Fenland councillors REJECT St John’s College bid to build 95 homes at Estover, March: officers’ recommendation to approve dismissed.

Estover playing field

Estover playing field - Credit: Archant

The battle for Estover is heading back to committee next week as March Town Council will fight to stop 95 homes being built there.

Councillors sent one of Cambridge’s wealthiest colleges packing today when the district council planning committee scuppered plans for 95 homes.

St John’s College owns land in March and wanted to build the houses on a site at Estover but despite an approval recommendation from officers, the planning committee refused it.

Almost 50 members of the public packed into Fenland Hall to hear council planning officers claim that highways issues, drainage, flood risk, and the impact of the development “would not lead to any unacceptable harm being evident”.

The 14 acre site on the outskirts of the town has been argued about for years and an application earlier this year had to be postponed following arguments over what S106 (community benefit) fees would be paid.

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But with growing opposition locally from councillors and from March Town Council, the district council planning committee accepted the argument that the scheme was not sustainable. Only six affordable homes were proposed in the application compared to 24 in the original application.

Just a handful of councillors on the committee backed the officers’ recommendation.

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Halted in its tracks in February by the application by St John’s College, Cambridge, faced a stormy a stormy battle, headed by a group of March councillors.

March Town Council says it “strongly recommends refusal” on traffic and access grounds and particularly because of delays likely to be exacerbated for road users at the level crossing gates at the station.

“Insufficient attention seems to have been paid to the flood risk /drainage situation,” says the town council.

And the town council was also furious that affordable housing was not in the application on viability grounds “when the applicant is also the landowner; how can it be suggested that the recommended level of affordable housing cannot be achieved?”

The council says: “This is an absolute disgrace because it means the applicant / landowner is using an inflated land value to substantiate the abdication of responsibilities.”

It also said the application goes against the March Town Council Neighbourhood Plan which was adopted last November.

Councillor Jan French opposed the application claiming it should have gone out again to public consultation.

Councillor Stephen Court, though not able to take part in the planning committee debate because he had already spoken at a town council meeting about the issue, wrote in to say it was overdevelopment. He also claimed it had flooding concerns, local services couldn’t cope with the extra housing, schools were unable to cope, it was not compliant with policy, and was out of keeping with the area.

“The view of March Town Council is in line with the 266 objectors in that there is insufficient infrastructure in place. “

Officers assured the committee the application was” acceptable in principle”.

“With regard to detailed considerations (such as highway matters; drainage/flood risk; amenity impacts and the impact upon the character and appearance of the area) the development would not lead to any unacceptable harm being evident.”

And they claim a viability exercise that ruled out affordable housing was acceptable because of the benefits the extra housing will bring.

Cllr French said after the meeting: “I am absolutely delighted. I have never had so many hugs and kisses from local residents.”

She added: “What I liked about the meeting was that nearly everyone who turned up to oppose it was from Estover itself. It just goes to show the scale and extent of the opposition.”

Cllr French said the applicant’s agents didn’t seem happy at the outcome.

“I have been on the council for 19 years and it was the first time someone from Middle Level had come to a meeting and spoke against an aplication.”

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