Planning committee chairman will stand aside as East Cambs meet to determine its own bid for 500 homes at Kennett - a decision with massive consequences
- Credit: Terry Harris
The 11-strong planning committee of East Cambridgeshire District Council, that includes two members standing down eight days later, will decide the fate on April 24 of the hotly disputed proposal to build 500 homes at Kennett.
Ely Cathedral conference centre has been booked for the planning committee that will be asked to approve the application by the council’s own trading arm to allow the purchase and development of a new ‘garden village’ on 100 acres of farm land.
All seats on East Cambridgeshire Council are up for election on May 2 – with new ward boundaries and fewer councillors – but the decision made eight days earlier could have major ramifications whether it is rejected or approved.
Planning committee chairman Josh Schumann will step aside from the meeting and hand over to vice chairman Mike Rouse having decided with council officials that his long term support of the application would be seen as pre-determination.
However Cllr Schumann, who is also the councillor that represents Kennett, will be able to address the meeting.
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The council is focusing heavily on the sums it will make from the development to enrich the local authority for years to come and councillors will be reminded that the Kennett scheme formed part of the devolution bid for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.
However critics – who claim to represent the bulk of the tiny village – argue that reliance by the council on ‘overwhelming support’ through a community land trust is misleading and erroneous.
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What’s proposed – and officers have recommended it for approval – is up to 500 homes, five per cent of which will be self-build, and 30 per cent comprising of affordable housing, the mix to be agreed later.
The scheme, in essence, will create a new community with village square, commercial units, a new primary school and recreation grounds.
The application is being presented on behalf of East Cambs Trading Company for what they claim is “a community-led housing development supported by the Kennett Community Land Trust (KCLT)”.
However opposition from Kennett Action Group has gained momentum, particularly in recent months, culminating in over 150 protest letters from villagers being hand delivered to the council last month.
There is also opposition too from Kennett Parish Council which continues to call a halt to the scheme – ironically its chairman Robin Swanson is also chairman of the KCLT, a dual role he has managed to balance since the scheme was announced.
East Cambs Trading doesn’t intend to mess around getting the homes built either – the report to the planning committee outlines a timetable that would see half the homes built before 2024.
The site is next to Kennett Rail Station although one of the remaining snags for the council is win consent from Network Rail for a new car park.
Network Rail has a holding objection that says “until such time that the developer provides more information on the design of the proposed new car park at Kennett Station”.
In putting the applicant’s case, planning officers say they have worked to resolve a number of objections from villagers but accept “the application has still received a degree of negative attention”.
Explaining why Kennett was chosen the officers say the 100 acre site was “put forward during a ‘call for sites’ exercise which was held as part of the preliminary Draft Local Plan consultation. This emerging local plan has now been withdrawn”.
Among opponents is Newmarket Town Council which has “considerable reservations regarding the impact the development would have on the already overstretched Newmarket services and highway safety”.
Kennett Parish Council believes the site is too large and will mean the village growing by as much as 330 per cent “thus losing its identity.
“This level of growth is disproportionate and unreasonable. The B1085 carries excessive traffic due to no link road between the A11 and A14.
“The proposal would bring another 2,000 movements a day”
The parish council is also fearful of noise and disturbance and believes the volume of extra traffic makes it unsustainable.
Chippenham, Moulton and Herringswell parish councils have also lodged objections.
Councillors will hear that villagers were asked last June for their comments and again in February of this year following amendments to the scheme.
On the first consultation 71 letters were received opposing the 500 homes development – only 11 were in favour.
On the second consultation there was “a petition in the form of 145 identical letters plus three other letters objecting to the proposal”, the committee will hear.
Critics claim it is out of scale with the existing village and it was “disingenuous to call it a garden village”.
Among many other criticisms levelled by villagers was the decision, arbitrarily, by the council to re-designate Kennett from a small to medium sized village, a decision they feel that compromises their integrity.
The committee will be told that only a fifth of the village supports the CLT proposals, the infrastructure promised is undeliverable and critically East Cambs Council’s reliance on the profits from the development has created an uneven and unfair approach to decision making.,
“Villagers feel ignored by East Cambridgeshire District Council and by the Community Land Trust,” the committee will be told.
Summarising the views of supporters, officers say the scheme will bring a new school, address housing shortages, offer a care home, create new shops and leisure facilities, and access new jobs.
It will, they say, “transform a ribbon village along the B1085 with no centre or focal point into a vibrant community with enviable green areas and facilities”.
In their assessment planning officers say that under the 2015 Local Plan, major housing schemes would be restricted to Ely, Soham and Littleport.
However Kennett falls into “exception criteria “ by offering “notably community based development; residential care homes; small-scale employment development, and enabling development associated with heritage assets”
Their report adds: “It is noted that Kennett, Chippenham and Snailwell do not have any site allocations; though this does not mean that these villages have not experienced growth.
“However, it does show that villages in the south of the district are not providing sufficient numbers of housing, in line with other settlements in the district in terms of allocations, to help meet the five year land requirement and people in these areas (or seeking to live here) are likely to find it difficult to find a home to suit their needs.”
Even if approved the final decision rests with the Secretary of State as both the applicant and the determining authority are the same.