East Bergholt housing dispute nears final conclusion

Just off of the A12, on the Essex and Suffolk border, lies the small quant village of East Bergholt. The village sits just ten miles north of Colchester, and a mere eight miles south of Ipswich, and is home to nearly 2,500 people.

The village has history running through its veins. It is the birthplace of famous painter John Constable, whose wealthy corn merchant father owned the nearby Flatford Mill and Dedham Mill. Many of Constable’s paintings are inspired by the tranquil beauty and views of the village, including the Hay Wain, The Lock and The Leaping Horse.

However, in 2015, the peacefulness of the village came under threat for the first time, when housing developers confirmed their intention to the council to build a new housing estate within the area, which is estimated to increase the population of the village by around 15%. The plans have caused huge controversy amongst locals in the village.

The Hay Wain, painted by John Constable in 1821

The plans include 144 new homes on land next to Moores Lane, adjacent to the B1070, with an extra 75 new homes next to the Constable Country Medical Centre and 10 homes for over-55s next to Gatton House.

All 144 homes will be a combination of one to five bedroom properties including apartments, detached houses and terraced properties.

An aerial view outlining where the houses are proposed in East Bergholt & the surrounding fields

One appeal from protesters of the plan was brought to the courts, with the groups ‘Action East Bergholt’ and ‘No to 144’ working together to create a neighbourhood plan to help challenge the proposals.

Chairman of Action East Bergholt’s Peter Dent said: “We had the developers round the village hall to discuss with us the plans for the 144 new homes.

“Following that, almost outside the hall, a group of us got together and said we’ve got to fight this.

“We met at somebody’s house in the village that night, probably around nine or ten of us, and because I came in last, by default I became the head of the chair.”

Peter Dent, pictured next to one of the fields where homes are proposed. Photo taken by Phil Morley, used on the East Anglian Daily Times website

Mr Dent has since flourished in the role, becoming the spearhead for the campaign ever since.

Despite the plans, he maintains that stopping the development altogether isn’t his groups aim, rather just to decrease it.

“We are not against development, we are against massive development in small villages like ours.

“The village worked on and produced a neighbourhood plan, it took a couple of years and cost the best part of £40,000 to produce it.

“Part of it was that we don’t want new buildings on areas of outstanding natural beauty.

The plan consisted of a 26 page questionnaire, which found that the vast majority of people asked were not in favour of major growth in the village, and preferred moderate growth, with no one development exceeding 15 homes and no large developments whatsoever.

This prompted a second appeal to be brought to the Government, which was under review until November 2017.

It was then that the Government rejected the second appeal against the build, finally signalling a potential end to the long running dispute.

Campaigners from multiple groups including ‘No to 144’ and ‘Action East Bergholt’ have been vigorously contesting the plans for well over a year, claiming above all, that the new homes could harm and ruin the character of the village that was home to John Constable.

The village lies between Stour Valley and Dedham Vale, which is marked as an area of outstanding natural beauty.

Moores Lane, with the field behind which could be home to 144 houses

Babergh District Council’s decision to approve the plans in August 2017, and the government’s decision to reject the appeal, now appears to be the final time politicians will discuss the issue, meaning planning permission could be confirmed imminently.

Mr Dent added: “We are sad the Secretary of State didn’t call these decisions in but we are talking to the barrister who won us an earlier case to see whether we have grounds for a judicial review of the decision.”

Many other East Bergholt residents are also worried that the new houses could put a huge strain on the village.

One local, Thomas Rowson, said: “I’ve lived in East Bergholt since I was two, so almost 24 years now.

“It’s a great place to grow up, with lots of wonderful expanses of greenery and woodland.

“Building 144 more houses in the village won’t just dramatically change the landscape, it will also affect the amenities.

“We’ve got some great resources for a village our size such as the Co-Op, the high school and the various pubs.

“But it’s not enough to support that many new houses and that many more people in the village.”

The Department for Communities and Local Government had a three month period to debate whether to call the plans in for a review, but the council has now been told its decisions will be able to stand.

That means officers have the green light to complete negotiations with developers, allowing work to commence as soon as planning permissions is granted.

The plaque outside the house artist John Constable lived in the centre of the village

Around the time of the original plans, South Suffolk MP James Cartlidge said “parish councils and Babergh District Council needed to get their neighbourhood plans and local plans adopted with clear housing allocations to prevent legal challenges in the future.”

When asked to give comment further down the line, due to the legal challenge that was subject to further action, Mr Cartlidge was unwilling to comment further.

No-one from Knight Developments were available for comment, and Bidwells did not respond to any comment requests.

The plans are yet to be put into full effect, which means for now, East Bergholt remains in its natural state.

But Mr Dent was sceptical that while the plans are for around 240 new homes, it would stay that way once the build begins.

“East Bergholt has a total of 850 homes right now, and we’re now looking at 240 more homes.

“There you are looking at the village increasing by a third, and it’s completely disproportionate.

“Because of the two adjoining fields, the 144 homes will become 250 easily, so you are looking at 400-500 really being built.

“It will double the size of the village in time.

“It’s a John Constable village, he would turn in his grave wouldn’t he”.

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