Councillors shrug off threat of legal action to approve new retail and leisure park plans
08:29 03 July 2014
Councillors voted unanimously to back plans for the Octagon Park retail and industrial development in Ely, despite the threat of legal action if they did so.
The threat of legal action came from backers of a rival scheme who wanted to see an out-of-town Tesco superstore and retail park built instead at Downham Road, to the north of the city.
Cambridge Property Group wanted the Octagon Park approval held back until their scheme was finalised, with East Cambridgeshire District Council’s planning committee then deciding between both.
But, despite sending a representative to put its case to councillors at last Wednesday’s planning committee, the group’s legal threat was shrugged off and the Octagon Park plans passed unanimously.
The late challenge and legal threat issued by the Isle of Man-registered Cambridge Property Group – run by Fenland businessman Richard Sears – argued that the basis for approving the Octagon scheme was flawed.
Luke Raistrick, of the company’s planning consultants Martin Robeson Planning Practice, said: “There is a very significant risk arising ... of my client being able to take appropriate legal action to review a decision that grants planning permission.”
A bundle of letters and correspondence sent to councillors – and obtained by the Ely Standard – alleged a series of “fundamental legal and procedural flaws” and urged councillors to defer their decision at the 11th hour until Cambridge Property Group’s plans had been put before them.
Cambridge Property Group outlined to councillors a substantial financial offer it made to East Cambridgeshire District Council in March to buy the Downham Road site.
The group said it offered £3million to buy the land, £500,000 of which was to be paid upon receipt of planning permission, a further £2.288million in community infrastructure levy payments and an additional £75,000 every time a new business moved into the development.
The group also claimed it offered the council the right to veto the brands moving on to the business park and promised to relocate every sports club using the Downham Road site to new premises. These include Ely City Football Club and Ely Outdoor Sports Association, home of Ely Tigers Rugby Club and the city’s hockey and tennis clubs.
In all, the group claimed its deal was worth £5,738,000 to taxpayers compared, it said, to £2million from the Healy development.
Ahead of the meeting, Healy Investments said the ink was all but dry on an agreement with the council that will see the public purse boosted by more than £2million.
In November, Healy was granted planning permission, in principle, to build a new Tesco superstore in Angel Drove, a few hundreds yards along the A142 from its current site.
The scheme will include a hotel, a restaurant, a petrol station, seven retail units including a DIY store, and an office.
At the time, Matthew Chandler, of Healy Investments, said: “I can’t really comment on this other application in Downham Road.
“I don’t think the site has been allocated for retail and Tesco has made it clear that it isn’t interested in it. It seems like a non-starter to me.”