Concerns over plans for 1,000 homes on rare habitat site

Build more homes to fix the housing crisis, says columnist Angus Williams.

Middlewick Ranges could see 1,000 new homes built - Credit: PA

Plans to build 1,000 homes on a rare piece of acid grassland have cleared another hurdle.

The project for the Middlewick Ranges is part of a blueprint for 15,970 new houses in the Colchester borough - with all the proposals set to be adopted by the full council next month.

Many residents are unhappy with the allocation of houses in Middlewick Ranges, fearing a rare habitat could be irreversibly destroyed. The plan received 1,086 objections ahead of the previous local plan committee meeting last December.

The site is currently owned by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation, and was used as a live firing range by the Ministry of Defence, who want to sell the land and originally planned for 2,000 houses there.

But it is also used by residents as a key recreational space and is home to a “substantial” number of rare and threatened species, according to the Essex Wildlife Trust.

Now the plan has been found legally sound, the council is faced with two options.

The first option would see the plan approved but risk “harm” to the ranges by doing so. The second involves it being started from scratch, which councillors and council officers say would risk higher housing targets, speculative developments, millions spent fighting planning appeals and even government intervention.

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Resident Grace Dark told the latest local plan committee developing Middlewick Ranges would be “ecological suicide”.

Lead officer for planning and place strategy Karen Syrett said approving the plan would actually provide some legal protection for the ranges, guaranteeing 60% of it would be left as public open space.

She said: “Hard as it might be to accept this, but the best way to protect that open space and to retain it as public space is to have some development, which will fund it and prevent it from being fenced off.”

Leader of the council David King said if the council stalled progress of the plan at this stage delays could mean more changes.

He said: “We will get higher housing targets, how does that help anybody? We will get, therefore, more pressure on our infrastructure, how does that help anybody?”