Tag Archives: East Suffolk

Woodbridge’s Affordable Cheese Wedges – Smoke and Mirrors

The deserted Suffolk Coastal  offices. Still undeveloped, still unaffordable?

Its been quiet on the Woodbridge Cheese Wedge (aka Suffolk Coastal’s old head office ) front for a long time. Too quiet…

The burning question? That same old story. It seems that the applicant would rather not build the affordable housing (32 units out of 100 dwellings) he is obligated to under policy DM2 of the local plan. Apparently it’s simply not ‘affordable’ – for him.

Suffolk Coastal’s Planning Committee’s response reminds one of jesting Pilate. They washed their hands and delegated agreement of the essential affordable housing provision to their Planning Officers. Who have negotiated a sum of money (a ‘commuted sum’) be paid “to provide affordable housing at the same level as approved, in the event that no affordable housing provider acquires some or all of the affordable housing in a reasonable timescale.

Lets park the cynical phrase  “to provide affordable housing at the same level as approved’ for one moment, and follow the money.

This decision clearly – presumably  unintentionally – gives the applicant an opportunity to elect to pay the commuted sum option instead of building 32 affordable units simply by refusing any offer for affordable units from any provider. (I have heard that at least one realistic offer has been made. )

It would very much benefit the developer to pay the commutated sum. It would provide no benefit whatsoever to the people of Woodbridge.

Why?  The amount the applicant would have to pay NOT to build the 32 affordable homes is a maximum of £100,000 per unit *. Multiply that by 32 and you see he would in effect be paying about £3 million to be allowed to build 32 extra houses of the same size to sell at market prices ( in Woodbridge, that’s a great deal more than £100,000 each). The greater the number of affordable housing units and the higher the sales price of market housing, the greater the incentive to commute.

So, when the Council agreed an increase of residences from 70 to 100, it increased the incentive for the applicant not to provide affordable housing. And by the combination of the Council agreeing an increase in residences and commuting the affordable housing provision, the applicant will receive a multi-million pound windfall. Talk about the law of unintended consequences!  Unless Suffolk Coastal ‘s Planning Committee takes immediate action, it looks like the public asset that is the old Council Offices is earmarked for private profit.

At the same time, that commutated sum of £3million – supposedly to provide “Affordable Housing at the same level as approved” – will do little to benefit the forgotten people of Woodbridge. It will certainly not provide 32 units of affordable housing within Woodbridge which is what we might consider the phrase ‘at the same level as approved’ to mean.

Although £3million is considered by Suffolk Coastal’s planners as fair reparation for NOT building 32 homes on a site that has already been purchased, it will NOT cover the purchase of land, design, planning and building of anything like 32 homes anywhere else! Experts suggest 14 maximum, which is less than half of those guaranteed to the committee and promised to the community. And, of course, wherever these affordable homes are, they will be unlikely to be in Woodbridge, where finding any housing below ‘market’ prices is daily less possible. There is no land within Woodbridge to buy.

How can it be right that an applicant purchasing a public asset gains by not providing the agreed affordable housing the locality so desperately needs? Indeed, has a positive incentive not to provide it?

To say that the development was unpopular was to put it mildly. It was overwhelmingly opposed by the residents of Woodbridge and Melton, the Woodbridge County Councillor (me), Woodbridge Town Council, Melton Parish Council, and local and national organisations, whose views were overridden by the planning officers and planning committee. Its only saving grace was the possibility of affordable housing in situ.

The District Council Planning Committee needs to step up to the plate, rescind its delegation to the Head of Planning, and revert to its October demand for a detailed scheme for the provision of affordable housing on-site and to wholly abandon using the offer of a commutation alternative.

 

*The amount payable by the applicant in the event of commutation is set according to the number of bedrooms per residence in the affordable housing and whether the area  in which the housing is to be provided is categorised high, medium or low cost. Woodbridge is categorised high cost and the figure per residence is in the region of £90,000 -£100,000. Thus a commutation of the 32 affordable residences in Woodbridge would require a commutation payment of about £3 million. How many homes can you buy in Woodbridge for £3 million? How many can you build?

Sizewell C Consultation

This is the last day to put in a response to EDF’s Sizewell C Stage 1 Consultation.  The consultation doesn’t allow for any debate on  whether we should have a new Nuclear power station at Sizewell.  It deals solely with the practicalities of  Sizewell C’s  construction and its impact on those of us who live in its path.

And there will be an impact, no two ways about itCurrently it looks like being an impact with very little benefit to us residents of Suffolk Coastal. 

Particularly  worrying  for Woodbridge residents would be the impact of a works Park & Ride and Lorry Park at Woods Lane. I’ve therefore sent EDF this response on behalf of all those who have raised concerns with me:

      Re: SIZEWELL C Stage 1 CONSULTATION

In responding to this consultation, I am writing as elected County Councillor for Woodbridge to raise concerns specific to my division. I am also responding more generally as Suffolk Lib Dem spokesman for Transport. I am restricting my comments to the period of construction as it is the impact of this that is specifically being consulted upon.

        Overall   These plans offer only the most cursory and non-holistic reference to the heritage nature of the Suffolk coastal landscape – and to the impact that the lengthy period of construction will have on both the landscape and the lifestyle that residents currently enjoy.

The benefits of Sizewell C will be to the country as a whole. It would seem inappropriate that the impact should be felt so disproportionately by the 0.2% of the population (124,000 people) who make up the population of Suffolk Coastal. The question that comes to mind (in the vernacular) is, “What’s in it for us?”

        Transport   At its peak the construction workforce is expected to be 5600 people, 34% of whom will commute. This will put nearly 2,000 more daily commuters on the overcrowded A12. Although much freight will be by rail/sea , EDF currently forecasts 100-300 more HGV deliveries (I read this as 200-600 HGV journeys) daily on the A12 in the years of peak construction. EDF would prefer to manage this via a lorry park at the Southern P&R.

Commuter traffic    EDF claims that the construction of North and South Park & Rides could ‘significantly reduce the amount of commuter traffic on local roads’ during the peak years of construction. This is not strictly accurate:  the best they are designed for is to ameliorate some of the excess that the construction of SizewellC will put upon our roads! There is no reference in the consultation to these P&Rs serving our local commuters.

And even within this limited definition of a ‘significant reduction’, the Park & Rides – wherever they are placed – will not ameliorate the increased levels of traffic arriving and departing from them.

In the case of Woodbridge, the proposed Southern P&R option C  is at the already busy roundabout at the A1152/A12 junction, north of the town.  It would therefore not ameliorate the increased levels of traffic that would need to pass Woodbridge.  At the same time a P&R there would add considerably to the congestion, pollution and rat-running that are already a problem here as traffic seeks to avoid the bottle-neck at the A1152/A12 junction.

Although the Southern P&R option C  would be on the A12, it would have a significant impact on  Woodbridge residents in terms of increased noise, light and environmental pollution – particularly for  those living in the Farlingaye ward .

It would also have an adverse impact on the 2000-odd students who attend Woodbridge’s Farlingaye High School. With a catchment area of 400sqm of Suffolk Coastal, and school bus access  directly from the A12 and close to the A1152 junction, congestion at peak times is likely to conflict with school drop-off and delivery.

Lorry Park  It is clear that EDF expects that most lorry traffic will be travelling northward to the site, past Woodbridge. A lorry park at Option C would exacerbate all the problems mentioned above, regarding commuter traffic.  Woodbridge would suffer the double whammy of both the increase in HGV traffic and the lorry park while gaining no identified benefit from either.

 Rail   The A1152 crosses the East Suffolk line at an open crossing at Melton. A recent upgrade in the service to hourly passenger trains is already increasing congestion at this point (and rat-running through Woodbridge). Sizewell C development proposes to transport significant amounts of construction materials by train which is to be welcomed. However it will further exacerbate crossing delays and congestion and add to the potential problems of rat-running through Woodbridge.

        Conclusion     The proposals for building Sizewell C will have a great impact on the Suffolk Coastal region. This is because they are reliant on one single north/south axis in both road and rail provision.   As yet it is far from clear that that EDF’s proposals fully recognize and allow for this impact: it seems instead as if the A12 is being seen as one giant corridor to Sizewell – with little concern for the communities that line it.

The strategic geographical position of Woodbridge, sandwiched between A12 and East Suffolk line, means that the impact might be felt most keenly by its 7500 inhabitants, particularly if the Southern P&R option C is decided upon. This would bring many disadvantages to our town without one single clear advantage.  There is no incentive or reason for us to support it.

I would recommend that, before the next consultation, EDF look again – and more closely – at significant investment in Rail improvements. That is, not only at increasing enhancements to the East Suffolk line, but also at building bridges at rail crossings to allow more freight to be moved by rail while reducing the impact on road crossing users.

As regards siting the Lorry Parks and Park and Rides, EDF should be looking at areas where there would be minimal disruption to and impact on communities AND landscape. This clearly rules out the current proposals for Southern P&R option C at Woodbridge

Finally, I am deeply disappointed that it is proposed  the residents of east Suffolk should bear such a high degree of inconvenience over so many years for the good of the nation at large without any substantive mention of a reasonable payback. We need bridges over the A12 where footpaths have been cut in two. We need bridges over the East Suffolk line, where commuters currently wait in traffic jams. We need decent public transport for huge swathes of the rural population.  All these needs could be addressed with little extra cost if EDF considered them as part of a holistic plan for the development of Sizewell C.

I hope you will take these comments back and consider them seriously in your ongoing deliberations

Yours sincerely    

Caroline Page