Surprise move by March Town Council to wrest control of 19 acre playing field from Cambridgeshire County Council

PUBLISHED: 21:46 04 August 2014

March Town Council meeting on Monday

March Town Council meeting on Monday

Archant

Town councillors laid down a marker tonight in their bid to wrest control of Estover playing fields from Cambridgeshire County Council.

In a move that could possibly see the town council asking people in March to dig deep and buy the 19 acre site, there was anger at the valuation placed on the land by the county council.

Although the playing fields have been removed from the local plan, councillors were told that the county council still valued the site at between £3-5million.

But town clerk Clive Lemmon said that if it could be confirmed that it was, is and remains agricultural land then the valuation would drop to a maximum of £285,000.

And even at that lower valuation, he said, it would assume agricultural land selling for £15,000 an acre “which would be the very highest possible and for premium land”.

Town councillors believe they have found a formula to win control of the land and that is by claiming it as an “asset of community value”. Under this law the county council would have to wait at least six months to enable the town council to come up with the money to buy it.

The idea was put to councillors by a resident of Norwood Road, Ian Dickerson, who told councillors “it would be a great shame to see such a valuable community asset lost to the town”.

County council leader Steve Count – also a member of the town council – was asked to leave the chamber whilst Estover was debated; his recent public meeting at which a mix of housing and sports facilities for Estover was put forward being widely condemned.

Town mayor Kit Owen said: “Estover playing field has established use dating back 75 years – local opinion strenuously opposes any residential development there”.

He said the county council’s own studies had shown the lack of sports facilities in March and it was his view the town should support Mr Dickerson’s suggestion.

Mr Lemmon said it would “not be beyond the realms of possibility” for the town council to raise the money to buy Estover, if agricultural value was established.

“Just to give you some figures, our precept, if it went up by £10 per household, would raise £60,000 a year. We would have to look to the people to see if that is reasonable but if you have £60,000 a year coming in you can buy that field.”

He said sports bodies would be confident then of providing the support to the town to develop facilities there providing the site was managed by a trust, a charitable body or a similar type of organisation.

Councillor Mike Cornwell said that providing such a non profit making trust or body was set up then everything was achievable.

“But if we don’t take steps now to agree something, this will go on like it has for the last 20 years.”

Councillor Jan French reported that the chief executives of the district and county councils, and both leaders, would be meeting with the town mayor in September to discuss the future of Estover.

But she added: “I still feel we should progress with what has been discussed here tonight.”

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