RESIDENTS who fear plans to build 375 homes, a new school and employment land in Newent would turn their town into a “dormitory of Gloucester” will protest through the streets this weekend.
More than 2,000 residents have now signed a petition asking Forest of Dean District Council to reject an application from Robert Hitchins Ltd to develop almost 60 acres of agricultural land south of Gloucester Street.
Locals say the plans, which were submitted earlier this year, are “too much, too soon” for the historic market town to sustain.
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.
A statement from Future Newent, the community group that has organised the protest, explained: “In 2012 Forest of Dean District Council set out a clear and sensible vision for the development of Newent which recognised the town’s heritage, potential and challenges.
“That strategy envisages 350 new homes for Newent in the period between 2012 and 2026 with minimal housing development beyond that number.
“Alongside this, the strategy plans for development of infrastructure, town centre facilities and employment opportunities.”
“In reality, more than 1,000 new homes have gone up in Newent over the past decade, with little or none of the promised investment in the town”, said Mark James of the group.
“This represents nearly 60% growth over a 10 year period, the fastest rate of growth of any of the forest towns. It’s simply not sustainable.
“It feels like the Forest of Dean have written a good plan for Newent, then put it in a drawer and forgotten it for the past 10 years.
“We need to find a way to get back on track and saying no to the current proposal will be the first step in that process.”
The residents’ concerns are wide ranging: from loss of productive farmland and wildlife habitat, to strain on the town’s infrastructure and facilities.
Locals worry that with few jobs in the town and limited public transport, residents of the new development would be forced into unsustainable private car-commuting lifestyles, further adding to the problems the town faces from “out commuting.”
Air quality for new residents on the site has also been identified as a concern.
The site is located between Newent’s sewage works and chicken factory.
“We recognise the need for additional homes for local people.
“But this site, with the loss of green space, few employment opportunities and very limited public transport links is not a sustainable option for providing those homes.
“Better options exist in and around Newent, and in the wider Forest of Dean Area.”
The walk will start at the junction of Broad Street and the Newent Bypass, by the traffic lights at 11.30am this Saturday (September 9).
Walkers will make their way through the town to the petrol station on Gloucester Street, opposite the proposed entrance to the planned new site.
Residents want to see the town of Newent remain a community and not become a dormitory town - so many will be walking in pyjamas on Saturday, to help get the message across.
A public meeting is also planned for the following week, Saturday September 16.