County Council agrees to sale of historic Ely building despite reservations from its own officers

Croylands, in Ely

Croylands, in Ely - Credit: Archant

AN investigation by the Ely Standard has revealed how Cambridgeshire County Council – despite reservations from its officers- came to agree the sale of a former day centre to a retirement homes specialist.

County council chief executive Mark Lloyd said a conditional sale to McCarthy and Stone was only agreed after East Cambridgeshire planning officers indicated support for a scheme involving “significant building onto what is currently the large rear garden”.

Mr Lloyd outlined the council’s strategy in a letter to MP Jim Paice late last year and released this week to the Ely Standard.

The letter shows the four year campaign by the county council to sell the 19th Century Croylands in Cambridge Road off a £650,000 asking price.

The county council is now locked into a binding agreement with McCarthy and Stone – providing they get planning consent for a major extension and 21 flats.

Hundreds of protests have since been lodged with East Cambs objecting to the scale and density of the proposed development.

“County council officers had reservations about the offer which was conditional on planning permission,” said Mr Lloyd.

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“McCarthy and Stone were therefore requested to hold a pre-planning application meeting with East Cambridgeshire District Council to see if the principle of the development was acceptable in planning terms before the county council accepted.”

Mr Lloyd added: “It is not for the county council to give an opinion on the suitability of the proposed development - that is a matter for the district council as local planning authority.

“Although there are local concerns about this sale and the proposed use, it is fair to say that there are also expressions of interest in taking one of the units if built.”

The county council agreed to sell Croylands in May 2007 but at least two deals to buy the property fell through soon after owing to the results of surveys, which revealed potentially expensive structural problems.

In September 2011, the council once again put the building on the market which brought a host of fresh bids, including one from McCarthy and Stone.

Mr Lloyd said McCarthy and Stone was selected from among the bidders and a fixed-price contract was exchanged in August 2012 that was conditional on planning permission being gained.

The contract is binding on both parties so the county must sell at the pre-agreed price if planning permission is gained. The council has so far refused to reveal the price it has agreed with McCarthy and Stone.

Eric Godber, of Houghton Gardens, which neighbours Croylands, questioned why the county council had entered into a contract with the developer that allows them to enter planning applications while the building continues to be maintained by the public purse.

Mr Godber said: “Cambridgeshire County Council has entered into a contract with McCarthy and Stone that allows them to apply for planning permission whilst we, the taxpayer, continue to maintain the property.

“If McCarthy and Stone obtain planning permission to erect 21 flats on the site then it will be valued at much more than in its current condition and McCarthy and Stone will have made a massive planning gain.

“Would this be at the expense of the taxpayer or would the taxpayer share in this potential gain? How long will McCarthy and Stone be allowed to keep submitting their schemes or going to appeal in their attempt to overdevelop this site, six months, a year, two years?”