October 31 2014 Latest news:
Story by: JOHN ELWORTHY
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Angry residents overwhelmingly rejected proposals by county council leader Steve Count for a ‘homes for leisure’ deal on Estover Road playing fields.
Eighty turned up to hear Cllr Count describe his ambitions to get “the best deal” for Estover which could mean allowing 99 homes there in return for £500,000 to be spent on sports pitches and a club house.
He said the county council had arranged the meeting “to explore with key stakeholders” the future of the site but opened by apologising for the absence of Fenland Council Leader John Clark.
Cllr Count said Cllr Clark represented the planning authority which might have to handle any future applications and after legal advice had decided not to attend.
“I’m here as county councillor for March North not as leader of the county council,” Cllr Count explained.
But in a hand out circulated to residents he argued that the county council “needed to strike a balance between the scale of development and the ability to secure the future of appropriate community uses”.
He said details of the meeting had been kept secret to stop people “playing up in the media and social media” about the proposals without first considering them.
“I want to know what public has to say,” he said. “No one is making firm proposals.. “This is officers latest thinking and as far as I am aware the first time in 30 years for an opportunity to go to the people of March and say something that may happen.”
He said that although Estover had been taken out of the district council’s local plan, there was nothing to stop them re-allocating a ‘windfall site’ of up to 250 homes to the area.
However town clerk Clive Lemmon argued that what was needed was a peppercorn rent for the Estover playing fields and people of March given the chance to then apply for grants to build pitches and changing rooms.
He said Cllr Count had produced a report only two years reporting on the shortage of sports facilities in the town and that the county council ought not to want to sell any of it for housing.
John Skoulding said the town had already lost too many areas of open space over the years and it was vital this was preserved in its entirety.
Taking away open spaces “had got to stop. We have to hang onto Estover- we have to right for it” he said.
Councillor Pop Jolley, until recently cabinet member for leisure at Fenland Hall, said it ought not to be about money but about “the future of the town, the future of our children. That ground will do everything they want and it ought not to be about value.”
He told Cllr Count: “You’re getting is so wrong. It’s unbelievable. Just listen. There is money to develop that field – we are fed up being dictated to over housing in the wrong place.”
Many other residents involved in sport locally argued that it should be left as it is and the sports side built up.
Others spoke of the traffic difficulties along Station Road and warned of increasing chaos if more homes were built in that part of town.
Cllr Count argued that the county council had a statutory duty to secure the best price for any of its assets which it plans to sell.
“In certain circumstances it can consider disposals at less than best consideration but it is likely that the disposal of a site of this size and nature on such terms would also required the consent of the secretary of state,” he said.