Curious case of the missing report and why - at the 11th hour - NHS England suddenly want £35,000 out of Estover homes plan
PUBLISHED: 14:18 26 February 2018 | UPDATED: 15:03 26 February 2018
The NHS has done 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 95 homes at Estover.
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”.
Mr Harding said: “We will hopefully receive a more detailed response in time to report to committee as to how this figure was arrived at and the use which the contribution would be put.”
It follows a campaign by this newspaper to unravel a report compiled by Mr Harding’s officers into the Estover application by St John’s College, Cambridge.
Officers – in their report to Wednesday’s committee to decide the application – claimed that NHS England had told them they have no objections.
It would have meant no money being asked of St John’s towards health under the terms of a 106 agreement (community benefit) now being prepared.
In their report officers said NHS England told them “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.
Today 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.
I have received an email from Mr Harding confirming that NHS did, in August 2015, state that “we currently have GP capacity in the March locality and would therefore offer no objections and not be seeking a section 106 agreement”.
The email was sent by a Ben Davis, premises project accountant, interim, for NHS England.
However in an exchange of emails today between Alison Callaby, a planning officer with FDC and the NHS, a different picture emerged.
Sophie Emerson of NHS England told Ms Callaby that the situation “is now different compared to 2015” hence the request for £34,546 for Mercheford House.
Ms Emerson said the money would be used “by way of refurbishment, extension or potential relocation, for the benefit of the patients at Mercheford House, a proportion of the cost of which would need to be met by the developer”.
March Town Council says the area is “already struggling with doctors, dentists and schooling shortages”.
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.
The application by St John’s College – that has taken nearly three years to determine- could be about to exploit a planning loop hole.
The council’s failure to show a five year supply of land means policies controlling and restricting housing in key areas can be set aside – and it is that window of opportunity the college can now seize.
Councillor Jan French said residents approaching her “feel totally let down by the Fenland Council planning department.
“This application has been around for a long time and one must question why it has taken this length of time for it to be determined
“If it had been done at the appropriate time and under the right process it would have been refused.”
She is also angry that the college’s advisers have backed Fenland Council into a corner by tossing a viability assessment into the mix that will see the number of affordable homes committed to the site drop from 25 per cent to just under six per cent.
“That’s a slap in the face for those trying to get onto the housing ladder,” she said. “Property has gone up since this application and yet we are now told it is not viable to follow the Fenland Council policy of 25 per cent.”
March Town Council was among 266 objections sent to the district council and “strongly recommended” refusal including the claim that infrastructure issues had not been addressed.
The town council says there are “already severe road congestion problems in this area without the added imposition of yet more traffic.”
The report also says they asked Mayor James Palmer if he could find cash to boost affordable housing provision at the site: he said he couldn’t.