Councillor Tim Young (Chair)

“Councillor Lilley requested that he speaks first as he needs to go. I know there are a lot of speakers on Middlewick, so all of those will be taken, apart from councillor Lilley, at the same time and then the officers will answer the en bloc issues that arise rather than do it one at a time. So councillor Lilley, please have your say, you did ask me if you could go first and am always willing to cede to your request.”

[See 2.1 for Councillor Lilley’s speech and Visiting Councillor which kicked off the Have Your Say on Middlewick]

Sir Bob Russell

“No, not Middlewick tonight. You’ve got the first team out. But I do welcome the comments from Councillor Lilley.”

Councillor Tim Young (Chair)

“Thank you Sir Bob. Can I confirm that everybody else who wants to have your say tonight is going to speak about Middlewick? Anybody not speaking about Middlewick? Okay, I will do them in the order that I got in front of me. With starting off via zoom, Dr Jeremy Dagley if he is available. Dr Dagley, you have three minutes Bell will sound after two and then again after free. The time will start when you begin to speak. Thank you.”

1.1  Dr Jeremy Dagley, Essex Wildlife Trust

“Thank you Chair. I am Dr Jeremy Dagley, Director of Conservation at Essex Wildlife Trust and, also, a Director of Essex Ecology (formerly EECOS) a nature conservation consultancy, and commercial subsidiary of the Trust, that has provided ecological advice to your Council on Local Wildlife Sites and planning matters. Essex Wildlife Trust is the County’s leading wildlife conservation Charity.

My statement this evening is in response to your Local Plan Review, which is covered in Item 7 on the agenda. In Item 7 it is clear that your Council’s starting point and immediate focus is the enhancement of Colchester’s green network. Essex Wildlife Trust warmly welcomes this strong commitment to “creating a better environment”.

To succeed, this ambition to enhance the green network relies, crucially, on Colchester’s designated Local Wildlife Sites. My statement tonight highlights one very special – but threatened – Local Wildlife Site – Middlewick Ranges (Site Co122). 

Middlewick Ranges is an outstandingly important site for wildlife, not only for Colchester, but for Essex and the wider region. At 76 hectares it is one of the largest Local Wildlife Sites in the area and on its own, represents nearly 4% of the District’s complete Local Wildlife Site acreage. With tens of hectares of rare acid grassland habitat, Middlewick Ranges encompasses the largest extent in north Essex and is of similar ecological importance to Epping Forest SSSI’s acid grasslands. As Natural England’s letter of 28th June 2022 to your council emphasised, the significance of its special acid grassland is likely to have been underestimated. And yet, this Local Wildlife Site is threatened with development.

Of real concern to the Trust is that its insect biodiversity was not addressed sufficiently during the Local Plan preparation. In the Trust’s opinion, Middlewick Ranges is almost certainly now of national importance for insect biodiversity. EECOS advised your officers in early 2021 that the site, with more survey work, could reach a level to be considered of SSSI-level quality. New data was submitted to you by Essex Field Club and Butterfly Conservation in June 2022 supporting this, including at least 23 Red Data Book Species and a quarter of all Essex’s known moths and butterflies. Natural England, in its letter to your authority, stated that it would expect this absolutely exceptional biodiversity to be properly safeguarded.

In the face of the UK’s deepening biodiversity crisis – and climate crisis – and with your Council’s strengthened duties to enhance biodiversity, full protection of Middlewick Ranges’ wildlife is, in the Trust’s view, essential.

I am speaking for both the Wildlife Trust and Essex Ecology (or EECOS) as your former technical adviser, requesting and advising that your Council, through its green spaces’ consultation, now fully protects Middlewick Ranges and removes the current site allocation for houses there, providing revised housing allocations at alternative sites.

Thank you very much for allowing me to speak this evening.”

1.2  Richard Martin, Save Middlewick Spokesperson

“Good evening. The following letter has been sent to Colchester Council and en-Form, from the RSPB in relation to Middlewick Ranges. This addresses the Stantec ecological report and fundamental underpinning of the planning inspector hearing that acid grassland can be recreated:

Dear Councillors,

Middlewick Ranges housing allocation

We write in relation to the Colchester City Local Plan housing allocation for Middlewick Ranges.

It has been brought to our attention that the developer’s Ecological Evidence Base report (Stantec,Project Ref: 50035/Eco, Rev: A, Date Nov 2020) relies heavily on a single case study to justify their compensation/mitigation proposals. This case study relates to work undertaken at our Minsmere reserve in Suffolk.

The Council will be aware of the mitigation hierarchy that sets out a series of steps in protecting ecological habitats from harm by development, namely avoid the damage in the first instance; mitigate by reducing adverse impacts, and lastly compensate where avoidance or mitigation are not possible (per Essex Wildlife Trust letter to localplan@colchester.go.uk dated 14 November 2021). Underpinning the latter are the fundamental principles that any mitigation or compensation must be bespoke, deliverable and effective.

The RSPB wish to advise the Council that the Minsmere case study presented in the Stantec report is not comparable or analogous to the proposed compensation site for Middlewick Ranges and we do not consider that any mitigation/compensation would be suitably bespoke, deliverable or effective.

We would not wish the work at Minsmere to be used to legitimise or justify the destruction of acid grassland or heathland (priority habitats) at Middlewick. The Minsmere case study was a strict habitat creation project with a conservation objective to create suitable habitat from farmland of low biodiversity value for breeding Stone Curlews (one of the UK’s rarest birds). It was not a replacement for sensitive ecosystems such as acid grassland supporting an outstanding invertebrate assemblage of over 1,400+ species known to exist at Middlewick. Fundamentally, the soil conditions at Minsmere are light, whilst those at the Middlewick compensation site are a heavy loamy clay, which are nutrient-rich and currently provide important habitats in their own right.

We would like to draw the Council’s attention to our Planning Naturally 1 report.”

(The following is the remainder of this RSPB letter which is now also in the public domain.)

“We would like to draw the Council’s attention to our Planning Naturally 1 report, produced in conjunction with the Royal Town and Planning Institute (RTPI) and the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM). This sets out twelve principles of good spatial planning and we wish to highlight the following:

– Plans should contribute to sustainable development by enhancing the natural environment and ensuring that social and economic development takes place within environmental limits.

– Plans and projects should be based on up-to-date and scientifically robust evidence, including evidence on the value of the natural environment

– Plans and projects should be rigorously assessed for their environmental impacts, and the results used to improve the plan.

– Alternative options should be considered, particularly alternatives that are less damaging to the environment, and the reasons for rejecting any options should be made public.

Finally, the Council will need to consider their responsibilities in relation to the emerging Local Nature Recovery Strategies (LNRS).

We trust that this information is of assistance to the Council and please treat this letter as public domain. Colchester environmental organisation en-Form has been informed of this correspondence.

Yours sincerely,

Mark Nowers

Conservation Team, Kent & Essex”

1.3  Dougal Urquhart, Colchester Natural History Society (Chair)

“I am Dougal Urquhart, Chair of Colchester Natural History Society.

We’re an active society that has been monitoring and surveying wildlife across north-east Essex including Middlewick Ranges for the last seventy years – so we’re older than the Essex Wildlife Trust. We have many very knowledgeable members in all fields of wildlife and habitat management including many county and even national experts within our membership.

The Society insists Middlewick Ranges Local Wildlife Site is taken out of the Local Plan to protect the incredibly rich biodiversity of the site.

The wholly inadequate Stantec Report of November 2020 misinformed the Council with its lack of actual species detail and downplaying the richness of the site for wildlife. That flawed Stantec Report has already been critically pulled apart by the Midland Ecology Evaluation Report of February 2021.

The Stantec Report made such a mockery of the richness of the Middlewick Ranges Local Wildlife Site, that members of the Society and the Essex Field Club subsequently carried out a number of surveys of the Ranges including myself. Thankfully we were allowed access this summer on a number of occasions inside the fence and we were grateful the MOD gave us a key.

All aspects of wildlife were surveyed. We’ve been amazed that the Ranges have been found to support 1480 species of invertebrate including 167 species with a conservation status proving the site is far richer than Stantec stated. As well as finding nationally rare species and red data book species, there are 15 section 41 priority species of principal importance – doubling the number from two years ago. Nationally rare species include an amazing variety including spiders, wasps, bees, beetles, bugs, moths, butterflies and many others.

Assessing the quality of habitat for invertebrates, there are eight invertebrate micro-habitat assemblages in favourable condition. This makes Middlewick Ranges one of the most important acid grassland sites in the whole of Essex, especially for invertebrates – and richer than many current SSSI’s in the county. Existing surveys have only scratched the surface in finding out what’s present partly due to the restricted access. Natural England have only recently been alerted to this latest set of data.

A reminder – Colchester City Council has made a commitment in their Local Plan Environmental Policy ENV1, (this paragraph omitted): “….to conserve and enhance Colchester’s natural and historic environment, and to safeguard the Borough’s biodiversity and landscape character.” and “….not to permit proposals for development that would cause significant harm to protected species and Habitats and Species of Principal Importance.”

This Lowland dry acid grassland is identified as a Habitat of Principal Importance and as an Essex Biodiversity Action Plan habitat. This vast area of acid grassland has been allowed to develop naturally over hundreds of years. It will never be replicated in a matter of a few years or even decades, while the suggested mitigation measures also spell destruction of neighbouring rich grassland habitats too.

Regarding the Local Plan, the society draws the Council’s attention to the forthcoming Local Nature Recovery Strategy which will be in place by March 2025 – within 15 months and before the next five yearly review. This is a new duty on all public authorities to have regard to relevant LNRS. We ask the Council takes this on board and adds appropriate wording in their plan (about this new obligation to agree priorities for nature recovery).”

1.4  Andrew Wilkinson, en-Form Colchester (Projects Manager)

“Hello my name is Andrew Wilkinson, I’m from en-Form; groups and where one of the environment groups on the Save Middlewick campaign.

Moment I’m going to reconfirm some of these things at the moment:

  • Richard Martin told you about the RSPB letter; all of the Local Plan Committee members got a copy of that letter as did some of the planners. That goes into the public domain now, so tomorrow morning that will be out;
  • We’ve also heard from the previous speaker that Essex Wildlife Trust is wanting to distance themselves from the Stantec report. The Stantec report is now old and out of date and has expired anyway. It also used a Biodiversity Net Gain metric that is not legal; they made up their own one. As from January as a planners will confirm they have to use the Defra metric. That report is null and void now;
  • It has been brought to our attention that the mitigation land where they were going to ‘recreate’ the acid grassland is in itself an ecologically important site that has not been completely surveyed yet. To move it there… This would be an important site in its own right;
  • The Local Plan: lots of laws are changing at the moment wrt. the Local Plans. There is a new biodiversity thing where you have to take into account the climate mitigation. You have the Biodiversity SPD; that’s on the website. We’d like to ask the planners when the Climate Mitigation one is going to be ready, this has to be taken into account.
  • Dougall just mentioned the Local Nature Recovery Strategy, this has to be in by March 2025, one year away. That’s being worked on by Essex County Council at the moment, and has to be taken into account in your decisions.

All I really want to say at the end of the day is a number of councillors have come to us – in fact the majority have come to us, asking how we can get Middlewick Ranges removed from the Local Plan. So, what we want to do is work together with the council, the councillors and the planning department, regarding the technicalities of how we go about that process.

That’s all I want to say really. We just want to get it out and will work to get it out; but we want to know what the procedure is.

(There’s obviously the green and the blue Network Strategy that is going on at the moment as well so you got various things that you need to hit under that, and are conversed with the planners direct on that as we having some confusion with it.)”

1.5  Dave Smith, Local Resident of Old Heath Colchester

“I’m here tonight as a resident; my house backs onto the firing ranges. Tonight, I’m here to thank Colchester’s elected councillors that previously approved the Local Plan, for the proposals for housing to be built on Middlewick ranges to be built despite strong opposition – I’m here to thank those who have now changed their mind.

It’s rare for politicians to admit they were wrong, and make a U-turn, and it pleases me in other people that some who voted for its inclusion in the Local Plan are now coming out and speaking out against it. For the MoD to now consider even more development than was originally proposed, is absolutely absurd. Middlewick is not suitable for development for so many reasons which people have spoken about tonight already.

I’m going to speak now from a different perspective. My concerns are also about the damage increased traffic will inflict on local residents and businesses. There’s been a number of accidents at the junction of Abbots Road and Mersea Road because of the volume of traffic in the area. Last Thursday, a 7 mile work-related journey from Old Heath to Frating took me 45 minutes. The roadwork in this part of Colchester simply cannot cope with increased traffic.

I’ve lived in this part of Colchester for almost 50 years, traffic congestion is on the increase; the roads can’t cope with the traffic we already have. And it’s no coincidence that the flooding at Haven Road has increased as more homes have been built, adding pressure to the sewage works capacity at Haven Road.

I would ask other councillors who are undecided at the moment, from all parties, please support the withdrawal of Middlewick from the Local Plan. You have it in your hands to go down in history as the elected councillors that did the right thing.

A huge mistake was made including the development of Middlewick in the Local Plan; there is now a chance for the people who made that mistake to put that right. The MoD and the army have been welcomed in Colchester for many years.

But it’s pure greed leading the MoD policy to try and sell the land. My house backs onto these ranges. I want it to remain an un-spoilt as it is in its current form – in the hope that my grandchildren can enjoy it as I have. Colchester already has large areas that have become concrete jungles. Let’s preserve one of the last unspoiled areas of Colchester for the people of Colchester.

Colchester councillors: you have a chance to make a stand. I’ve previously spoken out against this development, I was not happy with those who voted for it to be approved – it was rushed through in a panic to meet housing demand. But after a period of reflection, many have now seen it was a wrong decision. So to all councillors I say this: please make the right decision and take this out of the Local Plan. Thank you.”

1.6  Prof. Ted Benton FRES, Colchester Natural History Society, Essex Field Club & University of Essex

“I’m coming in rather late, and a lot of the points I wanted to make have already been made. So I’ll be pretty brief.

First thing I want to say, is having seen the advertising images that are being put out for the sale of this site, added yet another reason why we shouldn’t destroy it. I mean it is a wonderful piece of landscape. I was actually moved by that image to think: ‘what on earth are they doing?’

The main thing I wanted to say was really to argue that Middlewick is irreplaceable. And it’s important to argue that and recognise that. It is irreplaceable for three reasons:

  1. It’s a much loved amenity space for citizens. That’s the explanation for why more than a thousand people objected to the proposal for it to have houses built on it. It’s part of their lives. Part of their memories and it goes back generations, which brings me to the second reason why it is irreplaceable;
  2. It represents a very long association between Colchester and Colchester Garrison. So it has that link with the military for all those years; in fact I checked it out today, since the barracks were put in Colchester during the Crimean War. So this has been under Ministry of Defence management for something like 150 or 170 years. That’s important not just because it is a significant part of Colchester’s identity, but it’s also important – this is the third reason;
  3. Because that continuous management of the habitat, this large piece of land, is a reason why it has such a rich and complex biodiversity.

And that is a key reason why the mitigation proposed by Stantec is completely inappropriate. Because that cannot be recreated. Something that has been managed in a suitable sensible way for more than a 150 years; you cannot replace the complexity of the wildlife, the soil bacteria and fungi, and everything else within that brief period of time.

It should never have been in the Local Plan. The reason it was I think is because the council at that time was I think radically misled by Stantec and also by an independent consultancy.

I think the evidence that has now been brought to bear which has been mentioned by my colleague, is sufficient to say that we have even more reason now to take it out of the Local Plan.”

1.7  Lisa Cross, Save Middlewick Ranges Chair

“Local Plan Committee. I’ve been here before. We have now all of us heard further strong and unignorably compelling evidence that the Middlewick Ranges should not be built on. This evidence not only refers to the rare habitat that’s been mentioned and the designated wildlife site Local Wildlife Site which is on – slap bang in the middle of – Middlewick Ranges, but also to the mitigation land which forms part of the buffer zone to the SSSI.

So the whole site is important. It’s an important habitat in its own right. This has been stated many times by ecologists and naturalists to this council. What also has been stated is that you cannot recreate habitats by translocating ecosystems from A to B expecting a whole host of species, as we’ve heard over 1400 different species, you can’t expect them just to migrate to small designated areas.

That approach is both destructive and counter-productive with regard to nature and biodiversity. We have very kindly a statement here by a renowned entomologist and ecologist, Stephen Falk. He is one of Britain’s leading experts on pollinators, their identification, ecology, conservation and management, including acid grassland. And his statement which I will précis down, says:

I am astonished and disturbed by the claims that high quality acid grassland can be recreated on unsuitable soils elsewhere simply by adding Sulphur. I would suggest there is a basic misunderstanding of what acid grassland actually is. A grassland is a complex ecological ‘community’… It is a grassland that often features a long historic continuity.”

To suggest that simply adding Sulphur can recreate an ancient soil profile… is one of the most controversial claims I’ve encountered during my many years working in nature conservation. It should be treated with the utmost suspicion, and expert opinion sought from bona fide grassland, plants and insect experts at Natural England and the wildlife trusts.”

This must not be allowed to happen. Fortunately for us here, today – there are viable and potentially lucrative alternatives to building houses on the site, which can both boost nature and heritage. We can avoid the worst possible outcome.

Save the Wick campaign and its associated naturalists and ecologists we’ve heard from this evening; we are willing to work with Colchester City Council. We look forward to helping you become a leader in providing rewarding imaginative biodiversity projects.

We also invite you, councillors and officers, to come along to a specially organised naturalist led walk across the Middlewick. To hear first-hand what will be irreplaceable you lost if the housing development is pursued.”

Full Statement by ‘bee expert’ Steven Falk, 11th December 2023

Here is the statement from Steven Falk, entomologist and ecologist, and one of Britain’s leading experts on pollinators and their identification, ecology, conservation and management (including acid grassland): 

“There can be no doubting the high value of Middlewick Ranges for biodiversity, especially scarcer insects. Essex is one of the best recorded counties in the UK for wildlife and habitats, and we know how scarce acid grassland sites are in Essex, and how much has been lost in the last one hundred years. It is vital that every effort is made to preserve this rare remnant. Indeed, that effort is a requirement of every local planning authority and governmental organisation under the 2006 Biodiversity Duty.

I am astonished and disturbed by the claims that high quality acid grassland can be recreated on unsuitable soils elsewhere simply by adding Sulphur. I would suggest there is a basic misunderstanding of what acid grassland actually is! It is not ‘acidic’ grassland, or ‘acidified’ grassland (i.e. any grassland treated with acid to produce a lower pH).

Acid grassland is a complex ecological ‘community’ of plants, insects and fungal communities, often of great antiquity. It is a grassland that often features a long historic continuity of key microhabitats (such as bare, sandy ground and boggy ground) and unusual plant assemblages. The invisible soil profiles of acid grassland (hidden from the eye but formed over many centuries if not millenia by rainwater leaching) cannot be recreated by simply adding Sulphur. But those rare and precious soil profiles (mostly now lost by modern farming practices or development) are the vital foundation for all that lives above.

To suggest that simply adding Sulphur can recreate an ancient soil profile, an ancient seed bank, or ancient (and isolated) plant, invertebrate and fungal communities, is one of the most controversial claims I’ve encountered during my many years working in nature conservation. It should be treated with the utmost suspicion, and expert opinion sought from bona fide grassland, plants and insect experts at Natural England and the wildlife trusts.” 

2.    Have Your Say  11.12.23: Visiting Councillors

(Visiting Cllr Lilley at 6 minutes, public speakers at 23 minutes and Cllr Harris and other visiting Cllrs from 47.50: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xYA6ApFZEnA&t=360s)

2.1  Councillor Mike Lilley

“Thank you chair for allowing me to go first. Good evening everybody.

I think that Middlewick Ranges is very contentious and has been for some time, but what worried me a lot was the latest statement by the MoD and their so-called added extra land onto what they wanted to build on already, and to me that rings so many alarm bells when developers say this. And MoD are a developer in such that – they don’t build houses, but they sell the sites for building.

So it leads me now to have a complete change of view, and the fact that we now need to remove Middlewick Ranges from the Local Plan. I don’t trust what the MoD say, what they come up with in the future; but we need to protect all that grassland. And the sooner we do that… it’s actually moving closer to the East Donyland Woods now, and that worries me as well. Will that go in the future? Will they just suddenly add that on as a by chance? And then all of a sudden after they build a thousand homes, if they get permission, ‘oh, we’ve got a bit of land here let’s go for this one as well shall we?’ And to me it’s gone far too much now – the protection – as to we need to tell them the story: that it needs to be removed from the local plan.

It needs to be given to the people of Colchester as a nature reserve, and we as a council who declared Climatic Emergency, improving air quality around the town instead of concreting out over all that grassland, get rid of all that wildlife, we need now to put in thousands of trees* and turn it into a proper nature reserve for the people of Colchester and the people of Old Heath and The Hythe who walk every day and would lose that.

It’s gone now from beyond providing homes, and they won’t provide affordable homes and none of us can afford affordable homes anyway, the reality as such they’re not council houses. I don’t trust them, it needs to be removed from the local plan and we need to have a nature reserve in there now. Keep the wildlife where it is, they’ve lived there for some time. Who are we to suddenly transport all that wildlife to somewhere else? We wouldn’t do it to humans – let’s protect the wildlife, let’s protect the grassland the trees and let’s protect the Wick from development now. Thank you.”

[After the speech Councillor Lilley spoke to a another speaker, a well respected naturalist, who informed him that planting a large number of trees would be detrimental to the sensitive acid grassland, which Councillor Lilley accepted.]

2.2  Councillor Dave Harris

“Thank you very much Chair. Thank you very much for allowing all the speakers today to come along and have their say about Middlewick. First of all, I want to start by saluting my colleague Councillor Mike Lilley for the words he said earlier on. He had it absolutely spot-on, he’s absolutely right. We’ve campaigned for years to ask the MoD – the Government as it were – to take this site off the table and they haven’t done that. Chair, I wrote to the right honourable Grant Shapps in early November when it first went on the market, and wrote to him on two grounds:

1) The lack of infrastructure in the area to support a housing development of that size and secondly;

2) On the biodiversity and wildlife in that area and you’ve heard many speakers tonight eloquently say about the strengths of the arguments against building.

Now, that letter was sent off – I have a letter back from Grant Shapps, I have it with me tonight; and the Defence Infrastructure Organisation states that – as far as they’re concerned and as far as Mr Shapps is concerned – they are going to continue, with his Majesty’s Treasurer’s guidance, of selling this ‘surplus land’. The they said they are actually adding a piece onto the land, they going to extend the piece – that’s not in our Local Plan as we know.

My concern is that the infrastructure as we know it doesn’t exist as I have said, and Mike Lilley has said: there’s no community centres; there’s no shops; there’s no employment; there is not enough to support a housing development. There’s no school places, there is no doctor’s surgery places, there is no dentist surgery places that are available to serve such a community. The road network that Mike Lilley was talking about; this is absolutely right. You won’t manage to put a road network of that size and infrastructure in there to serve that community.

On the biodiversity, as far as I’m concerned all the speakers were absolutely spot-on tonight, I want to echo their sentiments: we can’t allow this to happen!

As I understand it, and I’ve been here before chair as you know, I’ve been on this committee and said this and I’ll say it again. The review process of this committee, I know it’s on the agenda, that’s going to be a factor here and we’ve got to use that review process to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt – and I believe we can, as you’ve heard from all the other speakers tonight – we can do that using their evidence to demonstrate to the MoD that we cannot do what they intend to do.

So, as far as I concerned I was very disappointed in the Defence Infrastructure Organisations letter and Rights Honourable Grant Shapps’ stance on it, he’s been led by the Treasury, but Treasury and money is one thing. We cannot and must not allow the fact that the government wants money from that site, to factor in what we want in our community. This is not what we would like to do.

So I would join Mike Lilley’s call, and my call for a review to take that out of the Local Plan and make no doubt about it, ensure – we have the residents on side, you heard that tonight. I wrote the letter on behalf the residents chair, to Grant Shapps – because of all the people who lobbied us as six councillors, councillors Horns, Pearson, Smalls, Lilley and Scordis – were all in my mind as I wrote that letter.

As far as I’m concerned – let’s take it out now and ensure that we don’t go back to this in a future time. Please back the call for review – and please take it out of the plan. Thank you very much.”

2.3  Councillor Fay Smalls

“I’d just like to thank all the speakers that have gone before me speaking on Middlewick. For people who don’t know, I became a local councillor in May 2023, so I wasn’t part of the original Local Plan but this obviously become increasingly clear to me how important this issue is.

I’m speaking tonight to ask for Middlewick to be taken out of the Local Plan and be designated as a nature reserve for the benefit of local residents, the wider community and ultimately preserve this unique environment for future generations.

As I’ve already said, I wasn’t part of the process that saw Middlewick included in the Local Plan, but I do understand it was controversial from the beginning. I don’t want to overly focus on what happened before as I’m sure at the time everyone was doing what they felt was best, possibly with damage limitation in mind. We are now, however, at a point where we are reviewing the Local Plan and there seems to be an increasing consensus that Middlewick should not be built on.

I believe it’s a strength to admit when things may have gone wrong and then try and rectify the situation. The Local Plan Review seems an excellent opportunity to do just that.

In the document pack that the committee members have tonight, on page note 28, it is noted that one of the outcomes from a recent workshop on the Local Plan revision was a desire to protect areas of ecological importance. It’s increasingly clear that Middlewick is such an area.

I listened to Martin Pugh, who is a Senior Ecologist at Essex Wildlife Trust raise his concerns to the Environment Panel last week. The Local Plan stipulates that any development on Middlewick should have a 44% Biodiversity Net Gain. However, this can’t be achieved on a compensation site elsewhere. I’ve long had concerns about the viability of this, but not being an expert I didn’t really know what to think. So listening to an expert and – in fact – listening to people who have been speaking tonight, it seems increasingly likely that if this unique site is destroyed it cannot be reproduced elsewhere.

Over recent days I’ve been speaking to residents who live close to Middlewick Ranges, and as they have been aware that site is now up for sale there increasingly worried about losing this precious green space. The flats at Abbotts Road do not have gardens and they don’t have balconies. What they do have though at the moment is proximity to a unique area of nature that can be freely accessed.

So my ask is, let’s look at this again and campaign as a council for Middlewick to be designated as a nature reserve.

2.4  Councillor Martyn Warnes

“Thank you Chair. I find myself, as previously said, coming to this late. As a counsellor with a surname beginning with W, to another counsellor with a surname beginning with Y, much has been said by the time you get to have your say. So therefore, I’m not going to go over the comments I understand and take on board what an awful lot of those comments have said.

We find ourselves reviewing the Local Plan that many of us feel that we’ve only just settled. But here we are doing it again. And during that process much has changed.

And indeed, one of the flaws of the planning system as I understand it (and it can’t be any different because the costs and the local government would be huge), is that once the landowner puts a site forward we are reliant on them to provide the evidence for the council to consider. And we found shifting sands all through that process.

In the Assessment Criteria within any area of a Local Wildlife Site, National Policy Framework encourages the protection and enhancement of biodiversity. Wenow end up in a situation where some really good arguments have been made and I, like Councillor Lilley, like Counsellor Harris, have been spooked by the MoD repeating what they did during the Local Plan; which was to bring forward a site at the 11th hour, once a council consultation had actually been published.

And here they are again wanting to increase the size of the site. That does undermine people’s ability to take them at their word, and it also brings up a point that I would like to add to the conversation – is that you have two distinct parcels of land. You have a ‘growth area’ which is called Middlewick Ranges, that has been put into the ‘growth plan’, and you have part of the existing MoD training area. One is north of Birch Brook and one is south. They effectively have overlapping boundaries, because you have two distinct parcels of land. And therefore, if you look at the process that you have got before you tonight and am item 8 on page 61, paragraph 3.14, in situations where two or more distinct sites or broad locations overlapped they will be assessed together as a whole.

So it strikes me, that there is an opportunity to consider whether there is an argument to actually review the whole of Middlewick ‘growth area’. And it’s also pointed out on item 8, page 72, Assessment Criteria, within any area of the Local Wildlife Site, then National Policy Framework encourages the protection and enhancement of sites of biodiversity.

If you look at that criteria it’s either likely attract a red flag for over 50% of the site or an amber flag for under 50%. So again, I don’t want to go over what’s been said, we are at a stage where I think many of us have realised that Middlewick does have ecological importance and we need to take a second look at this.

And it’s up to us to find the tools to be able to do that as many others have found the way that recent, certainly the last decade of planning policy, has been handed down by central government, is pitting councillors against local communities at a very local level. And I look forward to a time when there is some sanity bought back into the planning system, and New Town legislation is looked at once more.

The provision of housing can be provided at a more strategic level. And don’t forget providing housing need is not all about affordable housing, important as that is. We’ve also got to provide a mix. And if this piece of extra land is to be used, as my colleague Councillor Harris says in a letter from the defence minister, to be used as a woodland buffer between the current training area and the Middlewick growth area, I too share fears that we could be looking at this all over again with another parcel of land brought forward.

I think there is an argument in saying: let’s see whether we need to review the allocation, take control and decide what goes there on behalf of the community. Communities that we all represent.”

2.5  Councillor Martin Goss

“Statement from Councillor Martin Goss. I am unable to attend tonight due to a prearranged Santa Run in Mile End with the roundtable. However, I appreciate the committee allowing this statement to be read out.

Middlewick Ranges has caused much distress and controversy since being mooted for sale by the MoD. It has also been used as a political football which of course doesn’t resolve the worries or concerns of residents locally or more widely in Colchester.

The MoD have now decided to sell even more land which opens a risk to even more housing on the site, roughly another 700 at least. It is time to take a fresh look at Middlewick and see whether the whole site can be removed legally from the Local Plan; or amendments made to ensure that all the remaining land not designated for housing is added as a Country Park or protected wildlife area only.

This would afford the majority of the site protection in perpetuity including any new land for sale. Ultimately, no housing on the site would be the ideal goal. But as a minimum we must protect the whole of the site and ensure it is added as protected land in the Local Plan.

The Local Plan is there to protect areas we do not wish to be developed by the back door, and now we can start to consider a review of the Local Plan within the five-year period. Removing Middlewick should be our ideal goal, the fallback position of ultimate protection for the majority of the site. This would stop the MoD or future developer trying to come back with another desire for 2500 houses as opposed to 1000, or adding a further 700 on the newly included land. The time is to act now.”

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