When Karen Shuter moved into Laindon Ponds more than 20-years-ago, she thought she was buying her dream home.
Laindon Ponds is a converted farmhouse originally built in the 1500s.
It’s Grade-II listed, has its own moat in the back garden, and is situated in a rural area close to Noak Bridge near Basildon, Essex.
For the past two decades, 60-year-old Karen has lived there peacefully.
But that could be about to change.
At some point this year, Basildon Council will vote on and likely approve its town plan, which will then be submitted to central government.
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Included in the town plan is a brand new 400-home housing estate, set to be built around Karen’s home.
The plans have been in the works for years, but after finding out late, Karen has been left at a loss as to what to do.
She said the past few years have been full of stress, with her and her husband even considering moving away.
Here’s how a new housing development might make life hell for one resident in particular.
When Karen first set eyes on Laindon Ponds with her husband Paul, she knew she had to live there.
“I thought it was beautiful.
“As soon as we drove in, I said ‘We’ve got to live here Paul’.
“It was meant to be for us, I’ve been so happy here.”
Situated north of the A127, Laindon Ponds is a farmhouse with more than 500 years of history.
Surrounded by fields, it’s separated from the nearest neighbourhood, Noak Bridge.
As much of Basildon was built during the New Town development in the 1960s, Laindon Ponds is now one of the oldest buildings in the borough.
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The original farmhouse structure was built in the 1500s, with the structure from the 17th Century onwards achieving Grade II listed status.
“Originally, they used to keep the cattle downstairs with the people upstairs, so originally it was quite a small house, but there’s been additions over the years,” she added.
“The moat was originally here as a series of ponds, and I think it’s even mentioned in the Domesday Book.
“There aren’t many houses like this here, we’re just looking after it for the future.”
For 20 years, Karen has been living her dream life in the home.
But following a new proposed development, which if built would see brand new homes built directly next to Laindon Ponds, that could all change.
The new scheme
Basildon Council has been busy designing a new Town Plan, which is an outline for how a town will develop over the coming decades.
The government has set targets for housing for Basildon, of which they must meet before a new Town Plan can be accepted.
For the past seven years, they’ve been developing ideas for the land east of Noak Bridge.
This new neighbourhood would consist of 400 new homes, a new early years and childcare facility and an expansion to the nearby Noak Bridge Primary School.
Although plans have been in the works for years, Karen only found out in 2016.
“The first we knew about these plans was a flyer around on Noak Bridge Village on a lamppost by the shops.
“I was really shocked, because I didn’t know anything about it.
“We are basically the most affected by this.
“The second thing we knew was when an environmentalist surveyor wanted to see if we had any Great Crested newts here.
“It was really annoying, it was wrong that we didn’t know anything about it.
“I can’t understand why they would want to built around this asset of Basildon.“
Originally, Karen and her husband Paul pondered moving because of the plans.
She said: “Our knee-jerk reaction in 2016 was to put the house back on the market.
“My husband said: ‘Right, we’re going to move’, but I said ‘No, it could take years, and I’m not giving in straight away.’
“I decided to stay here and stick in out, and that was four or five years ago.
“It’s a beautiful house, and yes it’s a bit of a money pit with lots of spiders and cobwebs in it, but it’s a lovely house to live in.
“It makes me really sad to think that it would be surrounded by a 400-home housing estate.”
Karen attended a council meeting voicing her concern, and even tried to rally the troops in opposition through flyers and leaflets.
But unfortunately if the plans are including in the Basildon Town Plan, which is set to be submitted later this year to the government’s planning inspectorate, it looks likely to be granted full planning permission.
‘I can’t fight the builders’
There are a number of reasons why Karen opposes the plans.
Firstly, is the potential damage large-scale construction could have on her home.
Karen asked: “Can it take all the pile-driving from development? There’s no foundations to this building, it’s on a pile of bricks.
“Even now when they’re working in the fields near us, the house shakes, and when a heavy lorry goes past, the house shakes.
“I’m worried about them affecting the water table if they’re putting down concrete on a field that naturally floods and drains into our moat, will our moat flood?
“I don’t know, all of this worries me.
“And what about all the wildlife around here? It will affect that, all the birds nesting in these fields.
“It’s so near to Crays Hill, so there’s the problem of urban sprawl encroaching on the next village.
“Normally there’s Green Belt in between different developments.
“It just seems to me that there’s so much land around Basildon, why do they have to do it here?”
Indeed, according to the most recent town plan, the area approved for development is on designated green belt land.
The new Town Plan would have to redraw the green belt boundaries if the neighbourhood is constructed.
In tandem with this development, which is being let by developers Croudace Homes, there’s the swathes of housing being built elsewhere in the town.
New high density housing is being proposed around the town centre, including on a disused retail park.
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Homes are being planned on a disused car park close to the town, and there are a number of smaller schemes on various plots of green spaces across the borough.
These are only the homes being proposed in Basildon, with the likes of Wickford and Billericay also within the Basildon Borough escaping development.
It seems that Karen’s dream home is the latest area affected by Basildon’s ongoing surge in housing planning.
“It has caused me a lot of stress, I try and deal with it and keep it at the back of my mind.
“Obviously Covid has kind of put at stop to everything at the moment, so it’s like I’ve got a breather, but it’s always on my mind.
“I’ve got so much paperwork on it here, far too much information.
“But I can’t fight Basildon Council on my own, I can’t fight the builders.
“I’m not going to lay down in front of a bulldozer or anything but I think it might come to that!”
“I really enjoy living here, if the building does go ahead it really will affect us.”
Basildon Borough Council has stood by the plans, arguing that it’s an integral part of new housing allocation within the borough.
The council says that more consultation work within the community will take place as the planning process continues.
A council spokesperson said: “As part of the council’s Local Plan which sets out the vision for future development across the whole borough, a site to the east of Noak Bridge was identified as having the capacity for 400 new homes.
“The housing target for Noak Bridge to meet will be delivered alongside constructive engagement with the community during the process, and in collaboration with Noak Bridge Parish Council.”
The plans developers, Croudace Homes, have said that the plans have been drawn up in respect of existing historical buildings.
They reassured worried residents that any worries around flooding and drainage will be addressed.
A Croudance Homes spokesperson said: “The proposed allocation of land east of Noak Bridge within the emerging Basildon Local Plan takes into account neighbouring heritage assets, including Laindon Ponds.
“The site has been assessed both by the council and Croudace Homes as capable of delivering up to 400 homes together with sustainable drainage, open space, landscaping and set back of new homes from heritage assets.
“Detailed design work for a full planning application will need to be carried out in due course along with careful consideration of environmental and heritage matters.”
Even though full planning permission has not yet been submitted or approved, it seems as though the plans are destined to go ahead.
If they do, lives nearby like Karen’s will be heavily affected, and historical buildings like Laindon Ponds will be overshadowed by brand new homes.