by Alan Dean on 13 July, 2021
A planning appeal began today about Bloor Homes’ proposal to build 168 homes west of Pennington Lane, Stansted and just north of the Bentfield Green conservation area. I spoke in opposition to the appeal and said the following in asking the Planning Inspector to dismiss the appeal. Worryingly, the QC representing Bloor Homes cross-examined me about the facts that UDC withdrew its Local Plan last year and has started yet again the long process from scratch. He made pointed remarks about the district being vulnerable to speculative development as a consequence. The QC was aware that I had voted against that withdrawal, which I still consider to have been a monumental blunder by the present majority administration party.
APP/C1570/W/21/3271310 LAND WEST OF PENNINGTON LANE, STANSTED
REPRESENTATION BY DISTRICT COUNCILLOR ALAN DEAN AT THE APPEAL HEARING IN FRONT OF MR JONATHAN PRICE, BA(HONS) DIPTP MRTPI DMS ON TUESDAY, JULY 13TH, 2021
Good morning, Sir
My name is Alan Dean. I have represented the community of Stansted Mountfitchet as a Member of Uttlesford District Council continuously since 1987.
Whether or not Stansted is a town or a village, Bentfield Green and Pennington Lane make up the only corner of the community which has the ambience and tranquillity; the simple feel of a rural village.
I live in the more urban core of Stansted, though on the perimeter of the recreation ground, which offers open space, birdlife and game playing for people of all ages.
My family’s favourite recreation is to walk to Bentfield Green and Pennington Lane, especially late afternoon on a winter’s day. There one can watch the sun set over the Stort Valley with an unimpeded view towards Manuden.
I have been doing this with my family for 50 years next month. In the thirty-four years, I have been a member of the district council, I think I have learned where and when to welcome change and where and when to take a stand against it.
I am not and never have been against housing growth per se. I actively supported approval at Elms Farm in our south-east quadrant in recent years. Some 20 years ago I backed the redevelopment of the former Rochford Nurseries, which has now become Forest Hall Park. That housing estate of some 800 units has boosted our population; it has enhanced our community life; it caused Stansted’s population to increase by approaching one-third in less than ten years. The social need for more homes in the district is undeniable. The only real question is: Where?
Pennington Lane with Bentfield Green are the last places on my map where this major growth should take place.
However, one may rightly ask, why do I not support the development of the appeal site at Pennington Lane for housing development some 20 years after backing Forest Hall Park?
Though I wish to focus my objections mainly on what I feel are strategic reasons, before I do that, please let me just mention a number of practical reasons that will, I am sure, be raised today in more detail by other people.
The idea that Rainford Road and Croasdaile Road can be turned into what effectively would be an urban freeway devoid of residents’ and visitors’ parked vehicles to make way for vehicles from the appealed, proposed development is derisible. I lived on Croasdaile Road until 1976. That road is well placed for residents to walk to local shops.
The appeal site extends too far to the west and away from local amenities for residents of that area to be likely to walk to Cambridge Road, Chapel Hill and Lower Street amenities. It is not sustainable.
The suggestion by Bloor Homes and Essex Highways that the amenity of the Hargrave Park estate should be turned upside down for the benefit of a future, bolt-on development west of Pennington Lane is unacceptable.
I expect other people will speak at greater length about the unsatisfactory impact on other access routes.
I will mention here only one more; Chapel Hill. I live on Recreation Ground – that’s the name of the residential road adjacent to where people play and that leads off Chapel Hill.
Chapel Hill experiences near-continuous congestion owing to the necessity of residents having to park on the highway because they have no alternative parking spaces. The larger of our two shopping areas is at the bottom of the hill in the vicinity of the railway station. That is where the main car park lies. Chapel Hill is a through route between Bishop’s Stortford and Elsenham, Henham and Thaxted to the east. It is already overloaded. So, growing Stansted to the west of Pennington Lane and obliging new residents to drive up and down Chapel Hill to go to the doctors’ surgery, the dentists, the Coop, the butchers, etc. makes no sense.
I said I would take a strategic look at this proposal. The proposed site is unbounded to the west. By allowing Stansted to grow to the west of Pennington Lane would start seriously inappropriate development of Stansted into the Stort Valley in the direction of the villages of Farnham and Manuden.
This would ultimately put pressure on the Metropolitan Green Belt that was established sometime around 1990 to stop Bishop’s Stortford and Stansted from growing across the Herts & Essex boundary to create a single conurbation by the loss of the countryside between the two counties.
If Stansted is allowed to grow westward, pressure will grow for a western bypass for the B1383 around this large village (or small town). Such a bypass would, of necessity, breach the Metropolitan Green Belt and, with little doubt, would undermine it as further development pressures arise for financial or other reasons. In other words, I see Bloor Homes’ appeal proposal as a Trojan Horse of strategic significance that must be dismissed if Stansted Mountfitchet is to retain its distinctiveness and separate existence from its larger, southern neighbour in Hertfordshire.
The effective evaporation of the Metropolitan Green Belt would, in due course, lead to the disappearance as separate communities of Birchanger, Farnham and even Manuden and Stansted Mountfitchet.
Metropolitan Green Belt covers only a small proportion of Uttlesford District. Many alternative sites have been put forward in the slowly emerging Local Plan for Uttlesford. It is true that Local Plan progress has been poor in this district since around 2007. Nevertheless, I urge you not to throw away the Metropolitan Green Belt and a conservation area at Bentfield Green for the sake of 168 homes in the wrong location.
Pennington Lane and Bentfield Green – a protected lane connecting to a conservation area – really are worth conserving because together they are our best example of a rural village setting.
I have appended to my representation extracts from the appeal dismissal decision report by Planning Inspector Mr P E Dobsen dated 7 January 2014. I judge that Mr Dobsen’s dismissal seven years ago reflects my views about the Bentfield Green and Pennington Lane area and where little has changed over the intervening seven years. It deserves to be conserved into the future.
Please also dismiss this appeal.
Cllr Alan Dean 13th July 2021 (Issue 1, 12.07.21)
(I did not read the appendix below from the dismissed appeal in 2013, in which the then Inspector said this location is “the jewel in Stansted’s crown” that “seems to me to enjoy the tranquil character and atmosphere of a historic village location set on the edge of quiet countryside”.)
Inquiry held on 5-7 November 2013
Site visits made on 4th and 7th November
an Inspector appointed by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Decision date: 7 January 2014
Land at Bentfield Green, Stansted Mountfitchet, Essex
Para. 28. However, by virtue of its location and its relationship with the settlement I think that the site is rather more than this. To my mind and eye, it is an attractive part of the countryside which has long provided a fitting backdrop to the northern edge of Stansted. It affords pleasant views from that edge. Thus, unlike in many broadly comparable urban fringe locations, there is a visually pleasing and satisfying transition from built development to open fields; this occurs almost all the way along the site’s southern boundary, both where it abuts the Bentfield Green CA and elsewhere, as along Pennington Lane.
Para. 30. Nevertheless, despite these mitigating aspects of the scheme design, its medium suburban density, and the limited height of the proposed houses (no higher than many others in north Stansted), I agree with the Council and many local residents that the scheme would harm the character of the countryside north of Bentfield Green. That would be contrary to ULP countryside policies, and it weighs in the planning balance against the grant of outline permission.
Para. 32. It contains 2 separate village greens and a small pond which, as is plain from many 3rd party representations, are much valued by Stansted residents and others. It has a number of listed and other old buildings, some reflecting its agricultural origins but overall, of varied ages, architectural traditions and external materials. Judging from my own site visits as well as from the statements of local people, this combination of features is not replicated elsewhere in Stansted, but is testimony to the local distinctiveness of Bentfield Green.
Para. 33. Understandably described by some residents as “the jewel in Stansted’s crown” Bentfield Green also seems to me to enjoy the tranquil character and atmosphere of a historic village location set on the edge of quiet countryside, connected to but also set apart from the rest of modern Stansted, and generally blessed with very little visiting or through traffic.
Para. 34. Like the Inspector in the 2009 appeal, I regard these attributes of local distinctiveness and tranquility – both somewhat intangible but nevertheless perceptibly real and much appreciated by the local community – as making a significant contribution to the character of the CA. In the terms of the NPPF, they are factors which help to describe and define it as a designated heritage asset.
Para. 35. But would they be harmed by the proposed development, and to what extent? The appellants say they would not, or only to a negligible degree. It is broadly agreed that the CA’s appearance – as distinct from its character – whether that of its individual buildings, building groups or of its green spaces, would be little affected by the development. However, for the reasons given above I think that its setting on the edge of the countryside would be harmed.
Para. 36. Moreover, I agree with the Council and local objectors that the additional traffic arising from the proposed development – details of which, plus an assessment of its impacts are set out in Mr. Hughes’s evidence – would tend to undermine the tranquility of the CA, which I have previously identified as one of its defining attributes.
Para. 38. In this context, I would add that from my site visits Bentfield Green does not in any way resemble a gated community, a privileged enclave for the relatively affluent shut off from, or “turning its back upon” the rest of Stansted; instead, it is a quiet, historic, outlying part of a lively large village, but one whose character is fragile and vulnerable, and which could easily but insidiously be changed for the worse if hemmed in by a large new suburban housing area, as is now proposed.
Para. 39. I therefore find that the proposed development would harm both the setting and character of Bentfield Green CA. This would be contrary to both ULP and NPPF policies. That too counts significantly in the planning balance against the appeal scheme.
Para. 57. For those reasons, I dismiss the appeal.
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