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Essex undone by Prescott's Seedcorn

PUBLISHED: 12:49 06 February 2003 | UPDATED: 16:15 24 February 2010

The new buzzword is Seedcorn. It means thousands of new homes between London and Cambridge and even though Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott yesterday promised to protect the Green Belt, Political Editor GRAHAM DINES believes it will be difficult for Essex to resist the pressure for low cost housing



BY 2020, the large tracts of land in a huge square centred on Saffron Walden are likely to become a major building site.

The new buzzword is Seedcorn. It means thousands of new homes between London and Cambridge and even though Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott yesterday promised to protect the Green Belt, Political Editor GRAHAM DINES believes it will be difficult for Essex to resist the pressure for low cost housing

BY 2020, the large tracts of land in a huge square centred on Saffron Walden are likely to become a major building site.

The bulldozers will have moved in to start ploughing up the green acres around Thaxted, Great Chesterford, Clavering, and Audley End.

In the second major blow in under a year to the chocolate box idyll that is the meeting point of Essex, Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott yesterday announced a multi-billion pound package to fund hundreds of thousands of new homes in England while protecting the Green Belt.

Last summer, in a review of Britain's airport needs, planners suggested Stansted should be turned into a major international hub airport to rival Heathrow and Paris Charles de Gaulle. Up to three extra runways could be built, with listed buildings and centuries old hamlets being ripped up to make way for it.

Mr Prescott told the Commons the aim of his 30-year programme Sustainable Communities: Building for the Future is to tackle the collapse of the housing market collapse in the North of England while stepping up building in the South.

He promised to create a £500 million fund to help regenerate areas of low housing demand, guaranteed to maintain or increase the Green Belt in every region of England, establish a new Land Restoration Trust to turn 1,500 hectares of derelict land in towns and cities into urban green spaces, and to invest £5 billion in affordable housing over the next three years, including at least £1 billion for key worker housing.

Seedcorn investment of £446 million to attract extra private investment to four priority growth areas in the south east – the Thames Gateway around Dagenham and Thurrock, Milton Keynes, London-Stansted-Cambridge (M11 corridor) and Ashford, Kent – which could deliver an extra 300,000 jobs and 200,000 more homes over 15 to 20 years

The Government has a 30 year-old vision for the M11 corridor. The first three development areas will be: the Lea Valley based around Enfield; the expansion of Harlow; and more housing for Cambridge.

Work in all three districts could start by the end of this decade, but they are unlikely to be enough to assuage the desperate thirst for housing in the South East.

London is desperately short of affordable housing. Cambridge is bursting at the seems. And any major expansion of Stansted will mean housing will have to be provided for the thousands of workers attracted to the airport.

A public examination of the outline proposals is scheduled for next month and April.

The fourth zone in the corridor will be to the south of Cambridge and north of Stansted.

But residents and councillors battling to save northern Essex from being turned into housing estates must face one inescapable fact: most of the transport infrastructure is already in place.

The M11 motorway and the West Anglia electrified railway lines from Cambridge through Essex to Liverpool Street and through Hertfordshire to King's Cross slash through the area.

Whitehall planners would save millions and millions of pounds if they centred development here rather than in other parts of the South East where there is no such provision.

The plans for Stansted envisage a major road around the north and east of Stansted and a possible rail link from the airport to Braintree, the A120 is currently being dualled to Braintree, and the London-Ipswich transport study has suggested a new rail line from Chelmsford to Epping.

A spokesman for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister yesterday conceded that north Essex was probably safe for possibly the best part of 20 years.

The effect of new housing in Harlow, the Lea Valley and Cambridge will be judged before deciding how many further homes are needed – and where.

Even though Mr Prescott promised no suburban sprawl, no soulless estates and no dormitory towns, the reality is that Saffron Walden and the surrounding square miles stand out like a beacon.

They are unlikely to escape from the developers' clutches as Mr Prescott's vision of a brave new world of Seedcorn communities takes root.

Perhaps Stansted may not become the massive hub suggested. But expansion is not in doubt, and at least one extra runway is likely.

Will people want to live in north Essex's Seedcorn housing if they are affected by aircraft noise? Almost certainly, the answer is "yes'' – because many of the incoming residents buying the homes are likely to be employed at Stansted.

It's a no-win situation for the current residents at the northern end of the M11 corridor.


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