Former planning chairman attacks ‘tokenistic’ consultation as councillors says they will not be ‘whipped’ on Estover vote

March plan

March plan - Credit: Archant

A Whittlesey councillor and former planning committee chairman today criticised Fenland District Council over its public consultation on the core strategy which has led to the Estover debacle.

March plan

March plan - Credit: Archant

Councillor Martin Curtis, also a former leader of the county council, believes Fenland Council’s consultation over the core strategy – now the local plan- fell short of what was required.

“I don’t think councillors, including myself, understood fully what windfall was all about,” he said.

He described as “tokenistic” the way Fenland Council went about its public consultation on the local plan and said many opportunities were missed.

Cllr Curtis, who will not be at tomorrow’s crunch council meeting to debate Estover, said however he would have supported a motion re-affirming the removal of housing from NE March.

Of the motion by Councillor Peter Tunley which calls upon the council to reaffirm its decision of last year, he said: “My gut instinct is to say we should support that motion”.

But Cllr Curtis was emphatic that the debate should “not be a referendum” on Councillor John Clark’s leadership.

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And he also felt Councillor Steve Count, leader of the county council, was being attacked unfairly for trying to find a solution.

“Steve has tried to see both ends of the argument all the way through this,” he said.

Cllr Curtis said he had no idea what Fenland Council should do next or what could be regarded as a solution to the current problem over the local plan.

“I do know that being without a local plan leaves us without protection,” he said.

“But I also know that councillors would not have supported the local plan if they knew fully the implications of the windfall policy.”

He also questioned what the implications might be for other parts of Fenland “and what else might have been missed. That’s what people need to be thinking about.”

Cllr Kit Owen, who had chaired the local plan development group until February of last year, abstained from the council vote because of what he says were uncertainties over the outcome.

He said today: “Having looked at the documents again it is absolutely clear over Estover there was no reason to ask questions about what was intended by councillors. The only mention of windfall was of additional housing being achieved in other parts of March- that’s what was agreed, that’s what we believed was the policy and it was all very clear.”

Tomorrow’s council meeting is expected to see the Conservative ruling group mandated to oppose Cllr Tunley’s motion.

Tories meet at 2.30pm tomorrow but if less than half eligible councillors attend then their group rules prevent a ‘whip’ being applied.

Those councillors considering breaking rank by refusing to be ‘whipped’ on the Estover issue include the following councillors:

Alan Melton

Jan French

Dave Connor

Kit Owen

Pop Jolley

John Chambers

Florrie Newell

Mike Humphrey

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