Uttlesford District Council defers plan to develop Ridgeons site in Saffron Walden


Ridgeons - Credit: Archant

Ridgeons’ bid to revamp its Saffron Walden site has been put on hold.

Members of Uttlesford District Council’s planning committee voted today (Wednesday) to defer the application.

It proposes redevelopment of the commercial centre to include offices, warehouses for industrial and distribution use, 167 homes, a retail store and a budget hotel. There would also be provision for a cafe, restaurant or pub.

Councillors agreed they needed more information about the impact the Ashdon Road scheme would have on education places and traffic congestion.

Sixteen speakers addressed the committee, including many residents living nearby Ridgeons, with air quality and the loss of open space – specifically an area that had been used by junior football teams – among the contentious issues.

Members were told this was private land, owned by Ridgeons, and designated for employment use. The agent for Ridgeons said the public had been allowed to use the area “out of the company’s goodwill”.

But it was the fear of an increase in traffic that proved the most talked about concern.

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Referring to the mitigation measures an Essex Highways expert said would be put in place to counter the impact of more vehicles on the road, Cllr Jan Menell said: “It is absolutely insane to say that just mitigating one roundabout, one cycle route and a few other refurbishments is going to be adequate for the amount of traffic that is going to pour of the development.”

Cllrs Doug Perry and Bob Eastham were also opposed to the scheme on this basis. Cllr Eastham said: “I have seen people driving up on the pavement and quite happily continuing along because of the congestion there.

“I’m afraid Essex Highways is in cloud cuckoo land if they think that any mitigating factors are going to solve the problem.”

A highways expert said the body had been in talks with the North Essex Parking Partnership about introducing double-yellow lines on Ashdon Road.

The hope was this would “create better passing places for vehicles” by preventing them from parking on the road. However, she was unable to say how long it would take for a full proposal to be put together.

Deputy chairman Cllr Keith Eden wanted to look at the positives of the site revamp. This included the calculation that it would create between 400 and 700 new jobs in the town. At present there are about 100 people employed at the site.

Cllr Eden said: “Ridgeons is the largest commercial site in Saffron Walden and it has enormous potential.

“I think we should be excited about up to 700 jobs being created, with 600 new ones. We haven’t had 600 new jobs since Cllr Eastham was a lad.”

But he was concerned about the lack of an education plan and suggested the application be deferred.

Cllr Eden added: “I’m going to die in this town and I’m going to be buried in the cemetery. So I’ve got to think about what is written on my grave, do I want it to be ‘a real wally died here?’”

Members voted to defer the application, by six to four, so more information could be put together by officers.

Speaking afterwards, Angela Rushforth, managing director for Ridgeons, said: “We are obviously disappointed that Uttlesford District Council’s planning committee resolved to defer our application for the revitalisation of the Ashdon Road site.

“We will continue to work with the council to ensure that this strategically important site can be transformed to meet its full commercial potential and deliver a new home to meet Ridgeons’ future needs.

“We are confident that any issues can be addressed and a positive outcome achieved when we next go to committee.”

Chair of WeAreResidents.org, Dan Starr, also reflected on the decision.

He said “There is no plan in Saffron Walden for new school places, or dealing with traffic and air quality.

“I feel for Ridgeons because it is a good and well respected local employer, but the facts of the matter are that the impacts of building on the east of Walden have not been properly considered or mitigated.”