Two years of work on new local plan for development in East Cambridgeshire is scrapped

Two years of work on a new local plan for East Cambridgeshire. Full council meeting on February 21.

Two years of work on a new local plan for East Cambridgeshire. Full council meeting on February 21. Picture: CLARE BUTLER. - Credit: Archant

Two years of work on a new local plan for East Cambridgeshire was scrapped after district councillors claimed it “disempowered communities”.

East Cambridgeshire District Council [ECDC] voted to revert back to their 2015 local plan at a meeting of the full council in Ely on Thursday.

The council claimed that if it had accepted the inspector’s latest recommendation, green spaces would be at risk, extra housing could be built in Soham and the council’s flagship community land trust policies would be deleted.

Cllr Coralie Green said the plan had changes the council “could not accept” and insisted that changes by an inspector on this scale should be “challenged at Westminster”.

She added: “The withdrawal has not been taken likely and it’s a bitter disappointment, but we believe it is within the interest of our communities.”

The plan was labelled “extreme and unprecedented” by Cllr Mark Hugo, bearing “no resemblance” to what the council originally wanted.

However, in recent weeks, the inspector’s comments had been welcomed by members of the Kennett Action Group fighting proposals for 500 new homes in their village.

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Councillor Lorna Dupre, Liberal Democrat council group leader, insisted that by withdrawing the plan it was “denying” communities the opportunity to be consulted.

She said: “This is riding roughshod over our communities by denying them the opportunity to be consulted over what the changes might be to them. This is a betrayal of localism and over our parishes.

“There has been an appalling lack of transparency it all of this.”

Ian Allen from Witchford Parish Council clapped along with other members of public seated in the gallery, after he said at the start of the meeting he had “lost faith” in the council after parishes weren’t consulted.

ECDC were also warned by the Housebuilders Federation that by withdrawing the plan they were putting themselves at risk of “huge uncertainty” for businesses and residents in the district.

Planning committee chairman Cllr Joshua Schumann said: “These modifications are so significant and it would have left the plan that we submitted as unrecognisable.

“Why would be consult them [parishes] when it’s not what we want for East Cambridgeshire?

“The 2015 plan has its challenges but it belongs to us and the residents – not just an inspectorate.”

Cllr Matthew Shuter said: “When we were first told of this [the plan] I had to check my diary to see if it was April 1.

“It’s a complete disgrace to local democracy.”

Deputy council leader Cllr Anna Bailey said she felt the inspector had “ripped through” their wishes.

“We cannot accept this; it would leave our communities disempowered for years to come,” she said.

“It would be a plan imposed on the district by the inspectorate.”

In a recorded vote all councillors, except for the three Lib Dem members, voted in favour of the motion to revert back to the 2015 plan.

Cllr Lorna Dupre, Cllr Christine Whelan and Cllr Sue Austen abstained.

The Housebuilders Federation attacked the council ahead of a meeting on Thursday that could see two years work on a new plan abandoned.

Mark Behrendt, planning manager for local plans at the federation, said: “East Cambridgeshire has consistently under delivered on new homes and the inspector’s proposed changes would have helped ensure that the backlog in supply was addressed earlier.

“By not planning properly for its future housing the council risks losing out on the huge social and economic contribution house building makes.

“Not only would the local area be missing out on major investment that would deliver more jobs, affordable housing and improvements to infrastructure it will also mean that the council are less likely to benefit from the additional funding from central government.

He said: “The approach taken by the council will mean that the backlog in housing needs will not be delivered leading to worsening affordability in an area where average house prices are nearly 10 times average incomes.”

Mr Behrendt warned: “Since the Government is committed to building an ambitious 300,000 homes per year across the country, East Cambridgeshire has to ensure that it is doing its part to meet the targets given. The local plan in part was helping to ensure these targets were met.”

“It is a requirement under the planning system to have an up to date local plan in place. Government is currently targeting those local authorities that do not have an adopted plan and putting them into ‘special measures’.”