Housing growth about balance
LAST month, I wrote about the importance of utilising the hundreds of empty houses in the region to ease the pressure on housing stock and reduce the need for development. I touched upon the proposed Mereham development and have since given evidence at th
LAST month, I wrote about the importance of utilising the hundreds of empty houses in the region to ease the pressure on housing stock and reduce the need for development. I touched upon the proposed Mereham development and have since given evidence at the inquiry.
I do not object to the proposal out of so-called 'nimbyism' or because I fail to appreciate that with a growing population we will need to build more houses.
Firstly, I do not believe (and nor does the local council) that East Cambridgeshire actually needs Mereham.
Secondly, I think the location is wrong. And thirdly, I could not support any proposal which so profoundly ignores local opinion.
Let me start with the question of need. East Cambridgeshire is already keeping pace with its obligations on housing and would comfortably exceed its targets for 2021 at the current rate of development (without Mereham).
Anyone driving around the area will see the evidence of this: new estates in Ely and in Soham. More planned in Ely and in Littleport, and a great deal more in the many surrounding villages.
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The second point is the location. It is accepted by everyone, except the proposers, that if Mereham went ahead the villages of Wilburton and Stretham would be eliminated. So in the creation of a new town we would lose two thriving communities, both of which have already taken new development. I find that completely unacceptable.
Then there is the linked issue of transport. The developers propose to widen the A10 some of the way to Cambridge but not to dual it, which is inadequate and dangerous if it encourages overtaking down the centre. Finally, there is the threat of increased flooding and environmental damage that the development would cause.
Countless voices have spoken out against the proposal, from the district and county councils, to transport experts and environmentalists. But what I find most objectionable about the development is that it is stone deaf to the most important voice of all - the voice of the people.
This is not a community resistant to change, far from it - the figures on housing growth speak for themselves.
This is the fastest growing part of the country which is why the South East Cambridgeshire constituency is being reduced in size at the next general election.
Only a few years ago, we had the major examination in public about a new settlement which decided on Northstowe. The county council and the various district councils accepted that. Other sites, including Mereham, were considered and rejected.
It was not expected that developers would then seek to override that decision in the way they have. This application was after all rejected by our democratically elected authorities and is opposed by thousands of local people. Their wishes must be respected if we value local democracy.
So how should we respond to the increasing need for housing? My view has always been that housing growth must be organic. By that I mean it must be in tune with the wishes of local people and consistent with the fabric of local communities.
Striking this balance is not always going to be easy but there isn't a hamlet which cannot accommodate a couple of new houses, nor a village which could not take a handful more, nor a town that is unable to absorb several more still.
The fact is there is nothing organic about Mereham. It is undemocratic and unnecessary.