Felixstowe: Concern voiced over loss of high-grade farmland taken for housing

Calls have been made to protect farmland on the edge of Felixstowe from housing development - two pa

Calls have been made to protect farmland on the edge of Felixstowe from housing development - two parcels of the highest quality land have recently been given approval for homes. - Credit: Archant

Fears have been voiced over the future of top-quality farmland at Felixstowe as pressure mounts to find sites for nearly 2,000 new homes.

Planners say there is not enough brownfield land for the homes needed – and up to 80% of them will go on greenfield sites in and around Felixstowe and the Trimley villages.

Campaigners have secured protection for the countryside around north of Felixstowe, but are worried that too much farmland – vital for producing food with the population increasing – will be lost forever.

Town and district councillor Kimberley Williams said recent approvals for 390 homes on sites in Ferry Road, Old Felixstowe, and Walton Green South, Walton High Street, would destroy agricultural land described by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as “the very best quality”.

She said: “The UK is already the largest importer of food and drink in the EU as it only produces 59% of its own food and 90% of fruit eaten in the UK is imported from abroad.

“East Anglia is the bread basket of Britain, one of the few places where the soil quality is nutritious enough to grow wheat.

“So by agreeing to destroy land which is supposed to be protected from development by its own planning policy, it appears Suffolk council has finally lost the plot. The countryside is irreplaceable.”

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Ms Williams said housing was being pushed through on the grounds that it is “sustainable” development, permitted under the coalition Government’s National Planning Policy Framework, and much needed housing for a growing population.

She said: “The reality is that the 2011 census reveals that Felixstowe has a falling population, and house prices, which are indicative of supply and demand, are amongst the lowest in the Suffolk Coastal district.”

She claimed the real incentive for councils nationwide to agree development applications was to receive the Government new homes “bonus” given to councils for each house built by developers.

She said: “This equates to roughly £9,000 for each house built in Felixstowe.

“Meanwhile, Conservative Chancellor George Osborne has announced that if a developer applies to build houses and is refused, but the planning application is subsequently approved by an inspector on appeal, then the new homes bonus is lost.

“Suffolk Coastal is incentivised to permit housing development even where it is contrary to its own planning policy, because it will receive circa £4 million ‘bonus’ for sacrificing our precious agricultural land. How much of this will be spent in Felixstowe?”

Planning officers at Suffolk Coastal say that every application for housing is looked at on its merits and assessed according to policies in the district’s new Core Strategy.

However, the district has to provide 7,900 new homes by 2027 and it is inevitable greenfield sites will be used. The council should also have an identified five-year supply of housing land and at present has only three-and-a-half years’ supply.

Of these, 2,320 would be build on the eastern Ipswich fringe, with 1,760 in Felixstowe and the Trimleys, 1,520 in market towns such as Framlingham, Leiston and Saxmundham, 1,350 in villages, and the council reckons there will be around 850 “windfall” homes on sites which become unexpectedly available for development.