Nothing to see here says planning committee chairman as he robustly challenges photograph of him with MP and businessman
PUBLISHED: 12:05 13 April 2017 | UPDATED: 12:05 13 April 2017
Planning committee chairman Josh Schumann refused to step down as 88 homes for Soham were being decided despite claims by a town councillor he was friendly with the applicant Colin Murfitt.
Mr Murfitt won approval for the housing scheme on nine acres of land at the Shade, 25 per cent of them affordable.
Soham town councillor Geoffrey Woollard surprised members of the district planning committee by handing out a photograph of Cllr Schumann with MP Lucy Frazer and Mr Murfitt at the businessman’s stud farm.
Magge Camp, legal services manager for East Cambs Council, said Cllr Woollard had registered to speak as an objector with Carol London and Caroline Vindall.
“The chairman (Cllr Schumann) invited them to speak but before they started he reminded them they had five minutes to speak between them and it would have been for the three to decide how they divided the five minutes between them,” she said.
Ms Camp said that Cllr Woollard spoke briefly and suggested the scheme was “just to make up numbers. He then went on to say that there were other sites in the district which were more suitable/acceptable.
“He then said he doubted the propriety of Josh chairing the meeting on this item as he was good friends with the applicant.
“He then got up from the table and distributed copies of a photograph to members of the planning committee before going to sit down in the public gallery.”
Ms Camp said she saw the photograph “and it was of Cllr Schumann, Lucy Frazer MP and a gentleman that I now know is Mr Murfitt, with a horse in the background.
“Cllr Schumann remarked that there were lots of photographs out there of him with different people and there was no doubt as to his propriety”
She said: “I can confirm that hearing all the representations, questions to officers and persons making representations, including the officer’s report and present and a site visit, the planning committee members recommended the application for approval, as per the officer’s report.”
Cllr Woollard said after the meeting – at Ely last Wednesday- that he was not alone in opposing the housing.
“When I got to speak I drew the committee members’ attention to what I thought was the only meaningful part of the report, namely, a paragraph which led me to believe that the officer was recommending the application to be approved ‘just to make up the numbers.’
“I added that I thought that there were hundreds of other sites in the district that were less controversial and more appropriate.”
Cllr Woollard: “I then went on to say that I had doubts about the propriety of Cllr Schumann chairing the discussion/debate on the agenda item because ‘it is believed (I said) that you are good friends with the applicant.’ I
“distributed copies of a photograph found on-line which shows a splendid horse, Cllr Schumann, Ms Lucy Frazer MP and Mr Murfitt. Cllr Schumann dismissed that point by saying that he had hundreds of friends in Soham and that there were probably dozens of photographs out there
“I hadn’t the opportunity to say that it was one particular photograph and one particular friend that I was referring to. Despite the objectors’ pleas, the application was approved.
“After the meeting I was briefly in the presence of Mr Murfitt who said - out loud - that I was ‘a failed councillor.’ He was right today because I failed today.”
East Cambs Council says it is not currently able to demonstrate that it has an adequate five year supply of land for housing.
Therefore, all Local Planning policies relating to the supply of housing must be considered out of date and housing applications assessed in terms of the presumption in favour of sustainable development set out in the National Planning Policy Framework.
This means that development proposals should be approved unless any adverse effects of the development significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits.
The benefits of this application are considered to be: the provision of 88 dwellings including affordable housing, built to modern, sustainable building standards and the positive contribution to the local and wider economy in the short term through construction work and future occupiers of the dwellings.