Voting day approaches on village growth and development vision in Rendlesham

The handing over of the finalised Rendlesham Neighbourhood Plan between Rendlesham Parish Council an

The handing over of the finalised Rendlesham Neighbourhood Plan between Rendlesham Parish Council and Suffolk Coastal District Council - Credit: Lucy Taylor

Suffolk’s first community-drafted blueprint for development over the next 15 years has entered the final step towards becoming a formal part of district planning policy.

The authors of Rendlesham’s Neighbourhood Plan have urged villagers to endorse the document at referendum in March or risk losing land to more housing.

Votes will be cast the day after Rendlesham Parish Council expects to learn the outcome of an appealed bid to demolish the unused Angel Theatre and sports centre in the village and replace with the buildings with 49 new homes.

But local leaders are optimistic that the appeal will be dismissed by communities secretary Eric Pickles, who oversaw the introduction of neighbourhood plans three years ago.

Rendlesham was the first place in the county to submit its neighbourhood plan to Suffolk Coastal District Council last August, having been given ‘front runner’ status by the government in March 2012.

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A six-week consultation was then followed by independent examination of the document, which will now be put to the public vote on March 5.

If more than 50% of votes cast are in favour, the document will become a formal part of the district’s Development Plan.

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Kay Nash, parish council chairman, said: “This document is fundamental in achieving the infrastructure that the residents of Rendlesham have said is much needed.

“A ‘Yes’ vote on March 5 will protect the village centre from being filled with houses and provide the space to put into place facilities for the community.

“A ‘No’ vote will potentially mean the loss of the land in the village centre – including the Angel Theatre and Sports Centre sites – to more housing.”

A two-day appeal was heard by the planning inspector in December into Suffolk Coastal’s refusal to let Walnut Tree Properties develop the buildings – bought from the Ministry of Defence in 1997 as part of the old air base but since closed.

The firm, which had asked for the decision to be deferred for revised plans to include a convenience store at the sports centre, said the parish council’s own plan to take on the disused theatre and sports centre was “unviable”.

But the parish council argued that the village needed community facilities – not the 49 homes proposed for the sites. Instead, it wants a retailer to occupy the existing community centre, moving activities to the theatre and reopening the sports centre.

Following the hearing, planning inspector Jonathan Manning took his recommendation to the secretary of state, who is expected to return a verdict on March 4.

Parish clerk, Heather Heelis said: “We are optimistic the appeal will be dismissed.

“In similar cases, appeals have been decided in favour of neighbourhood plans.

“If dismissed, the message we’re getting across is to not be complacent. We might win this round but there’s nothing to stop a similar application coming forward.”

Votes can be cast in person at Rendlesham Community Centre, by post or by proxy.

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