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80 homes at Chatteris a major test of Fenland Council’s own housing firm

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On January 9, 2020, Fenland District Council agreed to provide a £25m “funding facility” to set up a standalone property company.

Fenland Future Ltd duly came into being six months later, and by the following spring had acquired an industrial unit in Wisbech and a house in March for the homeless.

But it was also keen to pursue another objective of developing council owned land.

 

80 homes planned by Fenland District Council through its new development company Fenland Future Ltd.  The land in question is nine acres at the eastern edge of Chatteris and is described as “informal grassland located east of The Elms and south of Green Park”.

80 homes planned by Fenland District Council through its new development company Fenland Future Ltd. The land in question is nine acres at the eastern edge of Chatteris and is described as “informal grassland located east of The Elms and south of Green Park”. The entrance. 

Which is how residents in Chatteris first came to learn of Fenland Future Ltd, although many were probably not aware that the company is 100 per cent owned by Fenland District Council.

The land in question is nine acres at the eastern edge of Chatteris and is described as “informal grassland located east of The Elms and south of Green Park”.

80 homes planned by Fenland District Council through its new development company Fenland Future Ltd.  The land in question is nine acres at the eastern edge of Chatteris and is described as “informal grassland located east of The Elms and south of Green Park”.

80 homes planned by Fenland District Council through its new development company Fenland Future Ltd. The land in question is nine acres at the eastern edge of Chatteris and is described as “informal grassland located east of The Elms and south of Green Park”. The car park next to site which FDC tried to sell.

The land, once owned by Chatteris Urban District Council, passed to Fenland District Council under reorganisation in the early 1970s.

How much its worth today is pure speculation.

Alan Melton, a former leader of Fenland District Council and a Chatteris resident, believes the town is being “hoodwinked and robbed” over the land at The Elms.

“The land is worth £2m and when developed more likely £3m,” he says. “Yet it has been sold to Fenland Future, a subsidiary of Fenland Council for £200,000. And it is perfectly legal.”

His main contention is that Chatteris town council should benefit from the land deal.

Of which more later.

Meanwhile Fenland District Council continues to consider a planning application lodged by its trading subsidiary, Fenland Future Ltd, for up to 80 homes on the site.

The application is outline only and the final layout will be determined later.

The principal point of access into the site is from The Elms, but pedestrians will have other points of entry from Green Park and the south west corner of the site.

80 homes planned by Fenland District Council through its new development company Fenland Future Ltd.  The land in question is nine acres at the eastern edge of Chatteris and is described as “informal grassland located east of The Elms and south of Green Park”.

80 homes planned by Fenland District Council through its new development company Fenland Future Ltd. The land in question is nine acres at the eastern edge of Chatteris and is described as “informal grassland located east of The Elms and south of Green Park”. Entrance would be from The Elms. 

ELG Planning, Fenland Future’s agents, say it is “salient to note that the application site is shown as a draft housing allocation for up to 90 dwellings within the draft Local Plan which indicates that there is no shift in the direction of travel for the site in policy terms at this time”.

ELG says the site lies within the East Chatteris strategic allocation, which is identified for the development of around 300 homes.

Although ELG await the final layout, they do offer some comfort of future residents of the new estate.

“The proposals will provide incidental soft landscaped spaces that could act as meeting places for social interaction between residents,” it says.

“By doing so, the scheme will embrace the following objective for healthy communities: ‘promoting social interaction, increasing opportunities for meetings between members of the community who might not otherwise come into contact with each other’”.

So, what do neighbours think?

Early last year 150 leaflets were sent out, a special website set up to publicise the development, emails were sent to ward councillors and a Q&A form was provided which was returnable by post.

ELG collated the responses.

80 homes planned by Fenland District Council through its new development company Fenland Future Ltd.  The land in question is nine acres at the eastern edge of Chatteris and is described as “informal grassland located east of The Elms and south of Green Park”.

80 homes planned by Fenland District Council through its new development company Fenland Future Ltd. The land in question is nine acres at the eastern edge of Chatteris and is described as “informal grassland located east of The Elms and south of Green Park”. One of the few responses. 

“Of the approximate 150 consultation leaflets distributed, responses were received from 16 members of the community,” it says.

“This represents an 11% response rate, which is evidently low.

“This would suggest that there is not a particularly strong local opinion in relation to the development of this site.

“Of the 16 responses, just 6 objected to the proposals, which equates to a 4% objection rate overall (based on the total number of households consulted.”

Some responses inquired about affordable housing, but ELG says the “tenure of affordable housing remains to be determined at this stage”.

80 homes planned by Fenland District Council through its new development company Fenland Future Ltd.  The land in question is nine acres at the eastern edge of Chatteris and is described as “informal grassland located east of The Elms and south of Green Park”.

80 homes planned by Fenland District Council through its new development company Fenland Future Ltd. The land in question is nine acres at the eastern edge of Chatteris and is described as “informal grassland located east of The Elms and south of Green Park”.

Jessica Wicks, housing strategy and enabling officer Fenland District Council, has been more forthcoming.

She reminds planners of a council report from 2020 which concluded “that viability in Fenland is marginal and varies between localities in the district.

“The assessment indicates that 20% affordable housing is likely to be the maximum level of provision that can be achieved through planning obligations”.

Ms Wicks says the council has confirmed that a viability assessment will be taken into account when determining planning applications.

“While the council aims to deliver policy compliant 25% affordable housing provision on qualifying schemes where possible, it is acknowledged that a reduced percentage of affordable housing via planning obligations to a maximum of 20%, will be achievable in most instances,” she says.

80 homes planned by Fenland District Council through its new development company Fenland Future Ltd.  The land in question is nine acres at the eastern edge of Chatteris and is described as “informal grassland located east of The Elms and south of Green Park”.

80 homes planned by Fenland District Council through its new development company Fenland Future Ltd. The land in question is nine acres at the eastern edge of Chatteris and is described as “informal grassland located east of The Elms and south of Green Park”.

However, in this instance she expects that with 80 homes, the council’s own policy would expect to secure a contribution of 16 -20 affordable homes.

There is some discontent over the planning processes at work.

Wisbech agent Peter Humphrey, for instance, has lodged two objections on the council planning portal.

In one he says the application does not comply with policy.

“I agree with the principle of development on this land,” he says. “As acknowledged in the application this site forms part of a current BCP (Broad Concept Plan) allocation in Chatteris, yet this application ignores the other development land!

“This application should have road links to the other BCP land.

“Is this FDC moving the goal posts to suit themselves on their own land, when they want?”

In the other he argues that “while the application states that the only access available is from the Elms, this is not correct.

“I am advised that no contact has been made with the adjoining land owners to see if they would be amenable to any form of shared access over the adjoining land.

“I represent the Jacksons and have spoken with the other land owner who are both disappointed that FDC (as agent) did not consult with either of them to resolve a more comprehensive access for the area as a whole as requested in the current Local Plan.

“Hence as the application stands it is not policy compliant.”

But we return to Mr Melton, the former leader of Fenland Council.

“I strongly object to this application,” he told planners.

“It is ill thought out and represents bad strategic planning at its worse! It is also premature.

“This development is to be accessed from The Elms, which is a residential cul-de-sac, consisting of family homes with no parking spaces.

“The Elms is accessed from Birch Avenue, which is a private estate consisting of houses and bungalows built during the 1960’s.

Alan Melton: “FDC has a poor record in securing s106 monies for local communities, unlike East Cambridgeshire, South Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire District Councils.”

Alan Melton: “FDC has a poor record in securing s106 monies for local communities, unlike East Cambridgeshire, South Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire District Councils.”

“Birch Avenue, accessed from St. Martins Road via a sharp right-hand junction, to a sharp left-hand bend and another sharp right-hand junction leading to The Elms.”

Mr Melton says: “The roads are inadequate for extra traffic which would be generated if this development were to proceed.

“St Martin’s Road is accessed from a busy junction off East Park Street.

“Many drivers when leaving St. Martin’s Road do so via Church Lane, which is narrow, has no footpath and has a sharp left-hand bend to negotiate, culminating at an even busier junction at Market Hill.”

He claims the proposal is premature as it is not part of a strategic plan for the whole of Chatteris East.

Originally the site was part of a plan which showed access from Wenny Road, with spur roads leading off.

“There was not to be an access from The Elms, Green Park, Birch Avenue or St. Martin’s Road,” he says.

“This application should be withdrawn along with the controversial site at Wenny “Meadow”, (F/YR21/0981/F).

“Landowners should be advised to submit a planned strategic proposal for the whole area, with proper infrastructure, protection of the environment and provide much needed open space.

“Failure of landowners to agree to a strategic plan should result in all the land being deallocated in the emerging Local Plan.”

He added: “ FDC has a poor record in securing s106 monies for local communities, unlike East Cambridgeshire, South Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire District Councils.

“Their communities are in receipt of large community benefits, to be spent on local projects, i.e., play, open space, sports and cultural enterprises.

“Recent experience at Abbotts Walk, Doddington Road (270 homes) Wenny Meadow (97 homes) demonstrate that no s106 funds were to be allocated to the local community.

‘Utter madness’

“This is utter madness and deprives the local community of much needed funds.

“This parcel of land could be worth up to £3m if planning permission for development is approved.

“This receipt is earmarked for Fenland Future. The land originally belonged to Chatteris Urban District Council and was seized by FDC at the time of local government reorganisation in 1974.

“I know that officers do not like hypothecated recourses, but morally, a large portion of the receipt should be used in Chatteris.

“Chatteris Town Council would like to provide various amenities for all sections the local community, this would provide the funding and match funding. “

He added: “In conclusion, withdraw this application, refuse F/YR22/0981/F and seek agreement among landowners to come forward with strategic proposals.”

Chatteris Town Council has lodged their view.

“Whilst councillors do not object to the development of the site per se they strongly object to the access from The Elms and request the applicant consider an alternative access,” it says.

“The original plan was for the development area off Wenny Road (including this site) to be accessed via a feeder road from a roundabout at the junction of Wenny Road and the A142.

“When the access to the site was left at The Elms there was considerably less traffic in St Martin’s Road, Birch Avenue and The Elms.

“Additional vehicles include school traffic for Glebelands School.

“The roads leading to the site are unsuitable for yet more traffic, including construction vehicles, and will become congested.”

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