As county council leader Steve Count promises ‘new way forward’ on Estover, one councillor asks ‘why did it have to be like this?’

Hands off Estover

Hands off Estover - Credit: Archant

County council leader Steve Count tonight called for widespread support for his latest initiative on Estover playing fields, March.

Cllr Count's original scheme for Estover

Cllr Count's original scheme for Estover - Credit: Archant

He is preparing to launch a fresh bid to win the hearts and minds of his increasingly fragmented Tory colleagues in the town.

The row has already claimed the ‘scalp’ of one prominent Conservative councillor, Peter Tunley, who resigned the Conservative whip on Fenland Council last year over the escalating Estover debacle.

But Cllr Count, undaunted by stinging criticism of his ‘homes and sports facilities’ for Estover launched last July at a public meeting, believes he has found a way forward to pacify critics.

One option under consideration is a lease to the playing fields association at Estover- or some other publicly constituted group- for the county council owned land.

Public meeting at Oliver Cromwell Hotel. March. Consultation on Estover playing field. Picture: Stev

Public meeting at Oliver Cromwell Hotel. March. Consultation on Estover playing field. Picture: Steve Williams. - Credit: Archant

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Cambridgeshire County Council desperately wants up to 99 homes on half the playing field in return for providing cash to help fund sports pitches on the rest.

However the proposal would go against the Local Plan agreed by Fenland Council which culled 400 homes in NE March although council officers have since insisted up to 249 homes could be allowed there under a loosely defined ‘windfall’ policy.

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Cllr Count was tonight using the phrase “a new way forward” to explain to colleagues what he hopes will happen at Estover.

He has deliberately not briefed the Cambs Times/Wisbech Standard ahead of today’s ‘launch’ of his new strategy, neither have some independent and other councillors been warned of his latest thoughts.

Cllr Tunley said tonight: “We have been expecting some revelation, its election year and they are all desperate for votes.

“If it means a long lease for Estover with no housing then of course we will all be pleased but if that is the case, and we shall soon know, why did it have to be like this?

“Why have these three elected representatives of the community (MP Steve Barclay, FDC leader John Clark and Cllr Count) subjected the community to such bad feeling, setting council against council?”

Cllr Count hopes his initiative will diffuse the ongoing row over Estover which is likely to figure in the May local elections.

Deputy town mayor Councillor Rob Skoulding said if the proposals included any housing whatsoever at Estover this would be against the town council’s wishes and they would be contested.

In a hand out circulated to residents last summer, Cllr Count 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”.

.“I want to know what public has to say,” he said. “No one is making firm proposals.”

He added: “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.

The county council will debate the future of Estover later this month after an earlier motion to declare the land ‘surplus to requirements’ and sold was deferred.

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