Masterplan is Boring but Informative

I THOUGHT I really ought to look at the Masterplan to see if I could sort out all the conflicting claims being made on your Letters page. I got the leaflet from the library but decided to get the full document from the district council offices. A rather b

I THOUGHT I really ought to look at the Masterplan to see if I could sort out all the conflicting claims being made on your Letters page. I got the leaflet from the library but decided to get the full document from the district council offices. A rather boring document, but informative nevertheless.

So what is it all about? The proposal is to increase the population of Ely from 18,000 to 26,000 over the next 20 years (about 3000 new houses if the average occupancy is 2.5 people per house, more if we attract above average numbers of retired people). By having a pre defined plan we can ensure that we get the sort of development we want, where we want it.

The rationale is that more people would lead to better local services and attract more and more varied shops, thus saving residents from having to go elsewhere to shop. To facilitate this, the area of the town centre would be enlarged, up to the site of the leisure centre and swimming pool.

Is there an alternative? Apparently there is an existing Local Development Framework which envisages an additional 1700 houses in the next 12 years. Although I haven't seen this Framework, letters to the papers suggest that development will be contained mainly on brownfield sites, which must mean a more concentrated, crowded city. Interestingly, 1700 in 12 years is almost exactly the same annual growth as the Masterplan's 3000 in 20 years. Perhaps the two plans are not incompatible, it depends what the Framework would imply for the following eight years. Either way it looks as if we are going to get 150 new houses a year for the foreseeable future.

So, as far as I can judge, the difference is either to have a plan for the future layout of the city or resign ourselves to planning applications for DIY barns, new supermarkets, etc. where ever they can find a site which, without a plan, will be difficult to reject no matter how unsuitable the location. Even if the southern link road remains unfunded, it does not really undermine the arguments for the Masterplan and the various development zones, it just means some of the proposals will not be realised in full until, maybe, a government which values the counties a little more is in power.

So what about the consultation? One cannot help wondering why the documents are so secretive about who the 'stakeholders' involved in the "visioning conference" were. Apparently, there were 77 delegates drawn from the different stakeholders, it would have been helpful to know what groups were, and were not, considered to be stakeholders. In reality it probably does not matter as from the report the conference sounds as if it was 'facilitated' so they would have been steered to reach the required outcome. This closed approach is repeated in the questionnaire. Who could disagree with a greater range of leisure and employment opportunities or providing a balance between housing and job growth? And so it goes on with hardly a question with which a normal person could disagree. This is very unfortunate as it means that the consultation process will be quite meaningless and any decisions, taken as a result, invalid.

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Of course, there will be various parts of the Masterplan that different individuals will dislike; personally I think it is crazy to place the sports centre and swimming pool on the other side of the A10, virtually everyone will have to drive there, why not on the Lynn Road perhaps near the City of Ely Garage, at least that would be fairly central for the new enlarged Ely. Nevertheless, overall, I find myself supporting this proposed Masterplan which has surprised me as, when I started, I thought that I would end up opposing it. I would urge everyone to make their views known to the district council. If you do decide to respond to the consultation and questionnaire, whatever your views, do make sure that you tell them exactly what you think, don't just tick the boxes, this is your chance to affect the final proposals. This phase of the consultation ends on May 30 so do it now.

If we oppose new settlements like Mereham then it is probably right and preferable to accept expansion of existing towns and villages as people have to live somewhere. The Government will set targets for districts anyway and such expansion will help to retain local services such as shops, post offices and schools. It always seems sad to me that developers insist on building the three to four bedroom, detached, 'young executives' type of development. Where ever one goes this is what is being built, maybe what is also needed in most communities is housing for young families, dare I suggest, conventional well built three bedroom small terrace houses with reasonable sized gardens, but I don't suppose there is a profit in that.