The consultation process between Jaynic, the developers acting for Mid Suffolk District Council, and our Parish Council, began last night. And so, perhaps I ought to report back...
The first thing to note is, slightly surprisingly, that there appears to be no hard and fast idea as to what will go on the site and where, contrary to the impression given by the material circulated by their communications consultants. Yes, enormous logistics sheds might well emerge, but until customers actually turn up, nobody really knows - the talk is of bespoke development, i.e. the customer will say what they want and, if a deal is agreed, it gets built.
From the perspective of a statutory consultee, i.e. the Parish Council, that offers an interesting challenge. Whilst we might have a clear idea what we wouldn't like, there isn't anything concrete to object to... yet. Thus, it seems as though the obvious strategy for us is to talk about infrastructure and traffic management, and that is what we mainly focused upon.
We were told that there was no expectation of significant additional traffic on Mill Lane between Clamp Farm and the Creetings, yet the modelling hasn't been done yet, and there is an apparent sense that nearby bus stops imply that there are buses. I'm not really sure how to break it to them that the bus service consists of one bus on weekday mornings to Stowmarket, plus a mid-morning bus on a Thursday, and one bus on weekday evenings to Stowupland. And, indeed, the "bus" is a minibus.
However, this is part of what happens later. What is expected to happen first is that construction of the site's road network will be an early part of what we see. An indicative timeline exists and, if met, will see the road network, including a new link from near Clamp Farm to the roundabout opposite Tesco, completed by Spring/Summer 2022. The obvious benefits include taking heavy lorries from our friendly neighbourhood concrete products factory away from Cedars Park, and providing easier and more direct access to Tesco and Stowmarket for residents of the Creetings.
It's rather harder to see the benefits for residents of the cluster of properties at Clamp Farm, upon whose doorstep the new development will be. What ends up being built on the north-east quadrant of the site could be anything from a big logistics shed to a collection of smaller light industrial buildings. And yes, a "planted, landscaped mound" will provide a "significant visual buffer" between Clamp Farm and the development, but residents have been hurt before by that phrase (the Poundfield Products equivalent has never really lived up to expectations), so the proof will be in the pudding there.
We touched upon the Amenity and Biodiversity Zone, and to be honest, I'm not really sure what they mean by that, except to note that it is intended to compensate for the loss of wildlife habitat caused by the development. It would be nice if access to the river path was improved, and that will be a question for the actual planning application.
The question of the rerouting of the footpath that currently runs through the middle of the site, linking Creeting St Peter with Cedars Park, is up for discussion as well. The current proposal is to squeeze the footpath between whatever emerges in the north-eastern quadrant and the A14, and I can't help but feel that this offers a rather gloomy trudge compared to routing it around the southern edge, which would at least offer farmland on one side. And, to be frank, people walking that route aren’t going to Cedars Park, they're heading for Tesco and onwards to Stowmarket.
The roadside area is intended for, possibly, a petrol station, a hotel, a pub, some drive through fast food and, perhaps, some retail outlet(s). We'd been expecting that, given the previous planning application for that corner, so no great surprises there.
And now for a hostage to fortune of a sort. The developers and their supporting cast seem to be as reasonable as you might optimistically expect. That's not to say that they will agree to everything or, indeed, anything we would like, but the conversation was courteous, professional and, I believe, honest, and we came away with a better understanding of the project, regardless of any personal misgivings we may have.
Things will move fast too. The community consultation phase ends in just over a fortnight, and what is known as a hybrid planning application is expected to be submitted to Mid Suffolk District Council at the turn of the year. That application will cover the road network, utilities, and landscaping in detail, whilst the remainder will "establish key parameters for the development such as the maximum building height and amount of floorspace to be delivered, with the final details to be subject to further stages of design should planning permission be received.". And yes, there will be further planning applications specific to each building, or group of buildings, as it reaches the drawing board.
Next week will see an opportunity for residents to ask questions by way of a Zoom conference, with yours truly in the chair. The developers have asked to see questions in advance, suggesting that by doing so they will be able to provide fuller responses, and we've agreed to that as part of a collaborative approach to widening the consultation.
I take the view that, whilst the Parish Council should engage in a formal capacity with the project, it is vital that residents express their concerns in their own language rather than rely on us to interpret and prioritise their messages. We'll do our level best to represent our community, but our neighbours have their own perspectives and will have their own preferences for how those are conveyed. I also think that more individual comments give a better idea of the depth of feeling amongst us.
There will be much for the Parish Council to think about, and to respond to, over the coming months and, indeed, years. Given that we are five volunteers, supported by a part-time, albeit highly professional Parish Clerk, it will offer a significant challenge to our ability to scrutinise and question as the development proceeds. And therefore, the interest, knowledge and ideas of the village community as a whole will be core to our effort, and I thank everyone in anticipation.