I attended the Elms Park consultation on Saturday both to pass on feedback I have received from residents, and also to quiz developers on issues that have occurred to me.
The proposed development, which would be situated north of Tewkesbury Road, between the Kingsditch Trading Estate and Uckington, would deliver 4,500 new homes, a business park, three new schools and other local amenities. Developers claim that this development is crucial in order for Cheltenham to remain a prosperous town with increasing space for businesses, as well as new homes.
But there are key questions that need answering about a project of this scale. First, in relation to health provision we need to know for certain whether this development would include a doctor’s surgery. If so, in which phase of construction would it be provided? I raised this issue and also pressed the developers to work with the local NHS providers. As we know, Cheltenham A&E is due to be downgraded, and developers need to make sure adequate healthcare is in place in order to deal with the future demand.
Second, I set out my concerns about the lack of provision for significantly more traffic on Tewkesbury Road. Main access to the proposed site would be from Tewkesbury Road which is already busy at rush hour. Although the developers have created a 'travel plan' to include new cycle routes, a park-and-ride facility and improved bus services, I emphasised that the tens of thousands of new residents would still use cars as the principal mode of transport. If the project is going to earn the support of nearby residents there will need to be more detail provided about plans for the local transport network.
Third, in relation to the developers’ claim that the project would create 10,000 direct and indirect new jobs I sought clarification as to the level of interest that has been shown from businesses about moving to the new site. It is essential that reassurance can be provided on this score before the development is given the go-ahead. We need to see the Business Park actually filled, and jobs delivered, rather than being a white elephant.
Fourth, with school places as tight as they are, I raised whether three schools (two primary, one secondary) would be sufficient to meet local demand.
Finally I brought up the issue of building on the green belt and asked why current brownfield sites weren't sufficient. In response, the developers suggested that Cheltenham's future development needs cannot be sufficiently met on previously developed land in the town. With the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to the east and important green belt areas to the south-west, west and north the developers insist that the north-west of Cheltenham is the most suitable location to meet housing demand. The developers have promised to send me the research to back up these claims. I will be scrutinising it carefully.