I Want Ely To Grow Without Destroying Its Ely-ness

THE future development of Ely needs some wide-vision strategic thinking. The planning objectives set out in various official documents are mostly unexceptional, but the special case of Ely is not emphasised nearly enough. Ely is not just another small ma

THE future development of Ely needs some wide-vision strategic thinking. The planning objectives set out in various official documents are mostly unexceptional, but the special case of Ely is not emphasised nearly enough. Ely is not just another small market town in the south of the Fens: it ranks as one of the precious ecclesiastical and heritage sites of England, and should be earmarked for special planning provisions to maintain its unique nature.

Ely is what Ely is because of its cathedral, the monastery school (King's), the small market town that grew alongside, and the gentle Ouse riverside stretching through the Fens into those enormous East Anglian skyscapes. But there are factors that keep Ely small: leave out a lot of geographical history, and just compare the other nearby cathedral cities of Bury, Peterborough and Norwich. I suggest that planners concerned with Ely read Pamela Blakeman's Book of Ely, and project a time-line for Ely's future from that.

There are pressing factors that must be taken into account for Ely's future: the pressure to build more and more living-boxes in the South-East, the growth of heavy road traffic crawling through Ely's medieval streets, and the proximity of Silicon Fen (an opportunity).

Two issues warrant particular attention: Bypasses (ie reducing traffic through Ely) and growth (what kind of growth?). We have the bypass to the west, and nothing to the east. Something has to be done, but can we countenance the spoiling of the last remaining river view of Ely cathedral from the Stuntney causeway, still much as the pilgrims of old would have seen it? What is the long-term value of the aesthetics and history locked up in that view? I suggest more than the cost of a southern link road. There may be better alternatives in a cost-benefit sense.

As to growth, of course Ely should breathe, and not be preserved as a museum. The pressure for growth in the SE of England is a national problem, and Ely should take its proportionate share. But surely Ely's future is as a resort town with a world-renowned cathedral, heritage, history, river, boats, walks, peace, and providing amenities to increase the 200,000+ visitor/pilgrims that the cathedral already attracts each year. There is growth and good commerce to be had in the resort trade. If there have to be dormitories let them not overload the old town: they should be apart but amenable in character and with their own essential infrastructure.

Strange things can happen if sufficient public pressure is found to keep planner/developer blight at bay. But the pressure must be consensual, informed and focussed on Ely city as whole. Old Ely can claim to be a major English asset, it is our responsibility to make sure that planning deals with Ely at that strategic level.

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I am not an antiquarian. I am an engineer-scientist who has been at the front-end of large systems. I chose Ely, in preference to many rival places, and - although a relative newcomer - I love the place. I want Ely to grow without destroying its Ely-ness, but I am worried about that.)

Philip M'Pherson

Cardinals Way

Ely

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