Video: Citizens efforts praised in 'Say No to Mereham' Campaign

TIRELESS Say No to Mereham campaigner Bill Hunt has praised the efforts of a hardcore team of citizen campaigners and steadfast landowners for helping to bring the Mereham development to a permanent halt. One farmer who did not want to be named, put

TIRELESS 'Say No to Mereham' campaigner Bill Hunt has praised the efforts of a "hardcore" team of citizen campaigners and steadfast landowners for helping to bring the Mereham development to a permanent halt.

One farmer who did not want to be named, put his livelihood before his pocket, refusing to sell his 100-acres of farmland to the developer in 2007.

"The message to Multiplex now is: leave us alone," said Cllr Hunt, who represents Stretham on East Cambridgeshire District Council.

Cllr Hunt also heaped praise on council officers for their hard work - many of whom put in extra hours to fight the planning enquiry, but said he was outraged that people would not be reimbursed for their time or legal costs. "Say No to Mereham is down about £10,000 and the district council about £250,000," he told the Ely Standard. "With that money we could have put something back into the villages that supported the campaign, and now the council's costs will have to be met by the taxpayer. It's absolutely appalling and they [Multiplex] have been an absolute disgrace throughout."

Campaigners organised fund-raising events and dipped into their won pockets to raise the £10,000 necessary to fight the developers.

At a district council committee meeting on Monday evening, council leader, Fred Brown, asked if the council could "take the legal route" to recover their costs, only to be told that there was no right of appeal, and costs will only be granted in "exceptional circumstances."

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"Common sense has overridden greed," said Mr Brown, "but I am just a bit miffed about costs. We are a small and vulnerable local authority which had to fight a developer who didn't even have a comprehensive plan for their settlement on paper. I do feel if the government is encouraging small and vulnerable local authorities to develop a quality planning system and stand up for themselves against these greedy developers then we should have recourse to the courts."

LIBERAL Democrat councillors and husband and wife team Gareth and Pauline Wilson were put in charge of leafleting during the three-year campaign and say their efforts were dwarfed by those of ordinary residents.

"It's not about politics, it's not about the council, it's about the community who supported us, organised and kept us all from flagging. Three years is a long time to run a campaign and it is hard to keep it on the boil without immense public support," said Gareth, who is leader of the Liberal Democrats.

Jane Howell and her 90-year-old fellow resident Freda Crofts, were present at every single day of the planning enquiry and other volunteers, including Dr Alan James, were unflinching in their mobilisation of the community. Dr James and others gave up their Saturdays to man a stall on Ely Market - helping the number of petition signatures to hit the 10,000 mark in July. Hundreds of people bought T-shirts and placards, some suppliers producing them at lower than cost price, and donating profits to the campaign.

JULIE Parr of Haddenham and Wilburton Parish Council said she had been shocked at the expense and amount of organisation involved in such a sustained campaign - auditing the petition to make sure it was taken seriously by government was just one of the major expenses, as was forking out for durable signs. "This makes up for all the rainy Saturdays we sat there on the market, explaining to people why they should care," she added.

GILES Hughes, head of planning at East Cambridgeshire District Council, was put under intense cross examination at the inquiry by the Multiplex QC, was vindicated by the final report into Mereham. "I think the decision was a very comprehensive one," he said, "the breadth of which raises the concerns we had locally. The fact that we are meeting our housing needs, concern about the deliverability of the site, transport and the effect on neighbouring villages have all been noted."

ECDC's director of development services, David Archer, said the Mereham decision was the best present he had had in 25 years working for the district council.

"All our energy and resources went into fighting Mereham - it has been exhausting, but very much a team effort," he said.

"We no longer have that threat hanging over us," he added, "but I will certainly be holding my breath for six weeks to see if they lodge an appeal.