Braintree investment leads to questions about Witham

Councillor Tom Cunningham, Braintree District Council's deputy leader and cabinet member for economi

Councillor Tom Cunningham, Braintree District Council's deputy leader and cabinet member for economic development and infrastructure - Credit: Braintree District Council

Concerns have been raised over millions of pounds worth of investment being focused too much on Braintree, and claims that surrounding areas such as Witham have missed out.

More than £70m has been invested into projects that will attract new businesses, support existing ones and create new jobs in Braintree, a level that has sparked concern that gearing is weighted too heavily on the district’s largest town.

But Braintree District Council's deputy leader Tom Cunningham said a “quite exciting package” for Witham will be coming through in upcoming months.

Residents have watched the Braintree high streets pedestrianised while a new bus interchange and car park have appeared by its side.

Braintree Regeneration Project for Manor and Victoria Street is set to finish this year – transforming the town centre.

The project has promised 35 new affordable homes, a ‘Livewell’ health hub, pharmacy and 70-bed Travelodge.

There is also cafe, public toilets and twin-level car park in the development which sits in the town centre.

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The £30million project is expected to create more than 100 jobs as well as attracting more people into the town centre.

The hope is the increased trade in the town centre will pull in new businesses as well as drive shoppers into existing shops.

Nearby, the 65-acre ‘business, innovation and logistics park’ Horizon 120, just off the A131 in Great Notley has had £24.3 million invested by the council and promises to create up to 2,000 new jobs.

The environmentally-friendly innovation hub I-Construct, which has nearly been completed in Springwood Drive, hosts a technology suite, exhibition space, conference facilities and informal meeting areas, offering business support, grant schemes and advice to firms connected to the construction industry.

In contrast, plans for Witham have stalled. Plans to regenerate the market square area have yet to come to fruition.

Councillor James Abbott said: “We are well familiar with many of those in terms of where they are in Braintree.

“Councillor Cunningham will be aware of my concern about the investment gearing and the percentage of capital investment this authority is putting into basically the town of Braintree and nearby.

“Is there any view being taken for next year as to whether that gearing will be changed given that 50 percent of the population in the district actually live in villages and can he be more specific about when we will see investment in Witham because it always seems to be jam tomorrow on the improvements for the town centre.”

Braintree District Council said they are discussing with Witham Town Centre improvement plans for that town centre but that improvements in Braintree were turbo charged thanks to ECC and government grants and that developed land was owned by the council.

Cllr Cunningham said: “That turbo charged our ability to do things but I appreciate that isn’t necessarily comfort to residents in the other parts of the district.

“The town centre improvements in Witham have been talked about for some time.

"We were very close in 2017 and 2018 to develop the market square.

"Unfortunately we were thwarted because the highways authority wasn’t happy to sign off those schemes.

“It’s back in the mix and it’s moving along very nicely with the view to bringing full plans forward early in the new year.

“It’s unfortunate that there has been a time delay but I think Witham in particular will see a quite exciting package coming through in upcoming months.”