‘Exemplar’ design allows Mayor James Palmer to gain permission to build luxury new home outside Soham development boundary

Architect's impression of the 'exemplar' home that Mayor James Palmer is to build at Soham

Architect's impression of the 'exemplar' home that Mayor James Palmer is to build at Soham - Credit: Archant

Mayor James Palmer cited an “exemplar” design -plus a failure by East Cambs Council of which he was until recently the leader to show a five year supply of land - to build a new home in Soham.

Tthe 'exemplar' home that Mayor James Palmer has begun work on at The Butts, Soham

Tthe 'exemplar' home that Mayor James Palmer has begun work on at The Butts, Soham - Credit: Archant

The house, now under construction, is in an isolated spot in The Butts and just 70m away from a railway track.

The application to build the four bedroom two-storey house was approved at the second attempt in April 2016 following an earlier refusal in November 2014.

Those applications were put forward his father, town councillor Chris Palmer, but a recent reserved matters application for the same house – detailing landscaping issues – was submitted to East Cambs Council by Mayor Palmer and his wife.

Mayor Palmer said the earlier applications were put forward by his father – as the land owner – but following the successful outcome he and his wife had purchased the site.

“We looked at planning policies and if you tick the boxes you get through,” he said.

He was surprised there would be any interest in his plans and described press interest as “tittle tattle”.

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Mayor Palmer said the new house won approval because of its part exemplar design and part high energy efficiency and eco credentials.

“I went through the proper process,” he said.

Mayor Palmer said he had long been a “champion of people” who live in the countryside and was anxious that many who lived there could build homes on their own land.

Julie Barrow, senior planning officer, described the successful application as qualifying for a special circumstances exemption of allowing homes in isolated areas where they can be shown as of “exceptional quality or innovative nature of design”.

She said: “Such proposals are also expected to significantly enhance its immediate setting and be sensitive to the defining characteristics of the area. The applicant has sought to demonstrate that the proposal falls into this category”.

Although the house is a third of a mile outside the development boundary of Soham - and not well connected to facilities or services and is reliant on cars to access it – she felt it would make a “positive contribution” to the economy through construction work.

“Whilst it could be argued that the design is not truly outstanding, it is innovative for the area,” she said.

Ms Barrow also felt that “combined with the predicted energy efficiency rating, it is considered to be of much high quality of design and construction that much of the housing stock within the district”.

She felt the design “was sensitive to its countryside setting” and would not cause “significant and demonstrable harm”.

Another senior planning manager Rebecca Saunt, whose recommendation for refusal of the original application was accepted, pointed out it was outside the development envelope, on unallocated land and would constitute departure from the core strategy and draft local plans.

She feared the house would “change the overall character and appearance of the area, eroding the rural character and increasing pressure for further development”.

That meeting had heard from Mayor Palmer’s wife Alison who emphasised the house would be “a green construction including solar energy and rainwater harvesting. The house would be energy neutral”.

And she said it was only a 10 minute walk into town and a short walk to the primary and secondary school.

Mayor Palmer also insisted it was only 750 metres to the nearest bus stop and the local church too was well within walking distance.

When the successful application was voted on it was agreed unanimously to allow it.

Councillor Bill Hunt said he was delighted the proposal included a turning area and wondered if the access road might include a passing place.

His son, former Councillor Tom Hunt, said he had been happy with the original application and with the changes brought forward and felt it was an exemplar development.

He told the committee that he failed to see how it could have a negative impact because there were no immediate neighbours and the highways department had raised no objection.

Mayor Palmer emphasised to the Ely Standard he had “behaved impeccably” through the planning process and it had been dealt with properly.