Long before I came to Colchester in 2009, the huge amount of house building in Mile End has been a major point of controversy. We now have many thousands of houses, with very little in the way of community facilities to support them. This is, in my view, storing up massive problems for the future.
But how did it happen in the first place? In recent weeks, I’ve been doing some research and following the trail of decisions made by Colchester Borough Council about development in Mile End.
The late Local Plan
Let’s go back to 1995, when the Lib Dems had been running Colchester Council since the 1980s. At the time, the senior planning committee was known as the Planning and Transportation Committee. It was chaired by George Williams, Lib Dem councillor for Dedham. Its subordinate committee – the Development Control Subcommittee – was chaired by Lib Dem Cllr David Goss (father of current Mile End councillor, Martin Goss). This subcommittee took all applications that weren’t delegated to officers, so it had first crack at all major applications.
By default, Cllrs Williams and Goss were also members of the Local Plan Panel, then working to produce the (very late) 1995 Local Plan. The other members were the group spokesmen of the two committees, but because Conservative Cllr Chris Garnett was group spokesman on both committees, he couldn’t occupy both places on the Panel. The other place was filled by Cllr Christopher Arnold.
The Panel met in private with all its recommendations going to the Planning and Transportation Committee for debate and approval.
In 1995 Mile End ward included all of Highwoods too. The essence of the 1995 Local Plan for Mile End was the new NAR road and junction, which would release surplus NHS land for housing and give CBC access to its own land at Cuckoo Farm South. The planning application itself didn’t come from the Council, but from the NHS – possibly to make it more palatable to residents. It simply succeeded in making them much angrier.
The Conservatives, with the help of Bernard Jenkin (then the MP for Colchester North), managed to get the planning applications for the road, the junction and the housing called in.
It made no difference. In May 1997, the Government changed; and by the end of that year the road and housing gained permission from John Prescott. The health authority then withdrew the junction application which it did not need to get access to its land.
In essence, all the building in Mile End was planned by the Lib Dems when they had overall control of the Council, and it was ultimately granted permission by a Labour Secretary of State. Negotiating the Section 106 agreement took years as did finding developers for the land. The reserved matters applications came through in 2001 when Lib Dem Ray Gamble was chairing the Planning Committee. The NAR eventually opened in July 2003, creating access to the housing sites. Conservatives were not to take control of Cabinet for another nine months.
North Colchester Growth Area
Now let’s forward a few years. In 2012 Colchester Borough Council was asked to adopt the North Colchester Growth Area Supplementary Planning Document (SPD), covering the land west of Nayland Road. The Lib Dems were again the largest group on the council and the Conservatives had been the official opposition since 2008, so they were not in a position to force anything on anyone. Indeed, as far as planning policy for Mile End was concerned, they hadn’t been since the 1980s. The SPD was adopted.
So there you have it. When you look at the many houses being built in Mile End without the community facilities to match them, you’ll know why. It’s because the Lib Dems wanted it that way – whatever they might want you to believe.