Newent residents are taking to the streets. This Saturday, 9 September, at 11.30 am, a protest walk will be held against a proposed housing project by Robert Hitchens, which aims to introduce 375 new homes on the town's outskirts.
The protest, organised by community group Future Newent, is a response to concerns that the town is growing at an unsustainable rate. Mark James, a representative of Future Newent, expressed dismay at the rapid development, stating, "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." He highlighted that this growth represents a nearly 60 per cent increase over a 10-year period, making it the fastest among forest towns.
The Forest of Dean District Council had previously outlined a vision for Newent's development in 2012, which planned for 350 new homes between 2012 and 2026. This strategy also included provisions for infrastructure development, town centre facilities, and employment opportunities. However, residents feel this vision has been overlooked. Mark James lamented, "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."
The concerns of the residents are multifaceted. They range from the loss of wildlife habitats and productive farmland to the strain on local infrastructure. The limited job opportunities in Newent, combined with sparse public transport, could push new residents towards car-dependent lifestyles, exacerbating the town's "out commuting" issues. Additionally, the proposed site's proximity to Newent's sewage works and chicken factory raises questions about air quality for potential residents.
While the community acknowledges the need for more housing, they believe the proposed site is not the right solution. "Better options exist in and around Newent, and in the wider Forest of Dean Area," said a community spokesperson.
In a symbolic gesture to emphasise their fears of Newent becoming a mere "dormitory town", many protesters will be donning pyjamas during the walk. The procession will commence at the junction of Broad Street and the Newent Bypass, concluding at the petrol station on Gloucester Street, directly opposite the proposed site's entrance.
The community's efforts won't stop at the protest walk. A public meeting is scheduled for the following Saturday, 16th September, to further discuss the matter. With over 2,000 residents having already signed a petition against the housing proposal, it's clear that the people of Newent are determined to have their voices heard.