Town council chairman criticises master plan that has ‘forecasts or predictions which are, to say the least, unrealistic to the point of being far-fetched’

PUBLISHED: 12:00 10 July 2020 | UPDATED: 12:00 10 July 2020

Soham Eastern Gateway: The development will provide up to 575 homes, including affordable housing, as well as a new GP surgery, commercial spaces, a nursery, and open, green and play spaces for all Soham residents.
Images are from a YouTuibe 'fly through' created by This Land Ltd. Picture; THIS LAND LTD

Soham Eastern Gateway: The development will provide up to 575 homes, including affordable housing, as well as a new GP surgery, commercial spaces, a nursery, and open, green and play spaces for all Soham residents. Images are from a YouTuibe 'fly through' created by This Land Ltd. Picture; THIS LAND LTD

Archant

A master plan for the future of Soham – approved by East Cambridgeshire District Council – includes “forecasts or predictions which are, to say the least, unrealistic to the point of being far-fetched”.

Cllr Charles Warner (left) has questioned the master plan for Soham. Right: Flashback to one of many meetings involving Lucy Frazer MP as she campaigned for the re-opening of the rail station. Picture; ARCHANTCllr Charles Warner (left) has questioned the master plan for Soham. Right: Flashback to one of many meetings involving Lucy Frazer MP as she campaigned for the re-opening of the rail station. Picture; ARCHANT

The criticism was made by Cllr Charles Warner, chairman of Soham Town Council.

He was addressing the assets and finance committee of the district council that agreed to approve development of the plan that had been prepared by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority.

Committee chairman Cllr David Brown said of the schemes for both Soham and Ely that “approval of these plans is the beginning of the journey and allows us to unlock funding for these areas to help them thrive”.

But Cllr Warner said the plan for Soham should have been presented in draft form to the town council.

The future vision of Soham rail station compared to what it used to be like. Picture: ARCHANTThe future vision of Soham rail station compared to what it used to be like. Picture: ARCHANT

“Inaccurate assumptions could have been corrected which would have resulted in a more robust document,” he said.

The report had been commissioned to help towns climb out of lockdown but this was being given as a reason for not informing or consulting with the town council, he said.

“It could have been quite easy for this document to come forward under normal due process,” said Cllr Warner. “What happened to localism?

“From reading the contents it would appear the report has been compiled from desktop research and remains doubtful whether anyone involved in writing it has ever had any involvement with the local community.

“Many of the ideas have been raised in the past and indeed, been dismissed for valid logistic and practical, notwithstanding financial reasons.”

He said: “Some of the forecasts or predictions included are, to say the least, unrealistic to the point of being far-fetched.”

Cllr Warner disputed likely usage of trains from Soham into Ely “and it seems unlikely that the use of trains at Soham will escalate to the level as suggested”.

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He said: “Much of the report focusses on connectivity within the town majoring on an efficient walking and cycle routes so people can easily access the town centre without the use of a car. “This is fine so long as you are able to walk or cycle and carry shopping but fails to recognise that with such developments as the Eastern Gateway it will be beyond the ability of older people to cover this distance without the use of a car.”

Cllr Warner said there were issues with the Gateway project over access, lack of provision for communal parking, and not enough emphasis on pedestrians accessing the High Street.

“The same applies to the access to the new rail station,” he said. “The report states that Stagecoach will be approached to make sure that buses connect with the trains stopping at the station. A really good idea!

“But how are the buses to access the station. The roads around the station are unsuitable with poor access to the high street.”

Cllr Warner also questioned local consultation had taken place over the aim to make Soham an agritech hotspot.

He also spoke about a suggested marina, describing it as “a great idea but is neither practical or financially viable”.

The chairman concluded that parking remains of the biggest problems facing the town and had not been properly tackled in the master plan.

“This aspect is woefully lacking in this high-level document,” he said. “The report highlights the need for more footfall in the high street and suggests this will be met by building more housing.

“Soham is already a commuter town as illustrated in the report with the majority of consumer economic activity and spend taking place out of town.

“Much more consideration must be given to attracting more sustainable high-quality jobs to the local area along with tourism.”

He said: “The report is based on facts, figures and statistics and for that reason it is an excellent report providing a lot of important information for Soham.

“However, many of its suggestions to improve Soham’s offer while also excellent ideas, are really just aspirational which will require not only the will, drive and energy to bring them about but the cooperation of many businesses, people and government departments and substantial funding.”

Council commercial director Emma Grima has told Cllr Warner that Soham Town Council would have the opportunity, through the implementation plan, to get

their comments across.


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