‘Ransom strip’ threat to Sainsbury’s by Whittlesey Charity but Friends of Country Park appeal to their ‘better nature’ for good of the town

Proposed store for Sainsbury's in Whittlesey

Proposed store for Sainsbury's in Whittlesey - Credit: Archant

Trustees of Whittlesey Charity – which owns 200 acres of land and with investments is worth £1.9 million- has been accused of jeopardising Sainsbury’s new store and country park.

The charity believes the verge of Half Acre Drove that is owned by them, does not have a public right of way, and constitutes what they insist is a ‘ransom strip’ standing in the path of the store and country park development.

“Any developer wishing to gain access into the proposed country park will have to negotiate terms for our agreement,” says Whittlesey Charity clerk Phil Gray.

His comments were made to Fenland Council in response to Sainsbury’s revised application and came after he disclosed they had received a “substantial offer from someone who wishes to purchase part of Half-Acre Drove”.

But the Friends of Whittlesey Country Park – which will be given 60 acres of land in Eastrea Road once Sainsbury’s finalise their build plans- appealed to the trustees to remove their objections to the proposed development.

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They have appealed to Whittlesey Charity – whose trustees include former Peterborough coroner Gordon Ryall, Fenland councillor Ralph Butcher and the Rev Nigel Whitehouse- to withdraw any objection.

In an open letter to the trustees, they said they appeal “to your better nature in regard to Half Acre Drove”.

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Their letter also says that “seemingly holding the developer to ransom and jeopardising this fantastic project surely must not be for the good of Whittlesey?”

The Friends accept the trustees must operate within Charity Commission guidelines but point out in 2013 they transferred a small part of a drove to a farmer for free.

“In this not something that you would consider doing for the Whittlesey Country Park?” says the letter. “This would benefit Whittlesey forever.”

Mr Gray says he has had sight of “written counsel’s opinion” stating that there was no effective public right of way across a strip of land they owned.

He has not revealed further details of the counsel’s opinion but it is thought to have come from a legal adviser to a rival developer keen to prevent the Sainsbury store from going ahead.

However Whittlesey Charity may find it has a legal battle of its own in halting access since the right to cross the strip in question was accepted in the previous application by Sainsbury’s.

It was also confirmed in a judicial review carried out by a High Court judge after Harrier Developments tried to block the Sainsbury’s scheme in favour of their own adjoining proposals which might have seen Tesco build a new store at Eastrea.

Tesco has since categorically ruled out any move to Whittlesey – confirming their decision in recent talks with Fenland Council.

In their latest publicly available accounts, Gordon Lyall, chairman of the charity trustees, said: “We continue to be satisfied that we have carried out our responsibilities and obligations to the wide cross-section of people and organisations within our area of benefit.”

In 2013 the charity made grants of £43,000 which included £28,000 to three churches, £4,000 to school projects, £4,000 to young people’s activities, £1,500 to fund the museum curator’s pay, £1,000 to Hospital at Home and a £1,000 contribution towards the town’s Christmas Lights.

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