It took 10 years but historic consent signed off for 1,000 homes
- Credit: Hallam Land
Hours before signing off for Christmas, Nick Harding put his signature to probably one of the most important documents in his tenure as shared head of planning at Fenland District Council.
Ten years and two months after a proposal floated across his predecessor’s desk for 1,000 homes, a business park, health centre and primary school at Chatteris, the t’s were finally crossed and the I's dotted.
Three hundred and thirty-one documents, comments and emails drew to a conclusion as Mr Harding officially authorised approval.
The application, which had evolved in the five years to 2010, sets out plans for a huge investment on 170 acres of farmland to the south east of Chatteris - west of the A142 Ireton’s Way.
It would establish a new community with up to 1,000 houses, an outdoor sports facility, a primary school with playing fields and a business centre.
There are plans for a neighbourhood shop, cafe, doctor’s surgery and pharmacy, as well as link roads to relieve traffic congestion around the town.
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The proposal, submitted by Hallam Land Management Ltd and BS Pension Fund Trustee Ltd, would see the refurbishment of nearby Grade-II listed Tithe Barn - for commercial or community use.
Next stage for the developers will be to agree the phasing to include the mix of housing, infrastructure, conversion of the barn and community facilities.
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A section 106 agreement has also been signed agreeing payments ranging from nearly £400,000 for transport, £6m for a new primary school, £450,000 to extend Cromwell Academy and £200,000 for a health clinic.
The site was first identified in 2006 with the developers arguing that “the release of greenfield land for housing will be required to meet growth requirements of the district”.
They argued, too, that “Chatteris is the right location for a proportion of the district's growth requirements and that the application site is suitable to meet those requirements.
“There is a need to bring forward land for housing, particularly affordable housing, and employment now, to meet identified shortfalls in supply and to ensure that development for the benefit of current and future residents is not delayed further”.
Ironically since Hallam first proposed expanding Chatteris, Wisbech has been designated as having the potential to become a garden town and with it an extra 10,000-12,000 new homes into the area. Fenland Council expects this could result in “better transport links, more jobs and improved health, education and skills training for local people.
“It is hoped that the high levels of deprivation in the area will be reversed through housing growth and a better economy”.
However, despite Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, being supportive of the concept when he paid a special visit to Wisbech to discuss it in March 2016, there has been little visible progress.
Hallam believed in their original pitch for Chatteris that the town was best suited for growth.
They noted that Fenland Council’s “identified preferred locations for growth to the west and south of Wisbech, which the council suggest could provide 1,800 dwellings, are seriously affected by significant infrastructure constraints, notably flood risk and the impact on the A47”.
That, argued Hallan, meant somewhere such as Chatteris was necessary to achieve a “deliverable, available, suitable and achievable location to accommodate growth is required to meet the both medium- and long-term development needs for the district”.
Behind the scenes, the momentum for Wisbech continues, albeit slowly.
Last February Fenland Council reported that “there are a number of key outputs to major infrastructure appraisals expected during the course of 2020, including the Wisbech Garden Town project and plans for Wisbech Rail and improvements to the A47.
“Key to everything is the long-term vision, both in terms of challenge and opportunity. “Some of the considerations towards new infrastructure remain aspirational, but a tremendous amount of work has been on-going in the background, particularly since the visit by HRH Prince Charles in November 2018.”
The report added: “Due to the modelling complexity and innovation being considered, the appraisal work has been low-profile during 2019, but a very important part of the formal process is to ensure all aspects including viability are carefully considered.
“By December 2020 we expect to see a conclusion and formal recommendations from to this range of very comprehensive appraisals.”
It missed the deadline.