There was jubilation at Fenland Hall on yesterday (Thursday) afternoon when councillors took the unusual step of over-turning a previous decision and wiped the allocation of land including Estover Playing fields in March for housing off its proposed Core Strategy document.
The decision, which was not quite unanimously supported (Cllr Kit Owen abstained from voting), comes almost five months after the same councillors voted in favour of allocating 80 plus acres of land to the North of March off Elm Road and Estover Road for development of up to 450 homes.
Triumphant protestors who attended the meeting in force were delighted with the outcome, albeit in the 11th hour, before the document was due to go to the secretary of state for approval.
Thursday afternoon’s extraordinary meeting of the full council came after Leader Alan Melton made a seemingly unilateral decision to review the Core Strategy - which is essentially the council’s blue-print for development of Fenland over the next 20 years - back in March.
He told the meeting his decision to raise a motion to overturn part of the Core Strategy had been discussed with officers and fellow cabinet members prior to being made public. At the time he said he believed councillors were wrong to include the North East allocation in the policy document and claimed he had listened to wide-spread public opposition to its inclusion.
Some 700 residents signed a petition and submitted individual letters of opposition prior to the January council meeting when the Core Strategy was initially approved without any hesitation.
Developer John Maxey, speaking for land owners and developers in the area, questioned why the council had chosen to revisit just one aspect of the Core Strategy when there had been opposition to other parts of the document and he accused members of showing ‘favouritism’ to one lot of protestors.
He urged the council to either leave the document as it was or to look at the whole thing again before making a decision. Mr Maxey also questioned how the 400 plus new homes deficit caused by the deletion of the North East of March land allocation was going to be met.
He said so-called windfall sites - small pockets of land - would not ‘appear by magic’ particularly in the current economic climate.
Mr Maxey also claimed the council’s corporate director had given assurances that there would be no changes to the Core Strategy only 24 hours before Mr Melton made his announcement calling for the deletion of the Estover land.
Mr Melton replied by insisting there was more than enough land available in other areas of March covered by the Core Strategy and also pointed out it was members, and members only who made decisions, not officers.
Trevor Watson, speaking on behalf of opponents to the North East allocation asked: “Why did the District Council allocate 80 acres of prime quality farmland and a well established playing field when there were so many sound planning reasons why this area was not suitable for housing development? We consider the District Council did not take proper account of the traffic issues and other problems in the North East of the town.”
And he concluded: “There are many other constraints to developing this area of the town, and we, therefore, support the motion to delete the North East allocation from the Core Strategy.”
Mr Melton’s motion, which was signed by all the March councillors, was passed without much further discussion with everyone welcoming the move.
The amended part of the Core Strategy will go out to public consultation towards the end of June and will run for six weeks.
Once that is completed, the full strategy will be submitted to the Government and examined by an independent inspector.
The changes mean that the projected date for adoption of the strategy will now be around April 2014.