Moving of March Fountain on hold as councillors agree new look at proposed siting
Councillors have voted unanimously to have a rethink on controversial plans to relocate a town’s historic landmark after more than 3,500 people signed a petition.
Fenland District Council discussed the moving of the Fountain in March Broad Street at its full meeting on Monday, after Councillor Gavin Booth presented the 3,587 signature petition on behalf of campaigners angry at plans to move the landmark to a site outside Mallets jewellers – just metres from its current position.
The plans have been the subject of an intense campaign by local traders and members of the public who believe moving the Fountain outside the jewellers is the wrong the move, with the owners of Mallets arguing it will severely impact theirs and their neighbours’ businesses.
The petition stated: “As part of the March Regeneration project, Fenland District Council have approved the moving of The Fountain. The intended location is in front of Malletts, without any consultation with the proprietors or their near neighbours. It is unacceptable to place The Fountain in front of a retail unit with a shop window for display and this petition is to ask for your support with the appeal to have it at another location.”
Presenting the petition Councillor Booth said the number of signitaries could have been significantly more as hundreds of people were continuing to sign it right up until the final deadline for its presentation.
He said the original consultation on the proposal to move the Fountain. which is part of the government-funded March Future High Streets project, had not been “robust” with only 102 responses.
Coun Booth said the hope was that the council would have another look at alternative sites including the proposed open public space near the riverbank.
He said Fenland had recently purchased the nearby former Barclays Bank and it had not been determined what would be happening with that and therefore there may be an opportunity as part of that scheme to move the Fountain to that part of Broad Street.
Coun Booth said the council maybe facing reputational risk by changing its mind after a decision has been made, but he said it could face further risk to its reputation if it did not look at alternatives suggesting the council could even be seen as “arrogant” if it did not listen to the people and he urged the matter be referred back to Cabinet.
Councillor Chris Seaton, portfolio holder for transport, heritage and culture sounded a warning bell over possible implications of changing plans that have already been approved particularly over costs, trying to get renewed planning permissions including getting the backing of Heritage England who were in favour of the current proposal, but may not be happy with the Fountain being relocated so far away from its original site.
He said Octavius Infrastructure the firm appointed to carry out the Broad Street work was already on site and had made a start and said the Fountain had to be moved to accommodate the proposed mini-roundabout that will replace the current traffic lights at the top of Broad Street,
Coun Seaton also warned changes could cause delays to the delivery of the plans and could risk grant funding.
However, he agreed that the council should keep an open mind and that the matter should be referred back to cabinet so all options could be considered.
Councillor Steve Tierney added: “There is nothing worse than a council that is pigheaded,” as he backed the referral of the plans back to cabinet.
He said the council should always be listening and learning from the people and if a wrong decision has been made then it was only right it should be looked at again.
Coun Anne Hay said with so many people signing the petition it was right that it should be looked at again, however she said she did not understand what the objection to the Fountain being moved outside Mallets was actually about.
Coun Maureen Davis, who was on the planning committee that made the original decision, said members had followed the advice being given when they approved the move but said there was no reason why there “should not be a second bite of the cherry” and for it to be referred back.
Council leader Chris Boden agreed with Coun Tierney’s summation of not being “pigheaded” and said he would be keeping an open mind as the matter is referred back to the Cabinet’s meeting in September when there would be a full report on potential options whether that be a “small change, slightly larger change or a much larger change” to the relocation of the Fountain.
A vote followed the debate with all the councillors present voting unanimously for the scheme to be relooked at – a large number of members had left the council chamber before the debate for legal reasons – most being on the planning committee.