Almost 60 new homes could be built in Whittlesey after Fenland District Council (FDC) narrowly approved an outline planning application for the development. 

The approval means that up to 58 houses can be built on the grass and scrub land north-east of 3-31 Hemmerley Drive, although a specific layout will be drawn up later in the planning process. 

The application, submitted by Showfields Ltd, received objections from Whittlesey Town Council (WTC) and almost 30 members of the public including Cllr Chris Boden, a Whittlesey resident himself and head of the council. 

The application also failed to win the support of everyone on FDC’s planning committee, which ultimately voted to pass it with six votes to four. 

Chairman Cllr David Connor was among those who voted against approving the application, saying passing it would “send the wrong message” to other towns considering creating a neighbourhood plan. 

Just last month, Whittlesey residents voted to adopt a neighbourhood plan which includes the significant policy that “significant new housing developments should be located predominantly east of the town”. 

Other concerns raised included the potential for flooding – with Cllr Jan French saying it would “open the floodgates to flooding” and access to schools and healthcare for future residents. 

Cllr Rob Skoulding was particularly concerned over children's safety on roads in the area, saying he’s “not prepared to see children laying on slabs” as a result of the lack of bollards in the plans. 

Council ‘might as well close the planning department down’ if they object 

Cllr Will Sutton said that FDC “might as well close the planning department down” if issues such as over-stretched services are used to reject applications because they’re replicated “right across Fenland”. 

Council officers also pointed out that the application didn’t receive any objections from Cambridgeshire County Council as highways authority. 

An objection submitted by CCC as local flood authority was removed after assurances that surface water can be managed through permeable paving and an attenuation basin.  

Officers added that Whittlesey’s neighbourhood plan doesn’t forbid the possibility of developments to the north of the town. 

Ultimately, for some, such as Cllr Jan French, the decision to approve the application came down to the lack of “strong material planning considerations” which would hold up at an appeal. 

Cllr French said that she feels “sorry for the people of Whittlesey” but added that, as deputy leader of the council, a failed appeal could “cost us dearly and I’m not prepared to take that chance”. 

She was one of several councillors who said they couldn’t support the application or strongly critisised it during debate at the planning meeting, but voted in favour of it after warnings that an appeal could be costly and would be likely to fail. 

Because the planning application was an outline planning application, residents won’t see the development built soon. 

More detailed plans must first be submitted before building work can begin.