THE picture postcard views of its colourful cottages, idyllic green, windmill and duck pond mean it’s often described as the most photographed village in England.
But the much-loved peace and quiet of Finchingfield near Braintree, Essex, is in danger of being destroyed by plans to build two giant prisons nearby.
11The pretty village of Finchingfield in Essex where a large prison complex may be builtCredit: East News11Alan MacKenzie and Andrew Hull are campaigning against the projectCredit: East News11Residents fear the prison will disrupt the peace and quiet of their neighbourhoodCredit: East NewsLocals fear the “crazy” proposal by the Ministry of Justice to house 3,400 criminals in their neighbourhood will ruin its paradisal ambience.
They also worry the narrow country roads in the area – the setting for BBC drama Lovejoy – will be swamped by heavy traffic.
Plans for adjoining Category B and C prisons on a former military airfield at nearby Wethersfield were first revealed 17 months ago.
Each unit is set to hold 1,715 male inmates, making it Europe’s biggest prison complex.
But the residents of historic Finchingfield, which has 100 listed buildings, claim the site is totally unsuitable due its remote, rural location and lack of infrastructure.
Instead, they want the 800-acre site to be developed into a community asset, with parkland and re-wilded areas, a solar farm and some of its Cold War buildings preserved as tourist attractions.
A group called Stop Wethersfield Airfield Prisons (SWAP) has been set up to battle the plans and preserve the beauty of the territory.
Chair Alan MacKenzie, who is leading the fight, said: “We first heard about the plans in September 2021 and it has caused an outcry ever since.
“People were left astonished that they would even think of doing something as big as this on the site.
“There was sheer disbelief about the size and scale.”
Of particular concern is how the village’s limited road network will deal with the suspected influx of vehicles and the light pollution it will create.
“Everyone knows that the roads around here are narrow and windy with pinch points where it is difficult for lorries to pass. We can barely cope with the traffic we have,” Alan added.
“The construction traffic alone to build two mega prisons will cause a traffic nightmare – then there will need to be constant lorry deliveries every day to run it.
“The airfield is also on a 300ft high plateau so the floodlights will light up the area for miles around.
“It is a crazy location for two massive prisons.”
It is a lovely village. I wouldn’t want a prison anywhere near here.Lucy Butler
Chris Green, 73, who has lived in Finchingfield for 40 years, agreed, adding: “Our roads are just not up to it.
“How are staff and visitors going to get there? The nearest train station is in Braintree 10 miles away.
“The whole plan is just illogical and it would be soul destroying if it went ahead.
“Finchingfield is one of the most picturesque villages in England and is featured on boxes of chocolate and all manner of Christmas confectionery.
“I realise we need more prisons, but there are better locations.”
And supply chain director Nick Chapman, 54, and his wife Michelle, 44, also fear it will wreak havoc on the roads and put their kids’ lives at risk.
“There are only three roads leading towards the airfield and all of them go through tiny villages,” Nick said.
“We have got two small children and one of the roads goes past the primary school in Wethersfield.
“How can you think of having loads of HGVs using that road to go to and from the prison? It will be a serious risk to children.
“The nearest dual carriageway is the A120 and that is 11 miles away.”
Michelle added: “The roads here are just not equipped for heavy traffic.
“A lot of houses don’t have parking spaces because they were built before cars were invented so people have to park on the road making village streets even narrower.”
Others are more worried about where the prison workers will live – and how they may change the village vibe.
Alex Robinson, who runs Finchingfield post office with her partner Jane Welsh, said: “We are only a small community and we simply cannot support a couple of huge prisons.”
Jane added: “They are saying that it will create 1,400 jobs, but where are those people going to live?
“There are 50 houses being built at the entrance to the village and that is already causing chaos.”
And Lucy Butler, 62, and her husband Rod, 78, who manage a chain of karate clubs and only moved to Finchingfield two weeks ago, say they too are worried about the plans.
Lucy, who previously lived in London, said: “We came here because we love the community atmosphere.
“It is a lovely village which is really nice and peaceful while still having plenty to do.
“I will definitely be joining the protest group. I wouldn’t want a prison anywhere near here.”
It is a crazy location for two massive prisons.Alan MacKenzie
The airfield was an RAF base for Spitfires during World War Two before becoming home to American bombers towards the end of the conflict.
It was later taken over as the national headquarters of the UK’s Ministry of Defence Police, which was then moved to RAF Wyton near Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire.
Alan said an earlier plan jointly put forward by the MoD in 2016 to build 4,850 houses on the airfield was quickly scrapped because the area was so rural.
“We need to stop stupidly large developments when we haven’t got the infrastructure to support them,” he added.
“These plans will effectively double the population of Wethersfield and Finchingfield combined.”
The cost of the project has not yet been determined, but Andrew Hull, Wethersfield Airbase Scrutiny Committee chairman, said whatever it is it will be “a monumental waste of taxpayers’ money”.
“The Government is spending hundreds of thousands if not millions of pounds on consultants trying to push this plan when it should not be happening,” he added.
In public consultation documents, the MoJ claims that each prison will have seven four-storey blocks with industrial workshops, sports pitches, a gym, kennels for guard dogs and parking for 1,000 cars.
Officials say they want to work with the local community to address concerns before submitting a formal planning application.
A spokesperson added: “We recognise residents are seeking clarity and while no decision has been made, we will continue to consult and update them as our prison-building plans develop.”
11Rod and Lucy Butler said they chose Finchingfield because it was picturesqueCredit: East News11Chris Green, with dog Tilly, said: ‘Our roads are just not up to it’Credit: East News11The village is known as one of the most photographed in EnglandCredit: East News11Nick and Michelle Chapman are also against the plansCredit: East News11Finchingfield is about 10 miles from BraintreeCredit: East News11The prison complex would be the largest in EuropeCredit: East News11BBC drama Lovejoy was filmed in FinchingfieldCredit: Alamy11Phyllis Logan and Ian McShane in the programme in 1986Credit: Alamy
Story Credit: thesun.co.uk