St John’s College pulls application for 95 homes at Estover following last minute protests and flawed NHS consultation

PUBLISHED: 14:21 27 February 2018

Estover - Front Page. Photos: Google

Estover - Front Page. Photos: Google

Archant

Agents acting for St John’s College, Cambridge, today withdrew the application to build 95 homes at Estover, March, following exposure by this newspaper of a flawed consultation process over NHS requirements.

Fenland District Council officers, who were recommending it for approval tomorrow, also faced mounting criticism over the application from veteran March councillor Jan French.

There was also a surprise last minute intervention by Councillor Mike Cornwell, a ward councillor but also the portfolio holder for health and well being, who described non-delivery of the requirements for affordable homes as “a direct affront to our policy”. The college’s agents said the scheme was not viable if they had to provide 25 per cent of the homes as ‘affordable’.

He said: “The application is inadequate and must be re-assessed in more detail before it goes further. “

Withdrawal of an application submitted in the summer of 2015 and left in abeyance since will send shock waves through the development industry.

It was only 24 hours ago that the NHS did a massive U-turn and decided after all it would like £35,000 for a GP practice in March as part of Fenland Council agreeing to the Estover application.

This followed a sustained campaign by this newspaper to produce up to date assessments of NHS need in March following the revelation that Fenland Council was preparing to accept an outdated report suggesting no 106 agreement (community benefit) NHS funding would be required because March GP surgeries had spare capacity.

Councillor French claimed that most of the reports attached to the application were out of date.

She also questioned why Middle Level Commissioners had not been asked for their view and also pointed out that housing at Estover was in direct contravention of the town council’s recently approved neighbourhood plan.

“I am very relieved this application has been withdrawn,” she said.

Cllr Cornwell raised numerous issues, including access and highways and questioned whether Network Rail could safely say the crossing at Creek Road would be acceptable.

“Have discussions been held with Network Rail to ensure that the crossing is suitable to carry increased traffic from this and the most likely further development of the site?” he said.

Cllr Cornwell also said the new housing estate would be isolated from the town, there were drainage issues not yet considered, and there was a proven limited NHS provision in March with a considerable NHS waiting list for access to services.

“On the matter of GP practices I suspect the response is based upon approved surgery capacity levels which do not reflect service delivery viability. It is well known that there are a number of GP vacancies locally, indeed the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group is unable to deliver its new ‘local urgent care hub’ in South Fens, which includes March, until such time as GPs can be recruited for local practices as they are required to support the hub”.

Fenland’s chief planning officer Nick Harding said he received an email from NHS England just before noon today setting out their requirements.

The email said that “mitigation should be secured to increase capacity at Mercheford House surgery in the form of a capital contribution of £34,546 through the S106 agreement”.

In their original email NHS England told Fenland Council that” we currently have GP capacity in the March locality and would therefore not be seeking a section 106 agreement”.

The supporting file with the original NHS response was not among 471 documents on the Fenland Council website.

On Thursday night planning committee chairman Alex Miscandlon told me the NHS report was on line but by Friday he agreed it was not there.

On Monday it was still missing and following a series of emails Mr Harding suddenly revealed the existence of the 11th hour email from NHS requesting £35,000.

This newspaper has now asked MP Steve Barclay to intervene and get to the bottom of it.

Mr Barclay is also a Government health minister and has been asked to investigate the original claim by the NHS that no money was needed. Throughout the weekend our readers have been asked for their experience of NHS provision in March – overwhelmingly they felt there was no spare capacity, as suggested in the earlier response.

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