Vote as close as you can get on controversial city centre homes plan
PUBLISHED: 20:09 07 November 2020 | UPDATED: 20:09 07 November 2020
The deputy leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council abstained on a key vote by the planning committee that narrowly approved a controversial re-development for housing of the former Paradise Pool, Ely.
The site is owned by the district council and its arm’s length East Cambs Trading Company put forward the 13-home application.
It attracted widespread opposition – including that of the City of Ely Council – but won approval with five councillors voting in favour, four against and Cllr Josh Schumann, the deputy leader, abstaining.
Those voting in favour were committee chairperson Bill Hunt, planning committee deputy chairperson Lisa Stubbs, Cllr Christine Ambrose-Smith, Cllr Julia Huffer and Cllr Gareth Wilson.
Those against were Cllr Matt Downey, Cllr Sue Austen, Cllr Alec Jones, and Cllr John Trapp.
An officer’s report acknowledged that ownership of the area is complex with the car park and Paradise Pool being owned by the district council.
The Paradise Sports Centre and Paradise Fields are also owned by the council but subject to a lease to the Sports Trust until 2085.
“The bowls club is privately owned and is in active use and therefore it is not clear when they would become available for development,” said the report.
Because various parts of the area are under third party control, it was not possible to bring forward a much bigger housing led/mixed use development that was once envisaged.
East Cambs Trading will build a mix of flats and houses with four one-bedroom flats becoming part of the £100,000 home scheme put forward by Mayor James Palmer.
The debate included objections raised by the City of Ely Council.
City councillor Mike Rouse said that despite the best efforts of architects, the scheme appeared “contrived and cramped”.
He said it was wrong to put housing on the site and would adversely affect existing children’s play area and once they move there, new residents will inevitably complain.
Cllr Rouse said the district council should have consulted with the city council, not simply put forward a housing scheme without discussion.
“Personally, I know of no one in favour,” he said. For the district council it was a one-off sale but for Ely it did nothing for the economy or welfare of the community.
Cllr Rouse said it was like “selling a piece of the family silver” and once done was too late for a change of mind.
Simply to gain “a few affordable homes” was, he said, “too high a price to pay for committing this site to residential use without an overall plan”.
He said: “if you approve this you will be making one of those huge mistakes that will be brought up time and time again; the public always remembers the mistakes we make not the things we get right.
“Please keep your options open and not settle for short term gains for a developer that happens to be the trading arm of the same council.”
The committee was told that the four £100,000 homes offered an affordable housing contribution significantly larger than the 20 per cent that might have been expected. Each one-bedroom flat would be discounted significantly from the market rate of around £170,000 to £180,000.
Cllr Jones felt other options needed to be explored more whilst Cllr Trapp felt the £100,000 homes deal was a “sweetener” to win approval.
Cllr Schumann described himself as in “two minds” recognising that the committee had always tried to take note of what parish councils felt.
He also felt the principle of development enhancing a conservation area needed to be considered: in this instance the committee had simply been told there were “no adverse heritage impacts”. Cllr Stubbs felt the proposals provided “a fantastic opportunity to allow people to live in our fantastic city centre”.
Cllr Ambrose-Smith thought it had been designed to allow people to know their neighbours and with a “nice communal area and a pleasure to live there”.
Cllr Huffer said she was sorry if the City of Ely Council did not like the scheme but they were blessed in Ely with leisure facilities.
In the south of the district where she lived it was not so “and I will be supporting this scheme”.
City of Ely Bowls Club also complained, noting that recreational areas in Ely are limited already and the land would be put to far better use.
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