A unanimous decision by Fenland District Council today has paused a final decision on where the historic fountain in Broad Street, March, will be relocated.
Officers will look at possible alternatives and consider cost implications before a report is presented to Cabinet in September for a final decision.
Councillors responded to a petition signed by 3,587 people calling for the council to re-consider its decision to move the fountain to a new position outside of Malletts the jeweller.
And heading the call for his Cabinet to review the decision was council leader Chris Boden.
Cllr Boden said it was important to “get the best decision” and the fact that a decision had already been made, it was now important to look at whether an alternative is possible.
He said the council needed to “retain an open mind” and hinted that the decision to relocate it outside Malletts was something the council “maybe got it wrong”.
Cllr Boden explained the difficulties facing the council if a decision was to be made to change the intended location of the fountain. He said the overall Broad Street project was in its delivery phase and there were potential costs and the possibility of any new location having to be subject to a fresh planning application.
Cllr Boden was also keen to know whether Historic England, who had agreed on the move to outside Malletts, would be able to veto any new suggestion if it was in an entirely new place.
The council leader outlined risks such as reputational damage of any failure, wider design and civil engineering implications and the key issue as to whether changes at this late stage would be acceptable to the Broad Street funders.
Cllr Gavin Booth, who presented the petition, said that it was important to note that the considerable number of people who had signed were the very people who used March and wanted it to grow.
“They believe moving it (the fountain) outside Mallets is unacceptable,” he said.
Cllr Booth said it was widely acknowledged that the consultation process “was not robust” and a number of councillors had received emails and letters suggesting a better position might be open space near the river and the town bridge.
He even felt moving it to the old Barclays bank site (recently bought by the council) could not be ruled out and it was vital to “keep an open mind”. It was possible, he said, to shape something to improve the situation.
Cllr Chris Seaton outlined the background to the planning process that had earmarked the fountain for its new site and the financial challenge if this was now changed.
“The fountain is programmed for removal in next few weeks,” he said.
In response to the petition there were implications the Cabinet needed to be aware of, and these included “varying levels of costs” and maybe the need to find additional funds outside the scope of the project or from savings that can be made.
He also felt Historic England’s view would be crucial but was happy for it to go to Cabinet in September when a new report will have been completed.
Cllr Steve Tierney felt it would be “really pig headed” if the council didn’t at least take a second look at the issue.
Cllr Boden said he welcomed the tone of the debate and agreed with Cllr Tierney that “it is very easy if you are in control to be pig headed, that the decision has been made, full stop.
“That is not a positive way to look”.
Now was the time, he said, to step back, listen to advice from officers and be open-minded about looking at alternatives.
“I for one will remain open minded and will wait for report to come and look at in fair and unbiased way,” he said.
“There is no advantage in digging in our heels.”
At the end of the day Cabinet would look at the information in front of them and “we will act in good faith”.
Cllr Booth added: “Let’s have a can-do attitude and not get stuck in process.”
Cllr Seaton agreed it was important to listen to what has been said “and give it proper and due process”.
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