Crunch day for Core Strategy debate

March Core Strategy
March Core Strategy

Fenland’s controversial Core Strategy document is up for discussion tomorrow (Thursday) when members will be asked to back an amendment put by Leader Alan Melton to withdraw around 80 acres of land in the north of March currently included for development.

The allocation of the land, which includes Estover Playing Fields, caused a massive groundswell of opposition from residents concerned the town’s infra-structure would be unable to cope with the 450 new homes proposed for the area in the Core Strategy, which is essentially the blueprint for the growth of Fenland over the next 20 years.

Despite a petition signed by 645 residents and 80 individual representations objecting to the inclusion of the land off Estover Road the full council approved the Core Strategy in January, ready for it to be submitted for government approval.

But in a dramatic U-turn more than two months later Mr Melton questioned whether the council had made the right decision in promoting development of that part of March and said he would be asking the cabinet and full council to debate the issue again.

That debate is set for tomorrow afternoon thanks to a motion brought by Mr Melton, signed by 10 of his fellow councillors, enabling the council to re-look at a matter it has already agreed on.

At the time of his announcement Mr Melton said he always tried to listen to the concerns of local people but admitted his decision was late in the day, bearing in mind the Core Strategy was approved on January 24, when none of the ruling Conservative councillors voted against it and only one spoke out against it before voting in favour of the document.

Two opposition members did vote against it, but basically the document was passed without too much dissension.

Campaigners were delighted with Mr Melton’s U-turn over the Estover Road/Elm Road land, but are still deeply concerned about the town’s infrastructure and its ability to cope with the 4,200 new homes proposed for March over the next 20 years.

If tomorrow councillors back the motion and delete the North East land allocation from the Core Strategy then the new houses lost as a result will be allocated to other areas in the town already earmarked in the document for future development.

Residents will be asked to comment on the amended Core Strategy if the deletion goes ahead and councillors are warned in a report to tomorrow’s meeting such a decision will delay adoption of the Core Strategy by at least four months - from December 2013 to April 2014.

It will also delay other planning policy such as an update of wind turbines policy, and the council will also face cost implications such as printing, advertising and postage as a result.

If members vote against the amendment then the Core Strategy will remain as it was approved back in January, but objectors will still have an opportunity to put their case to the government when it is submitted for its approval. The same applies if the change goes ahead, people wanting the Estover Road land to remain in the document will be able to have their say to the government, before the Core Strategy is finally given the go-ahead.