‘Anger, resentment and fury' of those opposed to Soham Gateway

Visual prepared by This Land for Soham Gateway

Visual prepared by This Land for Soham Gateway - Credit: This Land

East Cambridgeshire District Council is yet to get anywhere near determining an application for 540 homes, known as Soham Eastern Gateway. 

Much depends on approval being granted. 

The project is fundamental to the success of Cambridgeshire County Council’s arm's length housing company This Land Ltd.  

It has been loaned – or if you prefer borrowed – over £100m from the council and achieving success is vital to its long-term viability.  

But within 664 documents – available to view on the council’s website – is a mix of anger, resentment, fury, and, some may say cussedness, of Soham residents who want it ditched.  

Effectively it is two separate applications – full consent for 128 homes and outline for 412. Included in the 128 homes section is a new roundabout and main spine road from the A142. 

The second part includes demolition of Staploe health centre and its replacement with a new enlarged centre. A new vehicle access onto Brewhouse Lane is proposed. 

Visual prepared by This Land for Soham Gateway

Site layout prepared by This Land for Soham Gateway - Credit: This Land

Most Read

Residents, especially of Qua Fen Road, have been vociferous in their objections, of which more later.  

And there’s been some confusion over highways – the county council, with its stake in This Land Ltd, conflicted.  

One recent – unsigned – document suggests agreement has been reached. 

For a payment of £337,000 – and some footpath improvements – This Land appears to be off the hook.  

"The modelling demonstrates that the proposed development will have an impact on the road network,” says the report. 

“To mitigate the development’s impact, they (This Land) have offered a contribution of £337,000 towards highway works.  

“Having looked at the developments impact in details the highway authority will accept the contribution.” 

The Gateway project at Soham is being spearheaded by This Land Ltd on behalf of the county council.

The Gateway project at Soham is being spearheaded by This Land Ltd on behalf of the county council. 540 homes are planned but the route to obtaining planning permission is proving to be a challenge. - Credit: CCC

The £337,000 will pay for improvements to three junctions: 

A142 roundabout junction with The Shade 

A142 roundabout junction with A1123 / Fordham Road 

A142 roundabout junction with Station Road / B1102 

However, in the summer, Andrew Connolly authored a report on behalf of the transport assessment team of the county council. 

He was reviewing a report prepared earlier by the developers and highlighted areas of concern over public transport, cycle and pedestrian facilities.  

He concluded: “As submitted the proposed development does not comply with the merits of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and will be highly dependent on car usage.  

“The proposed sustainable link into Soham is off the desired line and not user friendly; hoggin is not an appropriate surface material. Hoggin can still get muddy in wetter months and is not pram friendly.  

“The site is outside of the recommended distance to a bus stop and will therefore encourage new residents to use the private motor car.” 

He added: “The development site feels very separated from the rest of Soham. 

“It has only a single walking/cycling route into the site which does not provide an efficient route for pedestrians and cyclists to access the school and local facilities within Soham.” 

Soham Gateway - a glimpse of what may be about to come

Soham Gateway - a glimpse of what may be about to come - Credit: This Land

Mr Connolly concluded: “The view of the transport assessment team is that high quality links to local facilities are a key driver to achieving an acceptable development in this location.  

“The application as submitted does not include sufficient information to properly determine the highway impact of the proposed development.  

“Were the above issues addressed the highway authority would reconsider the application.  

“CCC therefore requests that this application not be determined until such time as the additional information above has been submitted and reviewed. 

The Environment Agency has chipped in, noting that some of the proposed  homes could have their floor levels raised. 

"This will mean that garages, gardens, roads and parks will flood in the event of a breach in the Soham Lode defences, but the properties will remain dry,” it says.  

The EA says if developers felt it “inappropriate to raise the floor levels of these properties then other resistance and resilience measures should be considered. 

Part of the consultation process in Soham for the eastern gateway housing development,

Part of the consultation process in Soham for the eastern gateway housing development, - Credit: Archant

“But we strongly recommend raised floor levels as they passively protect the properties”. 

And if raising floor levels is rejected “then the applicant must submit details of alternative mitigation measures to maintain the flow path across the site”. 

Engineering specialists SWECO, in a report on behalf of the developers, has assured the Environment Agency flooding is not an issue.  

SWECO accepts there is a risk of a breach of Soham Lode but since the last breach was in 1937, they believe the risk to be “very low”. 

The summer also saw Staploe Medical Centre moving towards a settlement with This Land over a new site.  

But at what stage it would be built remains unclear. 

A vision of the future? One of the display boards at Soham showing aspects of the gateway developmen

A vision of the future? One of the display boards at Soham showing aspects of the gateway development - Credit: Archant

Staploe currently serves 22,000 patients out of a building designed for 13,000. 

“It would be impractical to build any further homes in the area before having resolved the healthcare provision for the locality,” it says. 

There are many details to be resolved – not least timing and NHS Primary Care Trust endorsement. 

But as the planning process drags on, opposition from residents remain.  

Dozens of letters of objection have flooded into East Cambs Council, not least from the town council. 

Its most recent objection wants refusal on grounds of bio diversity, commons access and protection. 

The council also believes traffic assessment to be “wholly inadequate and contradictory”. 

From a flood of letters of objection, here’s a sample:  

“We as residents of Qua Fen Common and the Commons themselves will be significantly permanently and adversely affected," says one.  

The objector is angry at the “the dumping of a huge, isolated dormitory housing estate - the ’Gateway to Nowhere’ estate, located between two ancient commons. 

“Soham has clearly been identified as a suitable location to dump huge, ugly, housing estates: as far as I can tell so far from the lack of improvement in the infrastructure of Soham - these estates bring no tangible positive benefits whatsoever to Soham or to its established residents.  

“When is Soham going to be recognised, rewarded and benefit from having being earmarked and dumped-on with such a disproportionate number of huge dormitory housing estates - both those already built and those now being built? 

Soham Eastern Gateway outline of the site for 553 homes.

Soham Eastern Gateway outline of the site for new homes. - Credit: Archant

Another says that “using East Fen Common as access will decimate a special wildlife site and spoil centuries old habitat for ever. 

“This proposed development has no vehicular access to Soham schools, shops or health centre.  

“So, drivers will access the town via the A142 and the two common roads, both of which are poorly maintained and not suitable for heavy traffic or an increase of traffic.  

“There are no planned bus routes to the development and the nearest bus stop is too far away to be viable.  

“The provision for affordable housing for Soham families is not a priority for This Land. In fact, their debt to rate payers makes it highly unlikely that any affordable houses will be built.” 

The gateway plans stem from the final version of a masterplan for the area approved by East Cambridgeshire District Council.  

That was on April 5, 2011. 

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter