Gimsons is a privately owned country house with a large garden and paddocks. At one time, the paddocks were used for keeping horses on, but in recent years, the vast majority of the 9 acre plot has been allowed to fall into disrepair. However the house itself is still occupied.
In the autumn of 2010, Bovis Homes held a public consultation at the Town Hall indicating their intention to develop the site. Their proposal was to build 84 properties, using River View for access as Essex County Council Highways and Braintree District Council (BDC) had already ruled out Kings Chase.
Naturally, the residents of the recently opened Helen Court* were aghast at the thought of the noise and disruption that the Bovis development and access road would bring to their peaceful new homes. And so round one of ‘Witham vs Bovis’ began, headed up by Dennis Miller and Mike Cooper Cocks of the Helen Court Residents Association.
Just as has been the case with our current Gimsons battle, the residents of Witham presented BDC with multiple good reasons to refuse Bovis’ application. However ‘round one’ was won when, in April 2012, BDC caved to public pressure and designated the area as ‘Visually Important Space’** (due in part to its proximity to the town centre Conservation area) which does not allow for residential development.
Unfortunately though, Bovis were undeterred and promptly set about trying to change the Gimsons designation back to ‘residential’. And so began round two. ... Rounds three and four soon followed, but at every stage, year after year, they were seen off by the Helen Court Residents Association, with the support of Witham Town Council, Priti Patel, Witham & Countryside Society, Essex Wildlife Trust and many others.
Then, DISASTER. The criteria used by government and local authorities to determine expected housing provision was deemed, in BDC’s case, to be totally inadequate. As a result, BDC Planning Policy said they would now have to look again at all the sites they had previously excluded from potential development and issued a ‘Call for Sites’, effectively asking developers where they would like to build in the district.
Naturally, Bovis submitted Gimsons, and despite the opposition’s best efforts, by 2016 the site was once again designated as a potential development site for ‘residential 10 dwellings or more’. … Oddly enough though, having gained what they wanted Bovis suddenly withdrew from the process, citing ‘operational reasons’. The people of Witham never did get to the bottom of what those operational reasons might be, but were happy to know that their peaceful and much loved little corner of the town would remain undisturbed.
Fast forward to 2018 and, sadly, we are back to square one. On the 8th of November, a new planning application was published on the BDC website and it was revealed that shortly after Bovis withdrew, Bellway Homes took up the baton instead. It would appear that the ‘Pre Apps’ (talks between council and developer, designed to eliminate any potential obstacles to a successful planning application before it goes to the committee for approval) have been quietly underway for some 18 months now, and so the people of Witham once again have a fight on their hands.
Round one of ‘Witham vs Bellway has commenced.
* Helen Court is an Independent Living facility. It was built at River View, using land and finances provided by BDC, ECC, Maldon Council and Hanover Housing Association and opened in August 2010.