A NEW village could be built on the site of the former Runwell Hospital near Wickford after plans for 600 homes were unveiled.

The Homes and Communities Agency has revealed the plans – the first firm ones put forward for the former mental health hospital site since plans to build a prison there were scrapped.

However, there are already fears Wickford’s ailing infrastructure will not be able to cope with the added cars a new village will bring.

David Harrison, of Wickford Action Group, which campaigns against overdevelopment of the town, said he would have preferred to see the unpopular plans for the prison go ahead than that many houses.

He said: “The A132 is already a disaster, so it will be horrific with the amount of traffic a development of this size will bring.

“Wickford seems to now be getting overlooked for new infrastructure. The masterplan was scrapped and now all we are getting is flats and houses.

“I would have supported the prison over this. It would not have led to a huge traffic increase and there has been a prison of sorts on the site since 1908.”

The Homes and Communities Agency, which has acquired the land from the NHS and has Government funding to develop homes, promised traffic problems would be dealt with under the plans and residents would be consulted.

A spokesman said: “Local residents are invited to help develop a plan for the land at Runwell Hospital. Ultimately, the proposed plan will aim to provide transport improvements and community facilities as well as delivering much-needed new homes for the area.”

Mike Goulding, area manager for the agency, said: “By spending time consulting with the public prior to submitting any planning application, we stand the best chance of delivering something local people want.”

Lance Millane, a Runwell and Rettendon councillor on Chelmsford Council, said: “We support the principle and are working to ensure the development brings the vital improvements needed to the A132 and other community benefits.”

Plans for 624 homes were first mooted in 2001, but later shelved in favour of the prison.