Masterplan Is No More Than A Snapshot of a Town Under Pressure
THE Ely Masterplan suggests dramatic changes, but is not based on a proper, detailed urban design and conservation study of Ely as it stands. Instead, we have a snapshot of a town under government pressure to increase housing targets, a community with lim
THE Ely Masterplan suggests dramatic changes, but is not based on a proper, detailed urban design and conservation study of Ely as it stands. Instead, we have a snapshot of a town under government pressure to increase housing targets, a community with limited local employment opportunities and a centre lacking some of the retail giants present in nearby towns. Its proposal to help fund the southern link road with developers' cash from a huge housing area, could actually do permanent damage to our environment and adversely affect our wider reputation as a well-managed rural cathedral city.
An urban design and conservation study would have highlighted many vital assets, among them the prime significance and amenity value of the river. The 'ship of the fens' is so-called for its dominance over a wide, watery landscape. The river is our historic gateway and once brought everything to Ely: Etheldreda's first shrine, invading armies, royal visitors, commerce, ideas and virtually every stone and timber of the medieval cathedral. Such a study would reveal that whereas on the west side a dangerously fast bypass cuts the town off from the countryside, on the east side, the river and its unspoilt meadows are peaceful, easily reached on foot and provide wonderful distant views of the cathedral. The conservation of this asset, in all its diversity and beauty, should be a major aim of any masterplan for Ely.
Such considerations should have given the authors of the plan pause before suggesting 'star' apartment buildings overlooking railway and river (on the site of the admittedly objectionable sewage works). They should also have tempered their enthusiasm for the fabulously expensive proposed southern link road with its concrete bridges and seven-metre high embankment. This poses a major environmental problem for the southern river approach. It threatens beautiful Cawdle Fen and its fine views of the cathedral with a traffic-planning dinosaur from the pre-environmental age. There is absolutely no consideration of this conflict in the Masterplan and we are entitled to ask why.
Claims that the link road would significantly reduce traffic in the 'centre' or 'heart' of Ely have done much to secure public support are demonstrably false. There is a rare moment of clarity in the Masterplan's traffic discussion when it notes under the heading 'Access' and 'Noise': 'On the whole the town feels quiet and calm, except for the turbulence around the station and Angel Drove....'. The main problems in this area - caused by commercial traffic using the existing link with the A10 roundabout south of the town - only become serious when the crossing gates are closed in peak hours and none of this significantly affects the centre, annoying and frustrating though it is.
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I urge everyone in Ely to use a fine day to walk or ride down the long-distance cycle path on the river's east bank as far as the newly rebuilt railway bridge. Look back towards the cathedral and think about the high-level, high-speed and lorry-filled road that could fill the view. This is the twenty-first century, and the overriding need to care for the natural environment demands more imaginative solutions to transport problems.
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