A decision on controversial plans for 95 homes on land adjoining Estover Playing Field in March has been deferred after questions were raised by councillors over reports attached to the application.
The proposal by St John’s College, Cambridge, was due to go to committee this afternoon (Wednesday) with Fenland’s planning officers recommending approval, despite a swathe of opposition from local residents and the town council.
Garth Hanlon, planning director at Savills acting for St John’s College, confirmed late yesterday they would reluctantly agree to a deferral.
He told planning officer Alison Callaby in an email: “It is obviously disappointing that we have had to take this decision, particularly in the light of the committee item and the recommendation of approval from your officers.
“In agreeing to the withdrawal of the item from the agenda and its deferral to another meeting, we would seek a clear response from you as to what issues you consider are needing to be the subject of further consideration by ourselves as the applicant. You will understand that this application has been lodged for a considerable amount of time and has been the subject of considerable time and expense from the client’s perspective.
“It is imperative that this item is brought back to committee as soon as possible in the light of any work that is needing to be undertaken by the applicant. We would certainly hope that in the circumstances where any of the technical information continues to demonstrate that there is no significant impact as a result of the development, then we would certainly expect a continued recommendation of approval from officers.”
Many of the reports attached to the proposal date back to 2015 when the original planning application was submitted including comments from NHS England, which stated the local GP practices had capacity and therefore there was no need for the developer to make a contribution for health services.
However, on Monday they changed their mind and said the situation had altered since they were last consulted and they would now require just under £35,000
Sophie Emerson, from NHS England, wrote in an email marked ‘high importance’: “I can confirm that the situation is different now in March compared to 2015. If this planning application has not yet been determined, then mitigation should be secured to increase capacity at Mercheford House Surgery in the form of a capital contribution of £34,546 through the S106 agreement.”
Among those seeking a deferral was ward councillor and Fenland’s portfolio holder for health Mike Cornwall and Councillor Jan French.
Coun Cornwall was particularly upset about the low number of affordable homes included in the application because it would not be “viable” if the full 25 per cent quota was included.
He told officers: “As portfolio holder I would strongly argue that non‐delivery of the policy requirements for affordable homes is a direct affront to our policy. The very low number of affordable homes on offer for such a large development is pathetic, shows a complete lack of social responsibility by the applicant and delivers nothing of value for community equality or cohesion.”
He concluded: “I genuinely believe that the 2015 information needs updating and evaluation re‐visited to ensure it meets ALL our current policies. This is a considerable application which I believe requires more detailed subject evaluation. I am not against the principle of mitigated development in this location as housing is needed in its many forms but I consider that there are a large number of unanswered questions and grey areas which need further consideration. On this basis I would ask that consideration of this application be deferred.”
Coun French was equally frustrated at the application being recommended for approval and accused the developer of “abuse” of a recent planning inspector’s decision that Fenland lacked the government’s requirement of five years land supply for housing.
She said: “I question why this application after being validated almost two and a half years ago is now being pushed forward without further consultation to the local community.
“Most of the reports are out of date as they were carried out in 2015. The lack of the five year land supply is being abused by this application. This application also goes against March Town Council Neighbourhood Plan that is only three months old and supersedes Fenland’s local plan that is well out of date. This application should be deferred until all outstanding questions are answered.”
March Town Council echoed the call for deferment with clerk Clive Lemmon listing a host of concerns in an email to planning officers including the out of date traffic flow report, lack of attention to flood risk, lack of affordable homes and the fact the application goes against March Neighbourhood Plan.