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Elmswell community fights to stop Mid Suffolk District Council's eco homes plan and calls for new school on site

A community is trying to halt a district council's proposal for 50 eco homes on land they say should be the site of a new school for the expanding village.

In 48 hours, more than 300 people have signed a petition calling for a new primary school on the site, off School Road and Church Road in Elmswell, near Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket, rather than further housing.

Mid Suffolk District Council's (MSDC) cabinet agreed last week to progress a proposal for a low-carbon housing scheme there – a decision that Clerk to Elmswell Parish Council, Peter Dow, described as a 'bombshell'.

Elmswell residents who are opposed to a proposal for new homes on this land, and instead want to see a new primary school for the village. Picture: Mark Westley
Elmswell residents who are opposed to a proposal for new homes on this land, and instead want to see a new primary school for the village. Picture: Mark Westley

He said he had been involved in discussions with MSDC and Suffolk County County (SCC) over the possibility of a new primary school with community recreation space on a nine-acre parcel of land, incorporating Mid Suffolk land, and then 'in one fell swoop' the idea had been stymied.

A spokesperson for SCC, the local education authority, said they had been clear they were continuing with the plan of a new school in the neighbouring village of Woolpit, where the growth was large enough to be offered a new primary school site, and they had invested 'significant' sums expanding the existing Elmswell school.

They added that whilst they understood the aspirations of the parish council, a new school site in the village 'is not something that we require to deliver new places across the two villages'.

A spokesperson for MSDC said the land earmarked for the eco homes is owned by MSDC for the specific purpose of providing housing and to use it for anything else would need special dispensation.

Mr Dow said: "It all seems to be short-sighted. The village is very angry it seems."

He added: “We feel the proposal they are making for the housing is excellent [in terms of green credentials], but it couldn’t be in a worse place. What we are asking is they stop this proposal and come and talk to us sensibly.”

There is a consultation event tonight on the eco-homes proposal. Picture: Mark Westley
There is a consultation event tonight on the eco-homes proposal. Picture: Mark Westley

MSDC is holding a consultation event today, Thursday, November 17, from 2pm to 7.30pm at the Wesley Centre in School Road. Officers will use comments from the session to help shape their plans ahead of submitting a planning application later this year, with the planning process providing further opportunity for consultation.

Elmswell resident Martyn Abbott, 43, who helped launch the petition and whose home overlooks the site, said: "It just seems a bonkers decision when there's houses being built left, right and centre in the village."

Mr Dow said latest figures showed a 47% increase in new homes in Elmswell over the last 10 years.

Mr Abbott, a digital marketing manager whose child attends Elmswell Primary School, said Elmswell Primary was being expanded, but the site was constrained. He said while they can walk to the school, on the odd occasion they drive 'it's chaos'.

His neighbour Brendon Pyle, 51, who also helped launch the petition, said: "All the neighbours believe that the new school would be the best option for the village and for us."

He added: "This field is the last green space in the village, really. It's within walking distance. It's got potentially good access to it as well."

The petition says: "We deplore a proposal which would impose further pressure on the primary education provision in our village and which would remove any chance that Elmswell pupils could be educated in Elmswell rather than having to travel to a new school in Woolpit."

It is understood there are plans for a new school in Woolpit.

Mr Pyle, 51, encouraged people to sign the petition and attend the public consultation event.

MSDC has come in for criticism over today's consultation event taking place just over a week after the cabinet decision, with residents also saying there was poor visibility of it.

But a MSDC spokesperson refuted claims the drop-in session had not been publicised, pointing out a media release issued on November 10, as well as social media advertising, and saying local councillors were also made aware.

They also said they had to wait until after the cabinet meeting on November 7 to know whether or not the session could go ahead.

Regarding comments news of the eco-homes proposal had come out of the blue, the spokesperson said a media release had been issued on October 28 about the forthcoming cabinet meeting when it was discussed.

They said: "As a district council we are keen to work in partnership with our towns and parishes, plus our NHS colleagues, the local education authority, transport providers etc, to try to ensure communities have the infrastructure in place that they need.

"However, the ultimate decision over primary school provision for Elmswell rests with Suffolk County Council as the local education authority.

“In the meantime, this land is owned by Mid Suffolk District Council for the specific purpose of providing housing, and to use it for any other purpose would need special dispensation.

"Rather than simply trying to build standard homes, we want to invest in an exemplar eco-friendly development for Elmswell, showing the type of high-quality and sustainable homes we want in Mid Suffolk.”

The spokesperson for SCC said: "We have now invested significant sums expanding the existing school and are still working to develop the new school in Woolpit when the housing is developed to a point where we need the additional school capacity. However, we wanted to continue discussions with the parish council and local councillors as they explored the options available."

They added the level of growth in Elmswell means some pupils may need to access a place at the new Woolpit school when it is established and there are already a number of pupils who go from one village to the other to access primary education.

  • See here to sign the community's petition.