Masterplan Halted In Its Tracks

PUBLISHED: 10:57 04 February 2009 | UPDATED: 10:43 04 May 2010

ELY Masterplan has again been halted in its tracks by Liberal Democrats, fearful that decisions are being made without due process. The all-party committee of district councillors, who are drawing up the plan, is considering increasing the number of hous

ELY Masterplan has again been halted in its tracks by Liberal Democrats, fearful that decisions are being made without due process.

The all-party committee of district councillors, who are drawing up the plan, is considering increasing the number of houses in East Cambridgeshire by 3-5,000 over the next 20 years - bringing the city's population to 26,000 - despite the fact that in a telephone survey, more than half of residents questioned said they did not want any new housing.

Any new homes are likely to be centred on what the council has called "The Northern Growth Area" around Chettisham.

But the Liberal Democrats - who say they are not anti-growth, have called a one-off meeting to try to get what they say amounts to a decision on housing numbers, overturned.

"We are not saying 'no' to any new houses," said Liberal Democrat leader Gareth Wilson, "but why are they rushing? If we are going to have new houses we need the transport infrastructure to support them. Why can't they wait until the transport study is finished [in March]?"

Conservatives spoken to by the Ely Standard say the Lib Dems are unlikely to get the decision referred back to committee, insisting that no firm decision has been made on the number of new houses for Ely.

Some see it as a deliberate attempt to undermine the Masterplan process which was halted last May and restarted in October, following allegations about Ely Conservative councillor, Brian Ashton's conduct. Mr Ashton resigned as a result.

But resident Liz Hunter, who has emerged as a firm critic of aspects of the Masterplan, said: "I've been concerned all along about the amount of public participation. I said at the very beginning that 90 per cent of young people said they didn't want more development, and more than half of those surveyed agreed. Despite not having a public mandate to do so, they are going ahead and setting housing numbers."

Giles Hughes, head of planning at ECDC, and in charge of drafting the new Masterplan said a recommendation had gone forward to test the 'options for growth.' "My understanding of it is that the recommendation was to investigate further, subject to the transport work. It was an invitation to consultation rather than a decision."

Despite being removed from the Masterplan process - which cost the council £56,000 last year - URBED are still being paid more than £4,000 to contribute their views at Masterplan working party meetings. They came up with the housing numbers as part of the abandoned 2007 Masterplan.

Peter Moakes, Conservative chairman of the Ely Masterplan working group, "It does need to be depoliticised to have any long-term credibility," he said of the Masterplan. "Scoring points doesn't get you anywhere."

The problem, Cllr Moakes added, was that city growth was inevitable.

"The city has already grown at a rate of about 300 houses a year over the last ten years," he told the Ely Standard. "What we have difficulty explaining is that in order to have community facilities the public say they want, we need growth to pay for that. You can't have one without the other. You can't have no growth at all and then hope for new leisure facilities and shops - and unless our population rises to at least 20,000 you won't get new shops either."

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Email the editor at editor@ely-standard.co.uk or write to us at Ely Standard, 38 Market Street, Ely CB7 4LS

nThe district council's Overview and Scrutiny Committee will meet tonight (Thursday) at 6.30pm in the Grange, Nutholt Lane, Ely. The meeting is open to the public.

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