Controversial Witchford site deleted from Local Plan

East Cambridgeshire District Council approved the final draft of its Local Plan at its meeting on 5 October. In a sudden last-minute change, major site WFD.M1 in Witchford was deleted from the plan, with a revised recommendation circulated round the table without notice.

WFD.M1 is the large site in orange on the map, split in two by a thin green wedge, spreading from the Lancaster Way roundabout west into Witchford. It was put forward late in the local plan process by the Church Commissioners, who own the land. There was consequently much less opportunity for local residents to give their views on its inclusion.

The site was proposed for 720 houses, a massive increase in a village like Witchford. It was also intended to include a school, though the relationship between this and the existing Rackham school was not clear.

The deletion of the site is excellent news for residents and for Witchford Parish Council, who have campaigned vigorously against it.

The draft Local Plan needed to allocate land for 8,933 dwellings, but in fact allocated well in excess of this, a total of 10,490 dwellings. Although this was not stated, the deletion of WFD.M1 presumably means that this excess of 1,557 is almost halved to 837. No additional sites have been included to compensate for the removal of the 720 dwellings at WFD.M1. This can only mean that the district council will have to work very much harder to ensure that the dwellings remaining in the plan are actually built.

What next? The latest draft of the Local Plan, without WFD.M1, will be opened to public consultation in November for six weeks. After that, the plan and public comments will be handed to the planning inspector, who will hold a public inquiry into the draft plan next year. The plan is expected to be finally approved in autumn 2018.

The rules for responding to the draft Local Plan at this stage are much more restrictive than at previous stages. Further information here in due course.

For the record, despite the welcome deletion of WFD.M1, I voted against the draft plan. I have always maintained that spreading growth in small pockets everywhere was likely to lead to unsustainable developments without access to good (or even any) public transport, and to make it difficult to ensure sufficient infrastructure. It is clear the council needed a ‘fix’ to overcome the failure of its current Local Plan and the resulting ‘Klondike’ of speculative planning applications. But we will have to live with the proposals in the Local Plan for decades to come, and it isn’t something we can afford to get wrong.

Ely Library Fun Palace

This Saturday (7 October) between 12:00noon and 4:00pm Ely Library will be transformed into a Fun Palace!  A range of craft, art and science events will include weaving, quilting, a talk on how to find the constellations in the night sky, robots and coding, hands-on demonstrations from the Cambridge Science Centre’s Cosmos exhibition, making friendship bracelets, healthy eating demonstrations, and the Rocking Ukuleles will be teaching people how to play the ukulele. All are welcome, and everything is free.

We must fund our public services properly

Today the Conservative administration at Cambridgeshire County Council has been holding private press briefings on the County Council’s budget for the coming year.

Journalists are being told about the significant cuts which are being pushed through, cuts being made to Children’s Centres, savings on concessionary bus fares, among other reductions in services.

These are savings which could have been avoided if local Conservative councillors had made different choices here in Cambridgeshire.  For the past two years Cambridgeshire’s Conservative councillors have raised council tax by 2 per cent, while central government expected 4 per cent or 5 per cent rises.

Cambridgeshire was the only county council to increase council tax by only 2 per cent last year. Other counties all raised tax by at least 3 per cent.

If Cambridgeshire County Council had raised council tax by 4 per cent rather than 2 per cent for the past two years, they would have an additional £10 million in the revenue budget this year.  More than enough to save our children’s centres and improve our bus services.

An additional 2 per cent on Cambridgeshire’s council tax would cost an average household 50p a week. Single person households get a council tax reduction, those in smaller houses pay less.

For that small additional amount we could have our roads gritted, our potholes filled, our schools better funded, and our children’s centres kept open. This is the choice Conservative councillors have made.

The Liberal Democrats on Cambridgeshire County Council will continue to argue that we achieve more by working together, and that we must fund our public services properly, starting at home here in Cambridgeshire.

East Cambs District Council waste collection snafu

East Cambridgeshire District Council is scrambling to restructure its new Trading Company in order to avoid breaking the law when it takes the district’s waste collection service back in-house next April.

The council is allowed to award contracts to its own Trading Company without seeking outside bids, but only if at least 80 per cent of the Trading Company’s work is done for the council.

The council thought that all the work being done by the Trading Company’s housing development arm, Palace Green Homes, contributed to the 80 per cent requirement. But in a huge embarrassment for the council, it’s been advised that this isn’t the case.

As a result, the Trading Company is set to carry out far less than 80 per cent of its work for the council this year. And that means that in its present form it won’t be allowed to take over the waste contract on 1 April 2018, which was awarded to it by the council without other bids being sought.

All this leaves a red-faced council rushing through an urgent (and as yet unspecified) restructure of the company to try to avoid being caught without a legal waste collection service in six months’ time.

 

Recent planning applications

The following local applications have been published by East Cambridgeshire District Council.

17/01696/ARN
Coveney
Agricultural building south east of 6 Straight Drove, Coveney
Change of use of an agricultural building to a dwelling house.

17/01747/AGN
Little Downham
Green Acres, Straight Furlong, Pymoor
Steel portal framed building.

17/01683/OUT
Wentworth
Land parcel between Grannys End Road and A142 off Marroway Lane, Witchford
Nine dwellings.

17/01714/RMA
Witchford
Oak Farm, West Fen Road, Ely
Detached two storey dwelling, cart lodge, garage and associated works.

Further information can be found on the district council’s planning pages.If you would like to respond formally to the council about any planning application, comments should be addressed to the district council and not to me.  Comments may be made

      • online using the council’s public access webpage (the link above);
      • by email to plservices@eastcambs.gov.uk;
      • or by post to the Planning Department, The Grange, Nutholt Lane, Ely, CB7 4EE.

Final draft of East Cambs local plan published

The final draft of East Cambridgeshire’s Local Plan has now been published. This is the version which, assuming it is voted through by the council at its meeting on Thursday 5 October, will be examined by the Planning Inspector.

So what does it mean for residents in the Sutton division?

For Coveney, Pymoor, Wardy Hill and Wentworth, there are no housing allocations. Any new housing here is likely to be built on suitable infill sites within the villages.

For Little Downham there is one site, on land west of Ely Road where an allocation of 25 dwellings is proposed south of Cannon Street.

For Mepal there is also one site, at Brick Lane where an allocation of 50 dwellings is proposed.

For Witcham there is also one site, at the former Kings of Witcham site where 10 dwellings have already been given consent.

For Sutton, two sites are proposed for housing: land north of The Brook and west of Mepal Road (50-250 dwellings), and land east of Garden Close (25 dwellings).  Both of these are smaller numbers of houses than proposed by Linden Homes or Endurance.  The draft Plan also proposes a further allocation of employment land at the Elean Business Park, and – in a welcome move – two ‘local green spaces’, off The Brook and Lawn Lane, which will offer these two popular recreation areas the same protection and status as green belt land.  (See the map here).

The biggest and most controversial effect will however be felt in Witchford, with

  • 128 dwellings north of Field End (already granted outline planning consent on appeal)
  • 120 dwellings on land at Common Road
  • 46 dwellings on land south of Main Street (already granted planning consent)
  • 13 dwellings on land to the rear of 1-7 Sutton Road (already granted planning consent)
  • 720 dwellings on land north east of Witchford, with a school and other facilities.

Additional employment land is proposed at Sedgeway Business Park, and seven protected ‘local green spaces’ at Victoria Green, Millennium Wood, Manor Road, between Field End and Wheats Close, Broadway, Common Road, and the Horse Meadow.  Two ‘green wedges’ have also been identified to separate Witchford from the Lancaster Way business park. (See the map here).

Once the council has voted through the draft plan, it will be opened once again to public comments.  For this version, however, comments will need to be directed to the Planning Inspector and not to the council.  And if you’ve commented on something before, and you’re still not happy, you’ll need to repeat your comments, as previous responses won’t be carried over.

I’ve said all the way through this process that the council should have taken the braver decision to build larger settlements near good transport links, rather than spreading growth across villages that just aren’t able to sustain it. My view? If the council votes this through, it will be storing up problems for communities for decades to come.

Planning Committee to determine Mepal and Witcham applications

An all-day meeting of East Cambridgeshire District Council’s Planning Committee starting at 9:30am is scheduled for Wednesday 4 October, because of the number of planning applications currently being received by the council.  (Meetings of the committee usually start at 2:00pm).

The agenda has now been published, and it includes three applications in the Sutton division.

6. Land Adjacent Hiams Farm, Chatteris Road, Mepal (Map): this application (17/01036/FUL) for a four-bedroomed house is being recommended for refusal by the council’s planning officers. It is supported by the parish council and one of the two district councillors, but opposed by the Environment Agency on grounds of flood risk.

13. Land Adjacent to No. 2 Market Way, Witcham, CB6 2LP (Map): this application (17/01326/OUT) for a two storey dwelling, with single carport, parking, access, turning and associated site works is also being recommended for refusal by the council’s planning officers. It is opposed by the parish council, but is supported by a district councillor in Soham who has asked for the application to be decided by the Planning Committee.

19. 9 High Street, Witcham, CB6 2LQ (Map): this application (17/01547/OUT) for a low energy sustainable home, located within the northern boundary of 9 High Street, Witcham is being recommended for approval by the council’s planning officers. It is opposed by the parish council.  The Chairman of the Planning Committee has asked for the application to be decided by the Planning Committee as the previous application for this site was rejected in February.

Members of the public are allowed to speak at meetings of the Planning Committee.  A leaflet about public speaking at Planning Committee meetings can be downloaded here.

Considering a career in teaching?

Considering a career in teaching?  If so, you might want to book a place on Teach in Cambridgeshire’s Initial Teacher Training event to find out more.

Anglia Ruskin University
Thursday 16 November 2017
6:00-8:00pm

There will be a range of local providers offering all phases and routes such as school centred places, PGCE, BEd, or internships.  Tickets can be booked here [link]

Queen Adelaide: road and rail consultation event

Do you use the roads in and around Queen Adelaide?  If so, you might want to drop in to the consultation event on Thursday 14 September from 6:00pm to 8:00pm at Queen Adelaide Village Hall.

More trains and better rail services would clearly bring benefits to the local area and beyond.  But with three level crossings on the road through Queen Adelaide, transport planners are faced with a problem.

Cambridgeshire County Council and Network Rail are holding this consultation event to understand more about how the traffic flows through the village and hear people’s views on the impact the three level crossings have on the area.

Representatives from Cambridgeshire County Council and Network Rail will be there.  Residents or businesses not able to attend the event will be able to feed back by email or by returning a comment card that will be posted ahead of the event. All responses must be received by Friday 29 September 2017.

For more information visit www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/queen-adelaide-traffic-study

Land East of Garden Close

I have now written to the council with my response to the outline planning application for up to 53 houses east of Garden Close (17/01445/OUM):

I oppose this development on a number of grounds. The site of this proposed application is not the preferred site of the parish council, nor of local residents.  In general, it is accepted by residents of Sutton that any necessary development in the village should take place to the north, and not to the wetter south of the village where it slopes down to the fen.

Part of the site is included within the current draft of the district council’s Local Plan, with an indicative allocation of up to 25 dwellings.  The application for up to 53 dwellings, on a site that is extended to the north, south, and south-east of the site in the draft Local Plan, is excessive and inappropriate.

The late landowner had envisaged up to 25 environmentally sustainable bungalow homes on the site.  The applicants are proposing a scheme consisting almost totally of two-storey dwellings or above, which would negatively impact on the view and setting of the 14th century church, and would be out of keeping with the surrounding context, which consists almost entirely of bungalows.

The extension of the site to the south and south east involves building on very wet land, where residents in surrounding properties describe ongoing problems with water management.  Drainage is an ongoing issue in this part of the village.  The site sits on the same level as the part of Red Lion Lane where the water from the springs that run along the high street meets the Kimmeridge clay that lies under the topsoil.  Recent building at this level on Red Lion Lane appears to have exacerbated the persistent surface water problems at this location.  It is not clear that the applicants’ proposal adequately deals with known water management and drainage issues.

Meanwhile, the extension of the site to the north creates significant problems for the owner of 10 Oates Lane, who has already responded to this application.  The owner of this site was recently granted consent (17/00765) for the construction of a ‘lifetime home’ on that site, to meet the very special needs of the family which he describes in his submission.  The owner of this site, unlike residents in Garden Close, has not been consulted by the applicant, nor offered the same ‘buffer zone’ between the proposed site and his property as residents in Garden Close have been: indeed, due to an error in the drawing of the boundary, the built edge of the applicants’ proposal sits right on the boundary of his property, with no separation at all.  The owner of 10 Oates Lane has already made a very cogent submission about the problems relating to inaccurate drawing of boundaries, root protection areas for his trees, and the need to avoid overlooking of his family in the very particular circumstances he describes.

The effect on the local wildlife, and on the historic surrounding properties in the village’s conservation area, is also of great significance, as are the traffic issues which this application will exacerbate on the high street in both directions, on the top of Oates Lane, and on Church Lane and Station Road.

I support the view of the parish council that this application should come to the Planning Committee to determine, and that they should refuse it.