Call for planning action to save Forest Heath’s vulnerable villages

A High Court challenge as part of the campaign against Hatchfield Farm has left Forest Heath villages vulnerable to developers
A High Court challenge as part of the campaign against Hatchfield Farm has left Forest Heath villages vulnerable to developers
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A High Court planning challenge has left villages in Forest Heath at the mercy of developers, parish councils say.

They are so concerned that the Forest Heath Rural Parish Alliance, begun by Moulton and Kentford Parish Councils this year, now has 15 member councils calling on the district council to act quickly and for the Secretary of State to call in all planning applications .

Problems began when Forest Heath’s local plan, setting out where new homes and infrastructure will be built, was challenged in the High Court as part of the campaign against 400 new homes at Hatchfield Farm, Newmarket. Forest Heath says it may now take 18 months to put a new plan in place.

A Forest Heath spokeswoman explained: “In the absence of the updated Local Plan, the National Planning Policy Framework applies.

“ This places the onus on developers to provide evidence to the council that any application is ‘sustainable’ in terms of infrastructure such as schools and highways.

“The challenge is growth is developer led, not planned, and not community led.”

Last week Forest Heath’s development control committee approved 78 houses on a field in Worlington Road which was outside the Mildenhall settlement boundary and to which three parishes had objected.

Councillors argued that a reason an application there was refused in 1988 was it being outside the boundary.

But place shaping manager Marie Smith said: “Because the council doesn’t have a five-year land supply, any policies regarding housing are considered out of date, therefore no settlement boundaries are considered appropriate grounds for refusal.”

Bill Rampling, chairman of Moulton Parish Council, said this was an example of what the alliance feared.

“We’ve been campaigning for sustainable development. What we mean is having sufficient infrastructure in place for when houses are built.

“It’s pointless shoving massive housing estates on the sides of villages and saying that’s it.”

He said infrastructure is part of the neighbourhood plans parishes must draw up.

“Those plans are only acceptable if they fall in the local plan from the planning authority, but we haven’t got a local plan,” he said.

The alliance feels Forest Heath is specially attractive to developers because of its easy access to Cambridge.

“Obviously, they’re taking advantage of the situation we’re in,” he added. “Whether they will build all the houses, I don’t know, but if they’ve got permissions, that’s half the battle.”