West Mersea Neighbourhood Plan
1.1 The Localism Act 2011 introduced new rights and powers to allow local communities to prepare Neighbourhood Development Plans, which establish general planning policies for the development and use of land in the neighbourhood. These Neighbourhood Development Plans, when properly made become part of the legal planning framework for the designated area.
1.2 A Neighbourhood Development Plan (or" Neighbourhood Plan") is a community-led planning framework for guiding the future development, regeneration and conservation of an area. It is about the use and development of land and contains a vision statement, aims, planning policies, proposals for improving the area or providing new facilities, or allocation of key sites for specific kinds of development. Because of this, neighbourhood plans are necessarily quite technical documents and the wording of planning policies contained within them will be used, in this case by Colchester Borough Council, to decide whether planning applications should be approved.
1.3 Town and Parish councils are encouraged to produce their own Neighbourhood Plans enabling local people to have a say as to how their neighbourhood grows and develops. In a designated "neighbourhood area" which contains all or part of the administrative area of a town or parish council, it is that town or parish council which is responsible for neighbourhood planning. Neighbourhood Plans cannot contradict the main government planning policies or the strategic policies in the adopted Local Development Plan (or "Local Plan") for the area. For example, they cannot propose less development than is planned for in the adopted Local Plan. They also have to have regard to the content of emerging local plans, especially when those plans are at an advanced stage in their preparation.
1.4 This is the draft neighbourhood Plan for West Mersea, formally known as the "Submission Draft Plan" and covers the period up to 2033.
1.5 The Neighbourhood Plan Regulations require a neighbourhood plan to:
- be appropriate, having regard to National Planning Policy;
- contribute to achieving sustainable development;
- be in general conformity with strategic policies in the development plan for the local area; and
- be compatible with EU obligations and Human Rights requirements.
A separate "Basic Conditions Statement" has been produced and identifies how the Neighbourhood Plan satisfies these requirements.
How the Plan was prepared
1.6 The Neighbourhood Plan has been prepared in accordance with the requirements of the Government's Neighbourhood Planning Regulations and, in particular, has involved considerable local community engagement to gather evidence for the content of the Plan.
1.7 In response to the Colchester Borough proposition that 350 houses be built in West Mersea under their emerging Local Plan, a public meeting was held at Mersea Centre (The MICA) on the 1 September 2016. The meeting was called by West Mersea Town Council and chaired by the Mayor, Cllr Carl Powling, and over 500 people tried to attend although many were unable to get into the building. From this meeting the Neighbourhood Planning Group emerged, and Sub-Groups were formed to cover specific subjects. The make-up of these, and the Steering Committee, changed over time, as indeed did the chairmanship.
1.8 The West Mersea Steering Group was placed in a somewhat unusual position in that not only did the Colchester Borough emerging Local Plan require 350 houses to be built in West Mersea, (which was volubly objected to at the public meeting), but it specified the sites. There were to be 200 houses at MER18 (Brierley Paddocks) and 150 at MER02 (Dawes Lane), thus denying West Mersea Town any choice in site selection.
1.9 In September 2016 an application was made by the Town Council to Colchester Borough Council to designate a Neighbourhood Area for the whole of the Town Council's area. Following consultation, the Neighbourhood Area, as identified on Map 1, was designated in November 2016.
Map 1 – Neighbourhood Plan Area
1.10 Following designation, the Neighbourhood Planning Group and Sub-Groups undertook a significant amount of background research to identify a baseline for the establishment of planning policies in this Plan. This research forms the evidence that supports the Plan and is available on the West Mersea Neighbourhood Plan website at https://www.merseamatters.uk/ Whilst East Mersea Parish Council declined to become part of the West Mersea Neighbourhood Plan, it was agreed to be of great importance the island be considered as a whole; so an agreement of understanding and cooperation was later signed and there has been a representative on the Planning Group ever since.
1.11 During 2017 and early 2018 the Planning Group worked toward developing a policy framework to guide and meet the strategic policies of the emerging Local Plan and all other development or community needs identified by local people. This was achieved through engaging and consulting with the community via local media coverage, briefing sessions at many venues including island organisations, the school, and gatherings at public houses. There were three surveys undertaken in 2018: a housing and general needs survey to the 3,400 addresses in West Mersea, a survey of future aspirations of all registered or known businesses in the town, and a survey of sporting needs and assessments of the future to all the sporting organisations. The results of these surveys and public engagements were analysed to gain a clear understanding of both the community's and business's aspirations.
1.12 On 26 June 2018 the Planning Group held a public consultation session at Mersea Centre (The MICA.) The aim of the session was for the Sub-committees to confirm that they had understood the community's aspirations for the future of West Mersea and produced policy considerations which they would support. Visitors were encouraged to openly discuss all the proposals and where appropriate leave their comments on "post-it" notes as a record for the neighbourhood plan evidence base. Each Sub-committee then drew up a set of policy considerations which were discussed in turn and in depth by the Planning Group and from this, the final draft policies were produced.
1.13 In addition, there were four surveys carried out in 2018: a housing and a general needs surveys, each sent to the 3,400 addresses in West Mersea, a survey of future aspirations of all registered or known businesses in the town, and a survey of sporting needs and assessments of the future for all the sporting organisations. The results of these surveys and public engagements were analysed to gain a clear understanding of both the community's and businesses' aspirations. Sub-committees, as above, were set up to consider each specific subject.
1.14 The community's response confirmed that the Planning Group has a unique and difficult situation matching the need to meet the aspirations of the community versus overloading the already stretched infrastructure, whilst at the same time conforming to the emerging Colchester Local Plan. If one adds to this a further 200 houses alongside the annual housing infill, the expanding caravan parks and increasing visitor numbers, the brief can at best be described as challenging.
1.15 In 2019 a further grant was obtained from Locality and Places4People Planning Consultancy was engaged to oversee the final preparation of the Plan and guide the Steering Group through the consultation and examination stages.
1.16 In October 2020 consultation commenced on the "Pre-Submission" Draft Neighbourhood Plan. The consultation period was initially planned to end on 11 December but, due to the ongoing restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic, the consultation period was extended to 4 January 2021, a total of just over 10 weeks. Following the completion of the "pre-submission" consultation, comments received were considered and necessary amendments to the Plan will be made ahead of submission to Colchester Borough Council. The Plan will now be subject to a further period of consultation by the Borough Council followed by the examination of the Plan by an independent Neighbourhood Plan Examiner. The Examiner will consider the content of the Plan and its planning policies, how it's been prepared against a set of "Basic Conditions" and what amendments are required to meet these conditions. Subject to the inclusion of these amendments, the Examiner will recommend that the Plan is subject to a local referendum. If more than 50% that vote are in favour of the Plan at the referendum, it will be approved and become part of the local planning policy framework for the determination of planning applications in West Mersea.
1.17 In addition to the planning policies, community actions are included in the Plan. Community actions do not form part of the "statutory" Neighbourhood Plan but are included to identify other areas of improvement and change that residents have identified during the preparation of the Plan. The planning policies appear in boxes numbered WM1, WM2 etc while separate boxes contain the non-statutory community actions.
About West Mersea
1.18 Within the Borough there are many villages and locations which enjoy beautiful, rural and coastal landscapes and many can boast a proud heritage, but only Mersea is an island with a tidal causeway which regularly floods and isolates it from the mainland. As an island Mersea has unique and distinguishing features which create a strong sense of place, whilst the rarity of some of its features, relative to other parts of the Borough, contribute to the highest landscape value.
1.19 On approaching the island, across the distinctive landmark of the ancient Strood causeway, there is a distinct landscape structure which gives the feeling of homecoming and wellbeing for the residents and something special for visitors to experience. The senses are stimulated by the smell of the land and the changing view of the estuarine marsh/mudflats, both of which change with the rise and fall of the tide. This high value view is framed by a landscape with an absence of detracting visible features and a topography that slopes down from a high point/ridge just to the north of the settlement towards the coastline, which is a designated SSSI.
1.20 The main Colchester road, from the Strood, follows old field boundaries until it reaches the Parish Church. From Queen's Corner, houses and shops evolved either side of the road as far as the Church. This explains the spread of the shopping area, which has continued to serve the village growth well. In recent years more shops have been added in this central area, together with a Community Centre, Library and Museum. In the centre is the War Memorial, sheltering under a vast Lime tree set in a triangular green. From the Parish Church the Coast Road runs down past the natural freshwater spring of St. Peter's Well, to Hove Creek, with its assorted jumble of houseboats, then along to 'The Hard' and 'The Old City'. Here, 'The Old Victory' public house and weather-boarded fishermen's cottages formed a small community, with a ditch, charmingly known as 'The Bumby', which carried waste down to the sea from cottage privies.
1.21 The character area of the 'Old City 'encompasses the maritime area of the island known as 'The Hard' and the anchorage. The area represents both industrial (primarily oystering and fishing) and leisure activities (primarily boating) and possesses a multitude of historic assets associated with the island's maritime history, which included boat building, repair and servicing, much of which continues to this day. It has the most densely concentrated area of listed buildings on the island (mainly along The Lane) and stretches along the island's western coastline, with panoramic views across to Packing Marsh Island and Cobmarsh Island. The earliest buildings date from the first half of the seventeenth century. The area is a major tourist attraction with freshly-harvested Mersea oysters being offered in several restaurants located adjacent to active shellfish processing sheds. Now redundant 19th century oyster pits provide a historic setting. The array of craft moored or laid up here in a random fashion, along with the old character houseboats, bring a unique charm to this area.
1.22 The village centre, with its cluster of historic assets, is centred on the junction of High Street and Yorick Road and marks the focal point of the town. The church of St Peter and St Paul dates from the Late Saxon period with The Hall (dating from the 16th century) standing on the south east side of the church. To the north the area loses its primarily commercial character and roads off High Street North are of a more residential nature.
1.23 The Beach and Esplanade are characterised by an attractive sand and shingle beach with traditional beach huts and a small number of amenities such as the Two Sugars Café (a WW2 Gun Emplacement) and car parks. Visual characteristics are panoramic views of the seascape and long-distance views of the estuary, including the ancient chapel of St. Peter's-on-the-Wall, wind farms and Bradwell Power Station.
1.24 Within West Mersea's landscape there are extensive international and nationally important features and elements of wildlife, earth science, archaeological, historical and cultural interest that have a value in their own right. The landscape, mostly agricultural land which has been farmed for centuries, is ever-changing with the seasons and light, it can be wild in character, with expansive sweeping skies holding a sense of remoteness, or isolation, which again contributes to a strong sense of place. Artists and photographers have long been attracted by these variations in the island's landscapes, its maritime character, heritage sites and feeling of tranquillity.
1.25 In 2019 the estimated population of West Mersea was 7,285, a 5% increase on the population in 2001. By comparison, Colchester Borough's population grew by 25% in the same period. At the same time some 43% of the population was aged over 60 compared with 22% across the Borough as a whole. At the beginning of 2021 it is estimated that there are 3,601 residential addresses in West Mersea.