A surprise decision today by Fenland District Council planning committee to reject plans for 110 houses was done so in the face of overwhelming officer support for the application.
The committee was warned by an officer from its legal department about the consequences of refusing the application.
He told them if they refuse it, the council, as planning authority, must substantiate those reasons for refusal.
The officer explained to committee members that he would “struggle to know” what planning reason could be used to reject the application by Allison Homes.
He warned members that if they did refuse it there was a real risk of costs eventually being awarded against the council – presumably if an appeal was successful.
But his words fell on deaf ears.
Cllr Jan French, deputy leader of the council, and a planning committee member for much of the past 25 years led the campaign to refuse the application.
She said the March neighbourhood plan – established after a local referendum in 2017 – had not allocated housing sites on the outskirts of the town.
Cllr French said the site was not in the 2014 Local Plan and she described as “premature” the bid by the applicants who argued it was in the emerging Local Plan.
She said there were great problems regarding traffic in the area and “we need to redesign the top of St Peters Road; it is awful”. The area could not cope with two hundred more residents locally in that area.
Cllr David Connor, the committee chair, also queried reports from the highways officers who had not seen an issue with the 110 homes and felt St Peters and other roads could cope.
“Everyone round this table can see that St Peters Road is not capable of extra traffic,” he said.
Cllr Connor felt highways officers must have “gone round there are midnight”.
Officers also explained that on drainage and highways – two issues raised in the debate – had not attracted comment or opposition from statutory consultees.
“There are very few grounds on which the application could be refused and successfully defended at appeal,” one senior officer told the committee.
But the committee were having none of it.
Not a single committee member could be found to even propose the officers’ recommendation for approval.
“Pretty unanimous,” explained Cllr Connor.
Cllr French then proposed the application be refused. She felt the grounds of the site not being in the Local Plan, and not in the neighbourhood plan, were sufficient reasons for it to be refused.
She said she would not use highways as a reason for refusal since highways had not found an issue in that area.
“I will not say anything about highways, but I will say they have got it wrong,” she said.
A March woman who has been vocal in objecting to the plans spoke at the meeting and was there to see the planning application refused.
Victoria Batterham outlined her objections and backed up her arguments against the scheme with photographs showing traffic and flooding issues which she fears will only get worse if approval is given.
Officers, who recommended approval, explained that it was an outline application for up to 110 dwellings (20% affordable) on the eastern edge of March, accessed off Upwell Road.
They said the site is an allocated site in the Emerging Local Plan. 1
Access is between numbers 81 and 85 Upwell Road.
“Significant numbers of residents have objected and have included a petition,” their report to councillors explained.
“The Town Council object regarding overdevelopment, flooding, and poor access.
“The Local Highway Authority considers the Transport Assessment to be credible and robust and does not identify any reason on which to refuse on highway grounds.
“The Local Lead Flood Authority gives no reason on which to refuse the application on flood risk grounds. However, the LLFA has sought survey data on the route of the outfall to Horsemoor drain.
“The application is considered against the relevant national and local planning policies.
“The balanced recommendation considers the proposal would not result in substantial harm, subject to conditions and the receipt of an acceptable Section 106 Agreement.”
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