Master Plan Meeting Descends Into Farce

PUBLISHED: 10:24 11 February 2009 | UPDATED: 10:43 04 May 2010

ELY s Masterplan process once again descended into farce at a meeting on Thursday - as councillors finally concluded that a decision supposedly made in January was not a decision and any further decisions should be made at their next meeting in a mont

ELY's Masterplan process once again descended into farce at a meeting on Thursday - as councillors finally concluded that a decision supposedly made in January "was not a decision" and any further decisions should be made at their next meeting in a month's time.

Liberal Democrats insisted that at a meeting in January, a decision had been made on the number of houses for Ely, and asked that it be examined by an extraordinary meeting of the council's Overview and Scrutiny committee on Thursday.

They claimed figures for Ely's housing growth had been set at 3,200-5,000 homes over the next 22 years.

But director of development services David Archer, who prepared the original report for councillors, said the council needed to move forward and "test the options for growth urgently."

"I apologise if the wording was unclear, but my understanding of the meeting was that no decision was made," he said.

"Our destiny is being written elsewhere, in the halls of EERA [East of England Regional Assembly]," said Mr Archer. "We are facing an application for 2,700 houses from the Church Commissioners, over and above the growth we set of 1,700 houses for Ely. If we don't do the work now, we will have no evidence on which to base our reactions to EERA, and we risk losing control of the aforementioned housing growth in Ely and we will have no choice but to accept the growth they impose on us. That's a real concern I have."

The East of England Regional Assembly recently accepted proposals for a 2,700 home settlement near Chettisham and a 4-6,000 home village near the A10 between Stretham and Wilburton.

"I'm not sure that you can sustain that sort of growth and that makes me uneasy," said Jeremy Friend Smith, whose wife and fellow Lib Dem councillor Sheila said she supported her husband's decision.

After the meeting Cllr Peter Moakes, chairman of the Ely Masterplan working party said: "It was frankly spurious. Even if we do end up with that number of new homes to 2021, which is by no means a fait accompli, that is less than the rate of growth over the last 10 years."

Cllr Moakes said the Masterplan was due to be scrutinised by councillors in March before its arrival in the public eye in the spring, and that an extra meeting had not delayed the process. "We have a timeline and the Masterplan is deliverable within that timeframe," he told the Ely Standard.

Jeremy Friend Smith said: "I seconded the call in because I think it is premature to take policy decisions on the number of houses before we are certain of the road and transport situation. The Ely transport plan is due very shortly - why stick our necks out? Why do we want so much more than the government is suggesting? We need to have the infrastructure in place before we proceed with more housing, so that we are certain that we can cope. Will we ever see the A142 southern by pass? Will the A10 be improved? If not, why did we feel so strongly about Mereham? Will the rail station platform be lengthened to cope with extra demand?"

"It went exactly as I anticipated," was Lib Dem leader Gareth Wilson's reaction. "Not as I had hoped, but as I had anticipated."

The Conservative Group voted in block to take no action, as council officers prepare the Masterplan for public consultation.

How are housing numbers decided in East Cambs?

Regional Spatial Strategy

Produced by the East of England Regional Assembly (EERA)

Sets targets for East Anglia, and specific targets for each district council.

East Cambridgeshire was asked to build 8,600 houses up to 2021, but in light of the government's 3million homes target, set when Gordon Brown came into power, the Regional Spatial Strategy is being reviewed and higher targets will be set.

Local Development Framework documents

Core Strategy

Produced by the district council to decide where the number of homes listed in the Regional Spatial Strategy will go - allocates a certain number of homes for Ely, Soham, Littleport and smaller villages.

East Cambridgeshire District Council published its Core Strategy in May 2008.

The document has to be looked at by a planning inspector - at a public meeting in April or May - and will be finally given the go-ahead at the end of 2009.

Masterplan

Unlike the Local Development Framework, a Masterplan is not a legal requirement for all councils to produce. In Ely, Soham and Littleport's case, the Visions or Masterplans are designed to provide an overview of the amount of housing growth and facilities in the town over the next 20 years. Officers say the finished Masterplan - expected to be completed in the spring - will form a "material consideration" when dealing with planning applications. Masterplan work will help the Council formulate its position on the Regional Spatial Strategy Review.

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