THE idea of creating a new 2,000 home garden village on the westerly edge of the Forest of Dean would not have meant a nearby market town getting fewer houses.

Forest of Dean District Council agreed to consult the public on its draft local plan – the blueprint for development in the area until 2041.

Some 6,600 homes will need to be built by then and the main focus points of developments include Newent, Lydney and Beachley near Chepstow.

However, during the council meeting on May 30, the now shelved plans for a new purpose-built settlement near Churcham between the A40 and A48 west of Huntley, came up in discussions.

Councillor Julia Gooch (Progressive Independents, Newent and Taynton) asked where they had planned to build the new village and how many acres of agricultural it would have covered.

She also asked if its creation would have meant Newent would be allocated fewer new homes going forward. 

The draft local plan suggests some 600 houses will be built at a new strategic site to the south east of the historic market town.

However, council leaders said in their response that the proposed size and exact location of a new settlement had not been determined at the time when it was being considered.

And had they gone ahead with the scheme, Newent’s housing allocation would have been similar.

 “No, the numbers for Newent are approximately the same,” Local Plan cabinet member Sid Phelps (Green, Lydbrook) said in his response. 

“If the Local Plan strategy had not been changed, then yes of course there may have been less pressure on other parts of the district.

“It is difficult to answer a question of ‘what if…’ but if the original strategy had been followed, a new settlement would have accounted for approximately 2,000 dwellings out of the housing allocations proposed for the district – including Newent and other towns.”

Cllr Gooch, in asking a follow-up question, said the council was presented in May 2021 with the largest petition it had ever seen against the plan for a new settlement.

“8,000 people rejected the idea of a single new settlement,” she said.

“The leader at that time heard the voice of the people, he listened and ditched the new settlement idea.

“However in July 2022, the Green group made a second attempt to bring forward a proposal but fortunately it was rejected.

“Does the current administration recognise the voice of the people and the will of the people it represents?”

Councillor Phelps confirmed councillors are “chosen by the people, we represent the people”.

However, he raised questions over the robustness of the petition against a new garden village in Churcham. Thousands of those who signed the petition did not give a UK address.

“As the member will be very aware, planning and planning policy isn’t merely a fashion parade, where if you shout loud enough you get what you want.

“It has to be evidence based. This Local Plan, the draft we are going to unveil tonight is evidence based.

“It wouldn’t matter if a million people didn’t like something. If it contravenes national planning policy, we couldn’t do it.

“It’s as simple as that. It’s not simply democratic.

“While we recognise there was a big groundswell of people that seemingly opposed the idea of a new settlement, it’s far from clear that the petition was actually robust – and I’ll leave it at that.”