A scheme to build 93 homes on 21 acres of ‘predominantly open pasture’ known as Wenny Meadow at Chatteris is being recommended for approval despite widespread opposition from residents.
555 neighbours responded to the statutory consultation of which 551 objected to the scheme; most concerns were over the loss of public open space.
Council officers, who will take their recommendation of approval to the planning committee of Fenland Council on July 5, says the proposed scheme will deliver the first of the expected phases for 350 new homes.
“Our report has weighed the heritage harm identified from the proposal against the public benefits of the scheme,” says their report.
Officers claim approval “is expected to deliver needed housing for the district which should be given moderate weight given the proportion of affordable housing being offered (10% of the scheme)”.
They also claim it will provide additional public open space and that in itself “is a substantial public benefit that should be given significant weight”.
Fenland also benefits through economic and health benefits, says the planning officer who drew up the report, but says these only “afford moderate benefit”.
But he concludes that “the public benefits of this scheme would outweigh the harm in terms of heritage”.
His report says: “The proposal will make a significant contribution to temporary and permanent employment in the town and district and the economic benefits should be welcomed.
“The development has been designed in a heritage led manner in order to address its setting.
“The development will be positioned away from the listed buildings in the less sensitive areas of the application site, consistent with the East Chatteris Broad Concept Plan.
“The harms arising from the development are deemed to be less than substantial and the harm is considered to be outweighed by the benefit of the delivery of housing on the allocated site to meet the council’s housing requirement and the provision of the parkland to formalised public use.
“The scheme would be attractive of a high-quality design and would offer future occupiers a high standard of accommodation, with good internal and external amenity areas, as well as publicly accessible open parkland.”
The report concludes: “The development achieves the objectives of adopted policy in that is mitigates its impact on biodiversity and its would safeguard ecology and habitat of value, where it is possible.
“Whilst there will be a reduction of biodiversity on site, the quality of this is not such that it would be considered reasonable to refuse planning permission.
“On this basis it is considered that offsite provision and enhancement (biodiversity net gain) is appropriate in this particular case.
“The proposal would result in a loss of onsite biodiversity. The character of the loss is such that it does not justify the refusal of the application. The loss is being made good and biodiversity net gains are to be delivered off site on a site to be managed for 30 years.
“Fenland Council’s senior planning obligations officer has confirmed that on the basis of the information submitted as part of the viability assessment, the proposal is viable to provide a 10% contribution towards affordable housing.
“Overall, and on planning balance, the proposal would be considered to meet the council’s aspirations for this allocated site and the proposal would comply with adopted local and national planning policies.”
None of which, of course, is music to the ears of protestors who have fought a long and hard campaign against the scheme.
Campaigners from the Friends of Wenny Road Meadow group expressed their dismay that the scheme will be determined just days before the publication of the new Fenland local plan, which they say would categorically place the site outside of Chatteris’ built area.
They argue that the site is considered to be Chatteris’ last “natural green space” and was removed from the housing allocation in the emerging local plan which is due to be published in “pre-submission” form this month.
A parish-wide poll took place in June 2022 to determine whether there was support for the meadow, which is the town’s former Manor Park, being designated a Local Green Space in the new local plan.
They argue that 92% of voters supported the designation, which would have afforded Wenny Meadow the same kind of status as green belt land in planning terms, and it was widely expected that a Local Green Space designation would be made in the new plan.
The proposals are being brought forward by developer Cannon Kirk and were due to form the first part of a 350-housing development in East Chatteris.
But protestors claim the majority of this development, save for 80 homes being built on Fenland District Council land near The Elms, has been removed from the new local plan.
They argue that the meadow is home to11 UK “priority species” of birds, bats, and reptiles. All ten species of bats found at the meadow are considered to be protected species. The meadow is also home to a rare species of false scorpion, only found in a few sites across the country such as Windsor Park and Sherwood Forest.
Friends of Wenny Meadow point out that Cannon Kirk’s appointed ecologist and The Wildlife Trust have disputed the extent of biodiversity loss at Wenny Meadow if the plans go ahead, although both agree that the loss will be significant.
The applicant’s ecologist estimates this loss to be 19.28% of “biodiversity units” while The Wildlife Trust’s ecologist believes the true figure to be a loss of 32.19%.
New legislation coming into force in November 2023 requires all developments to provide a 10% biodiversity gain.
Chatteris Town Council also opposes the current plans and say that the biodiversity loss will be “off-set” through improvements to a site off Gaul Road in March.
The town council says: “It is totally unacceptable to off-set the biodiversity loss by transferring the compensation and enhancement 10 miles out of Chatteris when there is plenty of land which could be used to compensate for the loss of biodiversity within Chatteris.”
Due to a shortage of planning staff at Fenland District Council the officer’s report was prepared by an external consultant.
Kirsty Patterson, Secretary of the Friends of Wenny Road Meadow, said: “After 6 years of campaigning, a record number of written objections, thousands of petition signatures, and the overwhelming rejection of development of this site in the parish poll it’s offensive that none of these local voices have been listened to.
“It is also offensive that Fenland District Council have farmed the decision out to an external consultant who doesn’t seem to have grasped the importance or the significance of Wenny Meadow to biodiversity or to the local community.
“It is laughable to suggest that the public benefits of this development outweigh the substantial losses, given that this is something the local community have repeatedly demonstrated they do not support.”
In part of his report, the planning officer says: “Firstly, the proposal will not result in the loss of agricultural land.
“As much of the correspondence received recognises, the land has been historically a park associated with Manor House and has been left largely as unmanaged grassland for many years, hence is described as, and is now known as Wenny Meadow.
“With regards the acceptability of the proposal against various policies of the Local Plan, the proposal needs to be considered as a whole and this report attempts to make a reasoned and balanced judgement on the compliance of the proposal with the adopted local plan.
“The use of the land for sports has been mentioned on a number of the objection letters, however beyond informal use by local children, which is not unexpected, the land would not be considered to represent any type of formal sports playing field.
“Therefore, the proposal would not result in any loss of sports provision.”
The officer adds: “With regards to developer profit, it is important to appreciate that the delivery of housing in the UK is largely dependent on the private sector being encouraged to bring forward development.
“Profit plays an important role in facilitating this, as well as enabling the delivery of affordable housing and other public benefits delivered by schemes, such as employment and growth.
“This proposal will deliver 10% of the housing in the form of affordable housing and it would deliver new public open space that would occupy a significant proportion of the land, which would need to be purchased and paid for by the developer to enable the rest of this scheme to come forward.
“For clarity, the application site is currently privately owned and there is no public right to access it, despite this, there is no evidence that the current owners have actively tried to prevent public access of the land.
“The new public open space that will be delivered by this scheme will be secured by legal agreement and its management arrangements will also need to be approved by the council.
“On the 5-year management plan for Gaul Road, this has been assessed by the council’s wildlife officer who appears satisfied that the proposal meets adopted policy requirements.”
The meeting is from 1pm and can be followed live via You Tube: https://youtube.com/live/dQ8mWATQVGQ
Wenny Meadow, Chatteris, where 93 homes are proposed to be built. Many oppose the application by Fenland District Council officers is recommending to its planning committee that it be approved. PHOTOGRAPH by Steve File of DronesAloft.co.uk
Can you help us?
While you’re here, we are asking, for the first time, for readers to support us financially by taking out a modest subscription.
£2, or £3 or even £5 will help us achieve our goals. It will mean the second year of CambsNews will be livelier, healthier, and much better placed to cover the important issues affecting our everyday lives.
Your subscription simply means we can provide and expand our news FREE to all readers (Read More)Will you help us? Simply click the link below to make a donation.