They think it's hall over
JOHN Prescott has vetoed a homes for hall" plan for Christchurch that would have allowed nine homes in the green belt in return for £30,000 towards a new village hall. The decision by the Deputy Prime Minister to overturn permission granted by Fenland D
JOHN Prescott has vetoed a "homes for hall" plan for Christchurch that would have allowed nine homes in the green belt in return for £30,000 towards a new village hall. The decision by the Deputy Prime Minister to overturn permission granted by Fenland District Council has sent shock waves through the village."It's bloody disgusting," said Wolsey Rolfe, chairman of the hall committee. "The new hall looked to be all set and delivered but now we're back to square one."The hall needs a new roof and needs new disabled facilities, and there are no grants available for these. We could have got grants for a new hall, however, but now that seems unlikely."The proposal by farmer Wesley Poole would have allowed him to build nine luxury homes in Green Lane in return for providing some additional land near the village hall for parking and a £30,000 donation towards the new hall.Fenland planners approved the application in the summer of 2004 but, following a public outcry, Mr Prescott's department decided to call it in and last autumn held a public inquiry.That inquiry has now concluded that there are "defects" in trying to link new homes with the village hall, especially as the houses would be built outside the village development area.A Government inspector ruled against the scheme and Mr Prescott has backed his decision, claiming that no financial evidence has been put forward to justify the scale of the housing proposal in relation to the costs involved in replacing or refurbishing the hall."Nor do any alternative solutions appear to have been explored," he said.The inspector summarised comments made at the public inquiry, and noted that Mr Poole was a "third-generation Christchurch man who is a committed member of the community, and his family has supported the hall over the years".He added: "The proposal was based on considerable pre-application discussion and negotiation with the council and received full public scrutiny."He also took note of Fenland council's statement that the "decision to call in the application was flawed and is not understood".That statement also claimed the decision had no strategic importance, but it had community life-changing importance to Christchurch.The council had argued that the call-in had caused delay, distress and a lost window of opportunity, adding that "a refusal would reinforce an impression of a gulf between those who do and those who do no understand the realities of life in remote areas".However, the inspector argued that during the "evolution of the hall/housing package, other options for provision of the hall have not been explored, and there has been a reluctance to incur expenditure on the existing building".He was not convinced of the lack of alternatives and said the evidence demonstrated that no alternatives to the current proposal existed or that closure of the hall was imminent.He added: "In spite of the obvious benefits of the hall replacement, and the local support for this, it does not override the conflict with the development plan and Government advice."Members of Christchurch Parish Council were given details of the appeal findings when they met on Monday at the village hall.Parish clerk Barbara Kingham said there was unlikely to be any appeal against the decision,"We have to accept we have not got our new hall," she said. "Green Lane residents have won. It is a terrible loss.