MARCH: Why I believe Fenland Council must learn the lessons of how to consult properly on future of our town

Trevor Watson at Estover Playing Field

Trevor Watson at Estover Playing Field - Credit: Archant

I ESTIMATE some 150 people turned up at the Oliver Cromwell Hotel to discuss the Core Strategy.

Open landscape proposed for housing. Estover playing fields development.

Open landscape proposed for housing. Estover playing fields development. - Credit: Archant

First, may I point out my role in this whole issue? It has been one of informing residents of the proposals and their implications and advising them on how to comment where necessary.

Estover Playing Field

Estover Playing Field - Credit: Archant

The room was packed; many more would have attended had we had the time to inform more residents, particularly to the south of the town.

Estover playing field.

Estover playing field. - Credit: Archant

Residents came from all parts of March. We noted that there were a number of district councillors and county councillors also there.

Estover Park Youth u14's Girls football team training

Estover Park Youth u14's Girls football team training - Credit: Archant

MP Steve Barclay also attended for about 30 minutes and spoke of the residents concerns.

Estover playing field.

Estover playing field. - Credit: Archant

Most were unaware of the proposals for March, and considered Fenland District Council should have consulted the town’s residents’ more.

Estover Park Under-10s with their trophies and manager Teilo Pearce

Estover Park Under-10s with their trophies and manager Teilo Pearce - Credit: Archant

Some mentioned the recent exhibitions held by Cambs County Council on their Transport Strategy as an example on how to consult. Residents were made aware that the district council hold some 5-6 meetings a year with developers/house builders/ estate agents etc. but cannot hold one meeting with residents.

Estover Playing Field

Estover Playing Field - Credit: Archant

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The meeting was called by residents for residents as we considered that the district council had not explained these very important proposals for March adequately.

Estover Playing Field

Estover Playing Field - Credit: Archant

Whilst the panel, consisting of myself, Cllr. Peter Tunley, Susan Clenshaw, (Secretary of Estover Playing Field Ass.) and Michael Rutter (resident) explained the proposals and the implications of the development, it was the residents who spoke in opposition to these proposals.

The first part of the meeting was given over to discussions about the North East Housing Allocation.

These were the main points raised:

Both the existing and potential traffic problems at the Station Road railway crossing, bad as this at the moment, with increase in rail traffic movements, both freight and passenger, planned by Network Rail, it was wrong to increase road traffic as a result of the proposed housing at this location.

No further major housing should be proposed north of this level crossing. It was raised that all emergency services were located south of the rail crossing, therefore, they too, were held up at these gates in gaining access to areas to the North, including Whitemoor Prison.

This scale of housing would also generate even more traffic going into the already congested town centre.

The proposed housing was too large in scale and would be totally out of character to the existing housing development and would extend into open countryside.

It would take up some 60 acres or high quality (Grade 2) farmland at a time when the nation should be growing more crops, not less.

Part of the allocated area lies within a flood plain

The estimated number of houses stated in the Core Strategy (450) is well under what current building rates are. Residents felt that the district council figures were misleading; a more reasonable figure would be 600-700 houses.

The loss of the well established Estover Playing Field for housing was objected to by all present. Even if an equivalent area was proposed, people saw no logic in putting this area with its mature trees and hedgerows along with its associated wildlife under “bricks and concrete”. We should find ways of retaining and improving this important open space for the residents of March.

The sewer system was at capacity and whilst it could be improved it would be largely at the cost to residents.

A number of residents stated that this large housing allocation was in conflict with a number of the aims and objectives contained within the Core Strategy. This will be reported to The Secretary of State in our submission.

There was, therefore, total opposition for this area as a housing allocation.

The second part of the meeting was given over to discussing the housing allocations for the whole town.

These were the main points raised:

That amount of housing, would almost double the existing size of the town, and bearing in mind current infrastructure problems, it was considered too great a number of houses were being proposed for the following reasons.

That degree of housing would destroy the character of the town and would turn it into a township similar to Peterborough which residents did not want.

The existing highway network within the town centre was often at “gridlock” now. Building another 4200 homes and the resulting extra traffic would be madness. Residents were aware that the recent Transport Strategy for March did not include any proposals for coping with this amount of extra traffic. There was much discussion about the various existing traffic problems within the town.

Residents were made aware that the figure of at least 4,200 houses proposed could be increased if housing proposed for Wisbech was re-directed to March. They objected to that.

Residents were also made aware that housing developments over the past 20 years or so had contributed to many of the town’s traffic problems and little infrastructure had been provided to offset these problems.

Most infrastructure, such as schools, doctors, dentists, sewage, etc. was already at full capacity. Vast amounts of additional housing would put undue pressure on these services and whilst developers could make a “contribution” to improve these services, the bulk of extra costs for improvement would ultimately fall upon residents. The current proposals are, therefore, not sustainable.

There are insufficient employment opportunities for this level of housing growth. Future residents would only have to travel out of the town, and probably out of the District, to find employment. That is not sustainable and conflicts with both local and national policies which seek to reduce carbon emissions, etc.

They considered that this high level of housing growth was in direct conflict with many of the Aims and Objectives of the Core Strategy.

There was, therefore, total opposition of the proposed growth of at least 4200 houses for the town. Residents did however, agree that some housing growth was needed but it had to be within the reasonable infrastructure capabilities of the town, its environment and with the agreement of the majority of residents.

If there is one thing the Fenland District Council should learn from this meeting, is that you must consult properly with people, and inform them of these major proposals and their implications.

Asking residents to read rather complicated documents online or at various locations, with limited awareness that this important document was available, is just not acceptable. Remember, residents are the biggest stakeholders in the future growth of the town.