Inspector’s recommendations ‘perverse’ says East Cambs Council leader as he pledges business as usual with 500 homes for Kennett still on target

Cllr Charles Roberts is standing down from local politics in May and will give up his council seat a

Cllr Charles Roberts is standing down from local politics in May and will give up his council seat and, de facto, his role as deputy to Mayor James Palmer. Picture: ARCHANT - Credit: Archant

Council leader Charles Roberts spelt out his commitment to its embedded programme of community led development – and explained why he has no regrets about abandoning work on a new Local Plan.

Cllr Roberts said they had “no choice” other than to tear up the work of the inspector invited to draft a new Local Plan – and East Cambridgeshire District Council would be asking for some if not all of the money back it paid to the Planning Inspectorate.

He had “no idea” why the inspector wanted to tear up the Community Land Trust (CLT) elements of the plan “and we are not allowed to ask why” he said.

“What has been said has been said; it was no longer our Local Plan and had no resemblance to what we want to develop,” he said.

And he revealed the council is “contesting the bill for breaching the service agreement with the Planning Inspectorate. We are very unhappy with the service we have had from the inspectorate”.

Cllr Roberts said: “We have absolutely no idea why CLTs were removed, I have no clue, and it is perverse and makes no sense. We have had huge support for community led developments from the population and from every layer of government from parish councils through to Government level.

“And we have had the housing minister visit the site at Stretham - there is tremendous support for it.”

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Cllr Roberts queried the “the perversity of one individual on her first inspection carrying out her first Local Plan examination to remove a policy like that is shocking.”

He said he was “acutely unaware” at the outset that the council could simply drop the two years of work that went into the emerging Local Plan “but we had to look at our options”. Those options, when taken up and agreed at a recent council meeting, have done just that.

He promised the council “remains absolutely committed” to CLTs and pledged continued backing to schemes being proposed for villages such as Wilburton (where a public meeting took place last week) and to Kennett, their biggest scheme.

Cllr Roberts said the CLT for Kennett – where 500 homes are due to be built – retained and always had full community support.

“If there is not community support it does not go ahead,” he said. In Kennett that support “has been tested and we are confident of strong support for it”.

He said the Kennett scheme – that formed part of the devolution scheme for Cambridgeshire – came about after the land owner’s agent approached the council with a view to selling the land on the open market.

Cllr Roberts said the benefits of community led development was explained where the community had the opportunity to control and benefit from it.

He said: “We were aware the landowner was interested, his agents were offering land on the open market and we saw an opportunity to tell the community this may happen, and to use CLT defensively. We said that if it going to be developed the community could be involved and influence and control it and benefit from it long term.”

He said: “There is potential for that site to deliver significantly for East Cambs Council and I don’t apologise for this.

“There are several tens of millions of pounds of potential profit so yes this is significant. There is potential profit in the scheme but of course everyone is going to profit.

“The community is massively profiting through infrastructure and East Cambs taxpayers will profit.”

He said the benefits include a new road to take traffic away from the village and if in the hands of the private sector a development of 500 homes would not deliver such a benefit.

The application for Kennett is expected before the council’s planning committee this year – the final decision rests with the Secretary of State.

Meanwhile the Kennett Action Group – set up to fight the scheme – described the decision to abandon the emerging Local Plan as “an amazing undemocratic decision”.

Their spokesman said: “After many months of public hearings in over 20 day sessions, the council withdraws it submitted Local Plan independent examination, and in doing so the status of that emerging plan is reduced to zero for the purpose of making decision on planning matters.

“Five of our members gave evidence for two days to the Inspector. Evidence from all these, and many other sessions is reduced to zero

“So East Cambridgeshire District Council make it all up again- that’s both devious and, sadly, expected.”