Committee chairman and ward councillor steps aside as Cambridgeshire County Council votes on Estover housing for sports plan

Estover Playing Field. Picture: TREVOR WATSON

Estover Playing Field. Picture: TREVOR WATSON - Credit: Archant

Up to 120 homes could be built on Estover playing field, March, under a proposal to go before county councillors on Tuesday- with some of the sale proceeds going to fund sports facilities.

Digger and workers in the field next to Estover for excavation work.

Digger and workers in the field next to Estover for excavation work. - Credit: Archant

The council insists it is only looking at “part of the allocation” under a controversial windfall policy which they claim allows for up to 249 homes outside of the Local Plan.

Although NE March had its allocation of 400 homes withdrawn by Fenland Council when the Local Plan was agreed, a furious row has since erupted after many failed to realise the windfall loophole.

A council spokesman said: “It is planned that more than half of the site would be earmarked for high quality sports facilities.

“The development would enable a significant investment in improved sports pitches, multiuse areas, changing facilities and car parking. The idea being this would be of a higher quality than the existing facilities.

Estover Day at Fenland Hall where Fenland Council debate Local Plan

Estover Day at Fenland Hall where Fenland Council debate Local Plan - Credit: Archant

“No decisions have been made but we will make sure the local community will be fully consulted as part of any planning application that may come forward.”

Roger Moore, the council’s head of strategic assets, said: “The council needs to press ahead with its own application, as the windfall provisions only allow for up to 249 dwellings, and as and when granted these will be counted on a cumulative basis.

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“Once consents in this area of March reach 249 units, there will be no planning justification for development on the county council’s site.”

The issue will go before next Tuesday’s meeting of the general purposes committee, but chairman Steve Count, the ward councillor in which the playing fields are situated, will step aside.

Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, Cllr Steve Count.

Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, Cllr Steve Count. - Credit: Archant

The spokesman said Cllr Count, also council leader, had always maintained he would not chair the meeting should Estover be on the agenda.

Mr Moore says in a report that “an opportunity has arisen within the Fenland Local Plan to seek planning consent for development and to dispose of the site, for which the site needs to be confirmed as formally surplus to the council’s requirements.”

He said: “The Estover Road site in March is not required for operational delivery by the county council and has been held as a strategic site for a number of years.”

Mr Moore says the lease to the playing fields association has expired and although they continue to run it, no rent is paid.

The windfall policy is being widely contested by March Town Council, and debated recently Fenland Hall, and Mr Moore concedes “there is significant local opposition to the development of the site on the basis of concern about the loss of playing fields and amenity to adjacent residents.”

He says two reports in recent years on sports provision have shown the playing fields in their condition are not unsustainable and the site and facilities of poor quality.

Speed but may be important but he still expects a fight if the district council votes against housing and it goes to appeal.

“Should planning consent be granted the council proposes to grant a long lease on that part of the site allocated for the sports facilities at a peppercorn rent,” says Mr Moore. “This would also facilitate the securing of grant aid for further enhancements if desired.” But this would be subject to council approval.

Should a planning application fail “it is proposed that the council will continue to hold the site as a strategic landholding, and manage its use in the short to medium term”.

“Group leaders have been consulted on the proposal to declare the site surplus to requirements,” he says. “The local community including district and town council members are aware of the proposals and will be consulted in detail as part of the planning process.”