Warren Farm bus gate to be scrapped as Chelmsford Council hears COVID will make housing developments “more sustainable”

The coronavirus pandemic will radically alter the need for how people travel and make large developments even more sustainable, Chelmsford City Council has heard.

This means that a plan for a bus gate in a Chelmsford housing development will now be scrapped. Chelmsford City Council has formally agreed a masterplan for Warren Farm that scraps the bus link to Avon Road.

The proposed bus link between Avon Road had come under fire from residents who argued that the traffic and structure would wreck their own area in the Chignal Estate.

The bus gate would have cut through the existing park, woodland and children’s play area, and included a new two-way road bridge over Chignal Brook.

In its place instead will be two footpath/cycleway connections between the site and the Chignal Estate to the north and south of the allotments.

A proposed bus route to the site is to run along Roxwell Road and Chignal Road. But moving all the traffic along Roxwell Road has frustrated people living to the east of the development.

Writtle Parish Council is worried that if an exit point from the 800-home development is not created – either to the north or east of the development – then it will be a “disaster” for traffic on Roxwell Road.

But Chelmsford cabinet member Councillor Chris Davidson has said the impact of COVID-19 will permanently change how people work.

Given that the number of people who commute is “unlikely ever to return to pre-20202 levels” that “Warren Farm is likely to be more sustainable in practice than it was ever expected to be before COVID 19 struck”.

He continued: “The impact of COVID seems to be a significant material consideration because since the local plan was adopted there has been significant social upheaval.

“Far more people are working from home and this seems likely to continue  to some extent  and the number of people who commute to London five days a week is unlikely ever to return to pre 20202 levels.

“If only 50 per cent of the population work from home  and does so just one day a week the total  number of commuting journeys will reduce by 10 per cent  so it seems the assumption pre COVID for the need for a bus link to encourage sustainable non car transport are now obviously wrong.

“All things equal, few commuters wanting to get to the station each morning will mean Warren Farm will have less impact than previously forecast on traffic and this social change seems to me to be a significant factor in its own right.”

He added: “To my mind we need more time to think about and to see how these effects evolve but the one thing clear to me is Warren Farm is likely to be more sustainable in practice than it was ever expected to be before COVID 19 struck.

“On that basis I would give limited weight on retaining a bus link to achieve a modal shift from the use of private cars given we are in the midst of the biggest modal shift any of use will see in our lifetimes.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter