Isle of Ely Rowing Club vice president speaks out about planning application

The 1944 Oarsmen on Georgina

The 1944 Oarsmen on Georgina - Credit: Archant

IN November 2009 when Cambridge University Boat Club (CUBC) asked me for some assistance in finding a suitable site for a new boathouse, never could I have anticipated the furore that would engulf their subsequent planning application.

The July 2002 reunion

The July 2002 reunion - Credit: Archant

At the time Fore Mill Wash was a major element of the Ely Country Park Vision and not registered as a county wildlife site.

I have always been a community minded sort, and with the help of my pals and the public at large, have been involved with some notable successes.

Jubilee Gardens, the subject of much strife at the beginning of the millennium, saw a proposed building site valued at £2 million converted into two acres of green grass valued at £70,000, which today everyone thinks is priceless.

Diamond44, a celebration of the 1944 Boat Race at Queen Adelaide, saw 5,000 spectators witness veteran university crews reverse the result of the war-time contest and the Isle of Ely Rowing Club remains an enduring legacy of that 2004 event.

From these activities a tremendous amount of good will was generated along the river and many valuable connections were made.

Good relations with CUBC were cemented, so it was natural that help would be freely given by this community to solve their land needs, after all they have been training here for 150 years.

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The Project Ely Group (PEG) has been responsible for filing the current planning application, on behalf of Cambridge University Rowing, and in it there is an elaborate section on site selection.

In reality, the chosen site was self-selected as, by PEG’s own admission, the 12 acres were the only riverside land near Ely that was available to buy. Through a series of meetings with the Environment Agency, representatives of Isle of Ely Rowing Club identified that availability on the April 16 2010 and alerted CUBC.

Since the completion of the land purchase last year, the issue of wider community benefit has been the subject of lengthy discussions with PEG and local community leaders have been made fully aware of the current impasse.

It seems that from the time CUBC became owners of Fore Mill Wash, the cultural differences between a simple rural community and an elite institution became visible.

CUBC is not accustomed to partnership working and certainly doesn’t know the difference between economic benefit and community gain.

Their single constitutional objective is to beat Oxford and although they are socially friendly, they give them no quarter on the water.

The same may apply to us, but it will be interesting to see if any tangible community benefit is ultimately volunteered by Cambridge University Rowing, assuming they are granted planning permission by East Cambridgeshire District Council on Thursday May 9.