New status may preserve local village

AS the Government puts mounting pressure on Cambridgeshire to build thousands of new homes, villagers are becoming increasingly worried that their rural tranquillity will be buried under mountains of concrete. They fear houses are being squeezed into ever

AS the Government puts mounting pressure on Cambridgeshire to build thousands of new homes, villagers are becoming increasingly worried that their rural tranquillity will be buried under mountains of concrete.

They fear houses are being squeezed into every available piece of open space and their cries of objection are rarely being heard.

Now, desperate to protect their villages' history and charm, they are looking at Conservation Area status as a way of keeping some control over a lifestyle they are determined not to lose.

But some have discovered that, when they get their village designated for protection, promises made along the way are not always fulfilled.

LESLEY INNES looks at the fight to preserve East Cambridgeshire's heritage and leave its countryside unspoilt for future generations.

COVENEY parish has around 150 houses - some steeped in history and charm - and wonderful views of Ely Cathedral.

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Its rural tranquillity and unspoilt countryside make it a quiet and attractive place to live.

But the parish is changing. Land, which was once garden or open field, is under threat from the developers as the pressure is on to build new homes.

Now Coveney's seven parish councillors are anxious to protect their parish and keep control of how it is developed in the future.

They are considering applying for Conservation Area status which would impose tighter planning controls and allow them to preserve and enhance the area's character.

"We don't want to lose what we've got," said Coveney Parish Council chairman, Margaret Duffield. "Coveney is unique in some respects and we don't want to lose it for future generations. We have just been making a parish plan and we put out a lot of questionnaires. Everybody said they liked where they lived and they didn't want to see it change."

Recently the go-ahead was given for four new homes to be built on a site where there was just one previously, despite objections from the parish council and a petition from villagers.

Another plan is now on the table for a new home in the parish which villagers fear is so large it resembles Southfork - the famous Dallas ranch in the American television show.

"We fear this is just the tip of the iceberg," added Mrs Duffield. "We moved here because it was a quiet, rural parish. But sometimes we feel that we are a lone voice.

"We are starting to explore the possibility of Conservation Area status and Quality Status for the parish council which would give us a bit more power to get a bit more money for the parish."

Coveney has a precept of around £4,000 and councillors often don't have enough money in the budget to provide necessary facilities such as street lighting.

Achieving Quality Status would show their local community that they are performing above national minimum standards and put them in a better position to influence the decision-making process and allow them to take on additional responsibilities from the district council if they choose.

In the 1990s, Ashfield village, close to Newmarket, was given information about the benefits of applying for Conservation Area status.

One of the main advantages which appealed to parish councillors was the promise that cash would be available to bury the village's unsightly overhead power cables underground.

They were enthusiastic, believing this would improve the look of the village and they pushed ahead.

But it soon became apparent that some villagers were unhappy, fearing Conservation Area status would bring too many restrictions.

Public meetings and a petition followed and the idea lay dormant for around seven years until, in January, the centre of Ashfield was designated a Conservation Area against the wishes of some of its residents.

Now around 100 homes are affected by tougher planning guidelines and the need to seek permission to carry out certain work.

Ashfield Parish Council chairman, Cath Gifkins, said: "There was very diverse opinion. Some felt the constraints would be too much and there were some reservations among the parish councillors.

"The people who would be bound by the rules and regulations felt that some of them were quite petty. They felt we had managed the village all right up to now. But you can't legislate for people moving into properties in the future.

"We held a display in the village to allay any fears from the minority who felt they would be hung, drawn and quartered for doing anything to their properties.

"I think from a personal point of view, the Conservation Area status will be good for the village, but you are not going to please everybody."

When the village received its new status, residents discovered there was no money for changing the overhead power cables and cash which could be provided to such designated areas was unlikely to be available for at least another year.

But supporters of the new status believe ultimately it will prevent people from abusing the planning regulations and could lead to a rise in property prices.


Does Conservation Area Status offer residents protection or hamper development? Write to: The Ely Standard, 38 Market Street, Ely, Cambs, CB7 4LS or

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# THE first Conservation Areas were created in 1967 and there are now 8,000 areas with the status in England.

# Conservation Areas - from historic town centres to industrial areas and rural villages.

# Local authorities were given powers to designate Conservation Areas under the Civic Amenities Act.

# The status is given to "areas of special architectural or historic interest, the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance".

# Designation gives control over demolition of buildings and changes requiring planning consent include cladding a building, inserting dormer windows and putting up a satellite dish visible from the street.

# Anyone proposing to cut down, top or lop a tree has to give notice to the council.