlife. Residents are immensely proud of this true haven and make good use of it.

4. Negative impact on the living conditions of existing residents

· Pollution - the proposed bus link would cut through the green space where well-used allotments, a play area and football pitches are situated, and two houses are directly adjacent to it. Buses will create increased noise and fumes. The levels of pollution would clearly have a detrimental effect on all aspects of life in the immediate area.

· Parking - this is already an issue for existing residents. The proposed bus link would cause the loss of parking spaces, and residents are asked to accept the cutting down of three mature trees that currently enhance the area.

Bus flyover through play area (Chignal Residents Assoc)5. Visual impact of the engineering solution - the proposed bridge would be at a significant height (2 metres) above the level of the play area; a single lane would be bad enough but a two-lane bridge would have a dramatic impact and would be wider than most, if not all, examples of "busgates" that have been quoted as comparable.

6. Bus infrastructure does not, by itself, lead to a large uptake in bus use. That is backed up by various research papers that I have seen in the last few days, including ones "The Role of Soft Measures in Influencing Patronage Growth and Modal Split in the Bus Market" by Dept for Transport; WHAT'S DRIVING BUS PATRONAGE CHANGE? by the Urban Transport Group, and "An assessment of bus priority schemes in Great Britain" by the Transport Research Lab - which concluded "Bus priority schemes alone do not seem to loosen peoples' attachment to the car"

7. But we need a cycle link Residents of the area have said that they fully accept that there should be a cycle and pedestrian link at this location. We should have a much greater emphasis on a dramatic increase in cycling provision between Warren Farm and every other part of Chelmsford. I believe that that would actually represent much better value for money and benefit many more people.

I would also draw attention to some of the Council's planning policies

DC4 protecting existing amenity - all development proposals should safeguard the amenities of the occupiers of any nearby properties by ensuring that development would not result in excessive noise, activity or vehicle movements, overlooking or visual intrusion.

DC41 Traffic management measures - all developments must include appropriate traffic management measures to facilitate the safe and efficient movement of people and goods by all modes whilst protecting and enhancing the quality of life within the communities. (We don't think it's safe, bus pedestrian and cycle route on a narrow pathway, and buses turning out on to the main road)

LPPA1- Protecting amenity - development proposals must safeguard the amenities of the occupiers of any nearby residential property by ensuring that development is not overbearing and does not result in unacceptable levels of polluting emissions.

I will refer briefly to a couple of other issues:-

Avon Road play area and football pitch

Everyone agrees that these need to be upgraded. Plans should be drawn up now, in consultation with the residents' group, and options presented to the wider public. These should be implemented in advance of the development as a demonstration of commitment to enhance facilities for existing residents.

Connections to the wider area

The masterplan should make more explicit the connections to (and impact on) the wider area around the development site. There is only one reference to Hylands School in the document and that is in the representation from Writtle Parish Council. It is disappointing to see no reference in the Masterplan to how young people from the development site will access Hylands School in safe and sustainable (non-car) ways.

The words used on page 10 of the masterplan document "Development at Warren Farm seeks to increase the potential for site accessibility to public transport" are completely lacking in commitment.

Low or zero carbon development

Crest tell us that sustainable development is a high priority. With recent Government announcements on the phasing out of gas central heating in the near future and petrol/diesel engines in the middle distance, now would be a good opportunity for Crest to show that they are true to their word, take a lead and make this a lower carbon development than anything that has gone before.

Crest should offer residents the opportunity to buy into green energy generation on site, such as ground-source heat pumps, which must be planned and installed well ahead of the build phase, and solar PV.

It is disappointing that such suggestions were met with an unenthusiastic response from the developers who seemed to take a "business as usual" approach, disregarding the need for change. In common with over half of all councils, Chelmsford City Council has declared Climate & Ecological Emergency, adopted a Climate Action Plan and is revising Supplementary Planning Documents, outlining the council's expectations from developers and shared aspirations for truly sustainable development.

This process has been a learning exercise for me and a good example of the importance of Masterplans. So I would strongly urge ward members to get engaged with Masterplans that affect their area - so that issues and concerns can be addressed before they become almost set in stone at planning application stage.

I would therefore ask the Policy Board to add an extra recommendation, namely.

Policy Board accepts that there are significant doubts about the safety, viability and benefits of the bus link and therefore refers all the sustainable transport elements for this development to officers and agrees if necessary to convene a special meeting of the Board to review the Masterplan before Cabinet.