Jubilation as people power wins the day and sees plans for 95 off Estover Road in March refused
Cheers filled the council chamber at Fenland Hall this afternoon (Wednesday) as 'people power' and a 'bit of common sense' saw controversial proposals to build 95 homes in March rejected.
Well over 50 members of the public filled the chamber to hear the debate on St John's College's plans for the houses on land north of 75 to 127 Estover Road.
The application, which was recommended for approval by officers, had seen a groundswell of public opposition as well as individual objections from three March town councillors, and the town council itself.
But it was the unusual step by the Middle Level Drainage Board to speak out that played a key role in persuading members of Fenland's planning committee to vote against the plans.
It was a close run vote which saw Councillor Dee Laws' proposal seconded by Councillor Maureen Davies to refuse the application win the day by just one vote.
The vote followed nearly an hour long debate of the plans which had prompted 269 letters of objection from the public.
Graham Moore, planning engineer from the Middle Level, was among the speakers.
He highlighted the boards' concerns over the disposal of surface water and afterwards admitted it was the first time in his 30 years with the board that he has seen them take such a strong stand against a planning application.
Liz Whitehouse spoke on behalf of the local objectors and pointed out the application went against the town's neighbourhood plan, which was only adopted in November last year.
She also pointed out worries over flooding generated by the proposed developement, which would see the new houses built nearly 2m higher than the neighbouring homes.
Mrs Whitehouse said: "The applicant's own flood risk assessment states – 'As the site lies within a pumped catchment there is a chance that the drainage ditches could overtop in the event of a pump failure. As with surface water overspilling during larger rainfall events, any such flows would tend to flow towards the lower land to the south-east of the site rather than pooling within its boundaries'."
Councillor Jan French, who is not on the planning committee, was also allowed to speak on behalf of town councillors opposed to the plans and she also pointed out the application ignored the town's neighbourhood plan and also went against the principle of 'localism'.
Middle Level Commissioners are not a statutory consultee in planning matters and Fenland's head of planning Nick Harding pointed out that the statutory bodies - Anglian Water and the Environment Agency - had not raised objections.
A point picked up by Councillor Will Sutton, who was the only person other than Roseanna Metcalf, who represented the applicants, to speak in favour.
He said: "The local flood authority says its OK, who are we to question them?"
But Councillor Sarah Bligh said: "I am really struggling with this. We have heard national policies this and national policies that, but this is Fenland, we rely on drains and dykes, without them we would be 6ft under water. If we have the local drainage board saying there's a problem with the drainage it worries me."
Her sentiments were echoed by Councillor Florence Newell who said: "Middle Level have expressed severe concerns, we should respect them - I haven't heard any one contradict those concerns."
Coun Laws said: "I have great difficulties with this application. We see a wealth of objections and that's what's bothering me."
She argued it went against council's planning policy LP16 which aims to deliver and protect high quality environments across the district, which is why she proposed refusal of the application, which eventually won the day.
Afterwards Coun French, who was accompanied by Councillor Rob Skoulding, said she was "absolutely delighted" adding "common sense" had prevailed.
Coun Skoulding said: "People has won the day."
But objectors are not complacent and Mrs Whitehouse said: "We now have to prepare for the appeal."