Bypass plans slammed by English Heritage

ENGLISH Heritage has criticised the handling of Ely’s bypass project, raising concerns that the historic setting of the city’s cathedral has not been given proper consideration.

The organisation, which is the main advisor to the government on heritage matters, has expressed worries over how the project has so far been dealt with by Cambridgeshire County Council’s ruling Conservative group.

It attacked the lack of information accompanying the public consultation, lack of analysis to support decision making and the infrequent consultation with English Heritage.

The charity’s East of England planning director, Greg Luton warned: “If this is to continue, there is a strong likelihood that any inspector examining the proposal would consider the historic environment has been given inadequate consideration in the process.”

English Heritage’s concerns were brought to light as Cambridgeshire Liberal Democrats called in the council cabinet’s decision to press ahead with the multi million pound bypass plan.

The decision was challenged by the Lib Dems at Thursday’s meeting of the county council’s Enterprise, Growth and Community Infrastructure Overview and Scrutiny Committee but their calls for the project to be taken back to the drawing board were rejected by seven votes to three.

Councillor Nigel Bell, who represents Ely North and East on the county council, said:

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“Clearly, the Tories have not thought this through or carried out the essential work to show how it will impact on Ely’s historic setting. This is incredibly worrying and shows a real lack of understanding of the city and its valuable heritage.”

Mr Luton’s criticism came in letters to Cambridgeshire County Council leader, Nick Clarke and East Cambridgeshire District Council leader, Peter Moakes.

He told Cllr Moakes: “The public consultation carried out in October 2011 included no assessment of impact on cultural heritage, no visualisations to understanding the impact of the proposals, no assessment of noise, no up-to-date origin/destination traffic survey and only a diagrammatic, two-dimensional map on which the consultees were expected to make their judgment.

“We also noted that after many years of relatively slow consideration, the project is now moving at a rapid pace. At some stage the scheme will be exposed to detailed public scrutiny and it will be in everyone’s interest to ensure that the preferred solution has robust data to support it.”

And he warned Cllr Clarke: “In the case of Ely and the Cathedral the topography is of great significance and their setting extends for a considerable distance over the adjacent fens, as captured in the description of the Cathedral as ‘the ship of the fens.’ While there have been changes over time to this setting, it remains a major contributor to the significance of both the historic city and the Cathedral, especially on their east, south east and southern sides. Changes to this setting therefore have the potential to harm the significance of both historic assets.”

County councillor Ian Bates, cabinet member for growth and planning, said: “We held a public consultation last autumn which invited everyone to look at the various options to resolve the years of congestion which have blighted Ely, East Cambridgeshire and the region.

“Route B – a causeway linking Ely and Stuntney over the railway tracks and the river – was supported by 81 per cent of the respondents. This option would not just alleviate traffic on the A142 in Ely, it would help regenerate the south of the city and bring real benefits to a national railway line.

“We have already engaged with English Heritage and a number of interested groups as we aim to deliver a project which our residents need and want and we will continue this dialogue in the months to come.”