Colchester, Braintree, Tendring and Essex councils risk mass debt over plans for new villages in Andrewsfield, West Tey and near University of Essex

PUBLISHED: 14:26 30 January 2017 | UPDATED: 14:54 30 January 2017

Land near Essex University's Wivenhoe campus could become a new village. Photo: Above All Images/Ian Hay

Land near Essex University's Wivenhoe campus could become a new village. Photo: Above All Images/Ian Hay

Above All Images/Ian Hay 2014

Four Essex councils could rack up £481million of debt between them as they build three new villages – totalling up to 42,000 homes.

Map showing proposed garden villages in north Essex. Image: Archant Graphics Unit Map showing proposed garden villages in north Essex. Image: Archant Graphics Unit

Plans from North Essex Garden Communities – made up of Braintree and Tendring district, Colchester borough and Essex county councils – for three new villages have been reviewed by a panel of experts led by Lord Bob Kerslake.

A new settlement on the border of Tendring and Colchester, close to the University of Essex, is the most likely of three garden villages proposed in north Essex to be built – with West Tey least likely.

The local authorities have already announced the plans for the villages, which also include one west of Braintree at Andrewsfield, have been delayed to gather more evidence on the back of the report.

However, the review has now been made public and reveals the Tendring/Colchester site is “most straightforward to deliver”, while West Braintree has “infrastructure requirements” which “are relatively achievable”. However, West Tey – on the border of Braintree and Colchester districts – “would be a large and complex project to deliver on its own... absolutely dependent on upgrading the A120, and has complex land ownership”, meaning it “may take longer to deliver”.

The panel also said a dedicated team needs to be set up “led by a full time director with authority to take operational decisions”, and which could cost £5m to run over the seven years estimated needed to see the project through.

The report also says the councils are potentially committing to a “significant level of exposure” and should spread their risk, with peak debt reaching £481m if building starts in 2022, and no net positive position until 2053 if the councils become lead developer in the projects.

Paul Smith, chairman of the project’s Shadow Delivery Board and Colchester Borough Council leader, said: “We are very grateful to Lord Kerslake and his team for this review.

“It has helped us identify a number of key issues on the delivery of the initiative. We will be looking to progress actions around these over the coming weeks and months.

“What is absolutely key is the delivery of infrastructure first, and Government support is essential to success.”

The Campaign Against Urban Sprawl in Essex (CAUSE) welcomed the review, particularly its concerns over West Tey, while Robert Vestentoft of Cirrus Land, for the West Tey development team, said: “West Tey offers a highly deliverable site with a partnership already in place between the landowners and developers. The partnership has the resources and expertise to deliver such a scheme, and is supported by a professional team.”

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