Hands Off Estover the battle cry of public meeting which pledges to fight Cambridgeshire County Council over housing plans
- Credit: Archant
The ‘Hands Off Estover’ campaign launched last night at a public meeting which unanimously condemned proposals to use a windfall loophole to sacrifice half the playing field for housing.
“Windfall certainly has a different legal definition than that which is being bandied around,” said Chris Hodson, the retired strategic planning manager for Fenland Council.
Describing parts of the Local Plan as “weak” Mr Hodson told a packed audience at the Oliver Cromwell Hotel that in views of the shortfall in playing areas in March Estover “shouldn’t even be considered in the first place”.
At times acrimonious, but mostly even tempered, the meeting heard a range of political views.
They included Tory councillors such as Jan French and Kit Owen whose anti development rhetoric was at odds with cabinet colleagues such as Fred Yeulett and Will Sutton who insisted most knew the Local Plan included a possible 249 windfall homes in NE March. Lib Dems, Greens and UKIP were also represented.
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Independent councillor Peter Tunley said the application this week for 30 homes to expand the Berryfield estate in NE March “was like a red rag to a bull”. He said other bids for housing would follow, quickly, from landowners that also included St John’s College, Cambridge, as well as the county council’s plans to develop half of Estover.
Cllr Sutton, cabinet member for planning, said he failed to understand those councillors who claim they didn’t know up to 249 could still be built despite the Local Plan axing 400 homes from NE March.
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“It was in the reports,” he said, explaining that protestors faced “an uphill battle” to keep housing out of this part of March.
But county councillor Peter Reeve, part of a group of UKIP councillors and officials present, said he would oppose any housing on Estover. He promised, as a member of the county’s general purposes committee, to back the town council’s vision of Estover as a ‘community asset’ and to fight for its continued use for recreation only.
.Her would support “getting ownership into local community hands and out of county council hands”.
The meeting heard of the frustrations over many years of trying to get financial support for better facilities, of the neighbourhood planning initiative by the town council that could scupper any chances of developing Estover, and of how funding for sport had been denied because of the lack of a long lease by the county council to the local sports association.
Cllr Sutton was shot down after he questioned whether Estover had majority support in March and the town council pledged to fight to buy the land through a trust or charitable organisation so that its future could be secured.
Trevor Watson, who helped to organise the meeting, said the action group now being formed would be town wide, and was already gathering support.
Cllr Reeve said if the January committee meeting at Shire Hall to discuss selling off Estover “gets a turnout of the public of half or even a quarter of this room you will make a point.”
The meeting was chaired by Cambs Times editor John Elworthy who said his newspaper had a long standing tradition of supporting causes “where we know there is widespread community backing”. He said he had been “told repeatedly and by very many people of their sense of outrage that having got 400 homes withdrawn in the Local Plan, some sort of Trojan horse had been found right in the heart of Estover carrying plans for 249 homes in precisely the same spot”.
Clive Lemmon, town clerk, said a recent vote had been 11-1 against any development of Estover. This would be reflected in the forthcoming neighbourhood plan and any attempt to build there would trigger a public inquiry under localism legislation.
He felt most people would support the town council’s plan to transfer ownership to some form of community or charitable trust whose aim would be to develop Estover for sport and recreation.
All that was needed, he said, was for the county council “to talk sensibly on price”.