Friday, 21 September 2012
Coombes Farm saved in High Court ruling (updated)
It's over three years ago that residents and neighbours first came together to form a Group "Residents Against Coombes Expansion" but a High Court ruling on Friday, September 21st finally signalled the successful end to a long battle.
Two days later on a wet and windy Sunday just a handful of us gathered at the entrance to Coombes Farm in Rocheway to pose for a "victory" photograph for Monday's "Evening Echo".
The Court rejected Cogent's (the Developer behind Coombes Farm, formerly Colonnade) challenge to the Local Development Plan or Core Strategy. Ruling in Rochford Council's favour, the Judge stated that sufficient work had been undertaken to compare the pros and cons of various sites put forward for consideration for development, this being Cogent's main contention.
The decision means that, aside from the eventual redevelopment of Stambridge Mill, future growth in Rochford will take place to the west of the district, sadly kicking off with 600 houses at Hall Road with further commercial development along Cherry Orchard Way in the pipeline.
In some ways it was a pyrrhic victory as the District has still sacrificed green belt, something Basildon/Billericay has avoided in their own Development Plan.
"Green Belt" trips off the tongue easily but I think it is fair to say that not all green belt is equal. Listening at the first Government Inquiry into the Developer's appeal against Rochford Council's refusal to allow development on Coombes Farm I heard an "Expert" representing Colonnade effectively describing the land as an eyesore. The implication being that it was land that wouldn't be missed and could easily be sacrificed. I readily admit that "Natural England" is unlikely to be troubled with a request for designation of "Land of Outstanding Beauty".
In fact, the "Expert" was right. It isn't a particularly attractive site. Purdeys Industrial Estate is located along one border and the sight of towering, stacked cars awaiting breakage greets you as you the enter the field along with the various noises emanating from the cement works, refuse disposal site and various other heavy industrial businesses. Then there is the abandoned Stambridge Mill. Slowly rotting away, it awaits some form of residential redevelopment, eventually. Ironically it is the definitive footpath that crosses the field that was the original "Mill Lane" ,the main pedestrian route for many of its workers. These days the path remains intensively used and that is what the Campaign was largely about.
Of course no one really wants a sprawling housing estate on their doorstep where previously existed toiled farmland but the battle to save Coombes Farm was much more than small town "nimbyism".
Adjacent to the edge of the town, Coombes Farm provides a rural respite that is extremely popular with dog walkers, leisure walkers accessing the Roach Valley Way towards Stambridge and Paglesham, cyclists, metal detector enthusiasts, horses and their owners, and so on. All manner of Bird and Wildlife lives on Coombes Farm, including Badger Setts which at one time we thought could offer the field protection. But, who knows, with the Government allowing their slaughter in some areas, maybe a less certain future awaits. It really is a feast for the senses and we would be the poorer without it. Fortunately, and finally, that is a worry that for the forseeable future is removed. Time, finally, to move on and consider Rochford's many other attributes...