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‘House of Cards’ moment for Conservative high flyer and why he quit

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In 2021, the political isolation of Cllr Josh Schumann began – it was not, in retrospect, one of East Cambridgeshire District Council’s finest hours.

Though very few noticed, but it was in April of that year, Cllr Schumann was demoted from full membership of the council’s planning committee to that of substitute.

It was a curious omission of a councillor who had not long before been appointed as chairman of the committee.

Cllr Schumann never spoke about it but behind the scenes he had, in a conversation with a friend, been “ticked off mightily” for having spoken against it, and then voted against, a controversial bid by the council to build 13 homes on the former swimming pool site in Newnham Street, Ely.

Cllr Josh Schumann said: “I was at a point where I felt if I didn’t stand as an independent it would be hypocritical of me.”

Cllr Josh Schumann said: “I was at a point where I felt if I didn’t stand as an independent it would be hypocritical of me.”

“I had committed the cardinal sin of speaking against a planning application made by a trading company of the council,” he told his friend.

“Even though the planning committee is supposed to be politically neutral, I was told that it was my responsibility to support it.”

It was a classic ‘House of Cards’ opportunity to weaken a high-flying Conservative and to put him in his place – and Thursday’s local elections will be a make or break moment

Cllr Schumann has spoken to me in recent weeks about his departure but declined to comment further on the swimming pool issue, although his reservations about the scheme are revealed in minutes of the meeting that approved it.

His opposition to the former Paradise pool development fermented his views about the current leadership of East Cambridgeshire District Council.

Cllr Josh Schumann, who is standing as an independent candidate for Soham on Thursday – against Conservative candidates – has revealed his reservations and opposition to the Gateway housing plans (right).

Cllr Josh Schumann, who is standing as an independent candidate for Soham on Thursday – against Conservative candidates – has revealed his reservations and opposition to the Gateway housing plans (above).

And partly explains his decision, exclusively revealed by CambsNews last month, to quit the Conservative group on East Cambridgeshire District Council where he had remained as deputy leader, to become an independent candidate in this week’s local elections.

Cllr Schumann had clearly been challenged over complexities of the Paradise scheme for although it promised 4 four affordable homes under the council’s £100k homes scheme for first time buyers, it had been opposed by City of Ely Council.

And it was his long-time friend and city councillor Mike Rouse (himself a former district councillor) who led the opposition to the district proposals.

Cllr Rouse told the planning committee he could find nobody in favour of it.

He said the land has been bought by the previous Ely Urban District Council to protect it from development.

Cllr Rouse (who has since died) told the committee that “it is not a good scheme, is contrived and would be cramped on this site”.

And he argued that a “few more affordable homes” was too high a too high a price to accept this proposal and the land should remain for leisure uses.

Cllr Schumann also spoke and said he was looking for consistency in the committee’s decision making.

“This application had a significant lack of support from the parish and local members,” he said.

He accepted that refusing this application could lead to an appeal, whereas approving it would be the end of the matter.

In light of the discussions, it was important to be seen to be doing the right thing, he said.

Fundamentally this was a ‘brown field’ site and there was a current housing crisis, so there was some merit in the scheme, as it would provide much needed housing.

But, he said, where the application fell down was that it would not enhance the conservation area, although there would be no adverse impact. He suggested it was deferred.

Tory councillor Julia Huffer reminded the committee that a similar scheme in Fordham, with eight £100K homes, had generated enormous interest.

Minutes of the meeting record that “the committee was reminded that the parishes had many occasions where developments had been forced onto green field sites.

“Ely was blessed with many leisure facilities already and this was a brown field site”

Enhance area with new build

Cllr Bill Hunt had seen pictures of the old swimming pool and “found it very difficult not to conclude that the proposal would enhance the area with this new build.

“The view of the cathedral would be better, the council was trying to address the housing shortage and attempting to get as much affordable housing as it could”.

https://twitter.com/lornadupre/status/1653650500288495617

The application was agreed – and so began the discombobulation of Cllr Schumann that resulted in his departure from the ruling Conservative group.

On Thursday Cllr Schumann, a former Conservative district and county councillor, will fight local elections also on a platform that includes opposition to the flagship Eastern Gateway housing project for Soham.

It is another astonishing U-turn by the Soham councillor who had previously championed the scheme not only as deputy leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council but also as a director of This Land Ltd.

This Land is the arm’s length housing company set up by Cambridgeshire County Council and of which Cllr Schumann was once, until 2021, a non-executive, council appointed, director.

Building the 540 homes at Soham is fundamental to the short to medium term success of This Land but its progress through the planning system has been slow, contentious, and tortuous.

David Gelling, then managing director of This Land, said of Cllr Schumann: “We are pleased to welcome him to the board.

Constructive and supportive chair

“He has been a constructive and supportive chair of our oversight committee and we know that he very much shares our vision for the future of This Land.”

Cllr Schumann said at the time that “I’ve been really impressed by This Land’s commitment to deliver much-needed new homes in Cambridgeshire while ensuring sensitive care is taken in creating and adding to communities, establishing great places to live and work.

“It’s great to be joining the board at this exciting stage of the company’s development and I look forward to working with the team to support This Land in the next stages of its positive future, helping to move the company forward and grow”.

But on Soham, it seems, not all is well. And he opposes a scheme that, he says, does not create a new estate within the town but with the lack of a proper road into the new housing area will create a “carbuncle” on the edge of Soham.

800 documents about This Land housing bid

This Land’s application was submitted in November 2019 but with nearly 800 documents, comments and reports swelling the East Cambridgeshire District Council planning portal, there seems no prospect of an early decision being reached.

Cllr Schumann, who is standing as an independent candidate for Soham on Thursday – against Conservative candidates – told voters he “objects to the Soham Eastern Gateway current plan” in an election leaflet.

“Are you sick of party politics?” he writes. “Do you feel that none of the major parties represent you anymore? Then vote Joshua Schumann.”

Cllr Schumann told me that his biggest reason for quitting the Conservative was that “having been involved in local politics for 12 years I don’t think party politics best serve the community”.

He said it was not just a reflection of the Conservatives but that “politics is taking more of a role at local level than is right”

Cllr Schumann said: “I was at a point where I felt if I didn’t stand as an independent it would be hypocritical of me.”

It was important, he said, that decisions were made “on what a community wants and not what party whips want.

Happy to be standing as an independent

“I feel incredibly happy to be standing as an independent – I don’t for one second think I will be elected since many have their party allegiances.

“Having stood many times, I know the hard work that goes into it.”

He said he decided to stand in Soham North which is his home, “where I grew up, where I know a lot of people. The nature of local government is you often stand in areas that are not your home.”

If elected, he said, in “what may be my last term, and if it is going to be my last term, hopefully it will be for an area I know and love”.

Cllr Schumann said his East Cambs colleagues had reacted to news of his leaving with many disappointed as “they obviously want people to remain with the party and return a majority, that’s the nature of how it is.

“On the whole though there was a certain amount of acceptance – my rationale was accepted.”

Cllr Schumann remains a county councillor for Burwell, and his defection has been noted by local resident Barry Lonsdale, who is also an Ely businessman and chair of Ely Traders.

“As Burwell’s Cambridgeshire county councillor, a complete waste of space,” said Mr Lonsdale.

“Unapproachable never communicated or attended meetings…the sooner replaced the better.”

 

 

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