Curtis furious and leaks memo as Melton calls top level summit to unravel Whittlesey ‘supermarket-gate’ U turn

EXTERNAL lawyers could be invited into Fenland Hall to probe yesterday’s highly controversial decision to allow Tesco to build a store next to Sainsbury’s in Eastrea Road, Whittlesey.

The baffling decision by Fenland District Council Planning Committee stunned Council Leader Alan Melton who was informed, by phone, of the vote at Fenland Hall.

He recognises the vote by councillors could plunge Fenland Council into a six figure legal battle as the complexities of the decision are unravelled.

He told me last night one option being considered was to call in external lawyers to look at the decision making process. This morning he summoned chief executive Paul Medd and planning chief Graham Nourse to a meeting. Also present was Councillor Phil Hatton, chairman of the planning committee, whose casting vote gave Tesco the go ahead and lit the fuse for the battle to come.

Many Whittlesey people now fear the legal battle could continue for years meaning neither company will dare to build a new store.

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Councillor Martin Curtis, the Whittlesey councillor who led the support for Sainsbury’s, is incandescent with rage following the vote.

He wrote on his blog today: “I have lost some sleep overnight mulling over an issue. I do not reveal contents of advice and guidance given to councillors readily. I could take the approach that others take - which is to leak correspondence when it suits me, but it is not my style.

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“However, I have decided that it is in the public interest to reveal that on September 6 officers sent an email reassuring councillors about concerns that had been expressed (including by me) about the handling of the Whittlesey supermarket planning applications after the decisions of August 29t.

“That advice included this specific quote: ‘I would like to reassure members that there is no intention to re-open the debate with regard to considering the principle of the applications.’”

Cllr Curtis said the decision yesterday to accept the Tesco application when it had been refused on August 29 “is clearly contrary to that advice. Councillors were given no advance notice that the advice had changed nor was there any suggestion in the agenda papers that this was the case.

“My view is that these items were not on the agenda for the issues to be reconsidered, rather to ratify the wording and/or detail surrounding previous decisions.”

Earlier he had spoken of his “massive concerns” over the decision and urged townsfolk to submit official complaints.

“In particular you may wish to consider whether it was fair for members to revisit a decision without first notifying those that are affected and giving them opportunity to comment,” said Cllr Curtis.

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