Council like “judge and jury” over controversial South Woodham Ferrers housing plans

Essex County Council has a “clear conflict of interest” by having a vital say on how a new housing development in South Woodham Ferrers will impact on highways –  given that it is one of the main landowners in the deal, claims a pressure group.

Woodham Infrastructure Group says that Chelmsford City Council’s masterplan for the construction of around 1,200 new homes is woefully inadequate in respect of the necessary infrastructure – particularly that required for highway provision.

The group claims that given Essex County Council (ECC) is negotiating with Countryside Homes to sell them a further 116 acres of land in South Woodham Ferrers on the basis of a 50/50 share of the profits on the number of homes built – 40 acres of which will be for housing – it is not in a position to offer clear impartial advice over the impact on roads.

The development is set to see the B1012 as the primary route from the Dengie to all feeder and trunk routes into an urban street with six uncontrolled pedestrian crossings and an additional roundabout.

The group suggests that the current proposals will likely result in Ferrers Road becoming a ‘rat run’ through the centre of South Woodham Ferrers as drivers from North Fambridge and beyond try to avoid this section.

This will add to the current queues, says the group, and predicts it will substantially increase the town’s traffic pollution and reduce air quality. It adds that if the Government approves Bradwell B, this will only exacerbate the situation with between 500 to  700 additional HGV movements a day.

The group is hopeful to secure enough crowdfunded cash to employ its own independent transport, planning and infrastructure consultant for advice on traffic assessments and options for the best way forward.

Michael Benning of the Woodham Infrastructure Group said: “ECC, as the highway authority, has the final say on highway issues and make their recommendations to Chelmsford City Council –  the planning authority.

“However, we believe that ECC now has a clear conflict of interest.

“Their partnership with Countryside precludes them from being independent arbiters of highway provision.

“We believe that any traffic assessment on the data that has now been kept secret for over a year should be carried out independently.

“Effectively ECC are acting as judge and jury in their own court.”

The next stage is a formal outline planning application believed to be submitted by early summer.

A spokesperson for ECC said: “Any planning application will be decided by Chelmsford City Council.

“The city council will consult the highway authority which is a separate part of the county council to the property service which is looking after any disposal.

“The final decision on planning is taken by Chelmsford City Council after taking whatever advice it considers appropriate.

“Any advice given to the city council by the highway authority will be transparent and available to the public.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter