Spotlight falls on Saffron Walden during BBC 2 programme TOWN

THE national spotlight fell on Saffron Walden last night as people young and old tuned in to watch the town on prime time television.

Nicholas Crane, geographer and presenter of the hour-long BBC Two programme TOWN, explored issues from Saffron Walden’s past, present and future, including its historic beginnings as a market town, medieval architecture and the saffron trade which gave the town its name.

A key area of focus was the ongoing row over housing development. Mr Crane described how 70 years on from a time when the skies were filled with aircraft from air bases at Debden and Duxford, the town was “on the frontline of a new Battle of Britain”.

He said it was creating “a homegrown battlefield” with the conflict pitching developers, landowners, councils and residents against each other.

With 440 new homes approved and a further 880 proposed for the town over the next 13 years, the BBC presenter set out to discover if Saffron Walden could survive such rapid change.

He came to the conclusion that it was “the difference between evolution and revolution”, adding: “If a surge in house building proves unavoidable it’ll be this town’s self belief in its heritage and in its community spirit that guides it into the next age.”

But town mayor Cllr Keith Eden was disappointed by the ending. “I thought visually it gave some beautiful sights of the town and had some interesting ideas but the disappointing bit was that it did not really have a conclusion,” he said.

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“Nicholas Crane made reference to the geographical position of Saffron Walden in a bowl but did not go on to say what the solution was to the threat of major development.

“Government policy is to build major developments with access to main highways and stations. Saffron Walden can only handle smaller development, so it was puzzling this wasn’t covered.”

He was also unimpressed with the interviews given by fellow members of Uttlesford District Council, leader Jim Ketteridge and cabinet member for housing, Julie Redfern.

“I did not think councillors Ketteridge and Redfern demonstrated the vision and imagination of how this town can develop.

“Both councillors only seemed concerned about meeting Government housing building targets but didn’t show the imagination of where they could go other than dumping them on the two main towns of Saffron Walden and Dunmow.

“I thought it was a failure to recognise the significance of Saffron Walden, which is an important town that should be nurtured.”