FOREST MP Mark Harper says he shares residents’ concerns over plans to build 375 new homes on edge of Newent.

Representatives of community action group Future Newent along with town and district councillors met with the Conservative MP recently to discuss plans they fear will turn the town into a “dormitory of Gloucester”.

Robert Hitchens Ltd wants permission from Forest of Dean District Council to develop almost 60 acres of agricultural land south of Gloucester Street.

The outline planning application is for up to 375 homes, a first form entry primary school including nursery, up to 83,958.5 sq ft of employment land and a centre which could have shops, cafes and a hot food takeaway.

The developers say it will help provide much needed high quality housing for the town but more than 670 people have signed a petition against the scheme.

Future Newent campaigners, Newent Town Council and Forest of Dean District Council met with the MP to express their concerns.

Mr Harper said it was good to meet to discuss Newent residents’ concerns about the proposal.

He said: “I found it very useful to hear the feedback from the public meeting held at Picklenash Junior School. It is clear that community feeling is strong.

“Having looked at the application in detail myself, and having listened to the issues raised by residents, I share a number of their concerns about the developer’s proposal for Newent.

“The council’s planning committee will have an opportunity to vote on this application and I would urge them to pay very close attention to the clear objections raised by local residents.”

Future Newent Member and former Newent Mayor Christine Howley said Mr Harper had made it clear before the meeting that he has no power to intervene in the planning process.

“So we weren’t expecting miracles, but he had clearly done some research into our case and gave us some very useful suggestions about the best way to move forward.

“The first hurdle is convincing the planning authority, Forest of Dean District Council, that the application should be refused.

“If the district council approves the application then its game over, there is no right of appeal for Newent.”

Campaigners claim district councillors in Newent have stated repeatedly that there is “no way to stop the application” and that they are “flogging a dead horse” because “the planning system is broken.”

They say it gets a bit disheartening listening to this sort of talk – especially coming from councillors who are part of the planning process – so it was good to hear that Mr Harper had a different view.

They said Mr Harper felt that even with an out of date Local Plan and a land supply of slightly less than five years, there could still be strong arguments to be made for asking the district council to reject the application.

Among those opposing the proposals is Newent Town Council which has lodged an initial strong objection to the planning application.

Town council clerk Neil Sapsed said: The council has also employed a planning consultant to construct a detailed response. This meeting has provided some very useful pointers for our consultant to work on.“

And Future Newent member Clare Stone said opposition to the scheme “isn’t just a not in my back yard protest” adding it’s about the sustainability of rural communities like Newent.

She said: “Planning law has a basic presumption in favour of sustainable development and we believe this proposed development fails the sustainability test. Now we have a clear steer on how to work to prove that.”

Consultants working on the scheme said the new estate would provide a range of one to five bedroom homes.

And they believe proposals demonstrate that a high quality, responsive and sustainable development is achievable and deliverable for land south east of Newent.

“The overarching vision is to create a distinctive development with a strong identity that responds to the local character of the site, its position close to newly built development and environmental context, to deliver a new development appropriate to its location and setting,” the design and access statement reads.

“The proposed development will create much needed housing in Newent in a sustainable location whilst improving public access across the site and to the wider pedestrian and cycle network.”

They say it would create a mixed use scheme which integrates within the existing residential community through a sensitive relationship with the existing residential development of Newent.

And the development would be well connected with segregated cycle/pedestrian routes throughout the scheme.

The application is expected to come before the Forest of Dean District Council planning committee in January.