Yesterday I attended the Planning Policy and Localism Portfolio Holder meeting to fight for my community. This was the first part of three key stages of the Local Plan (the others will be Full Council March 13th & the Independent Planning Inspector in the autumn).
The Local Plan is very significant to my local community due to the proposals to build a town on the former Barracks site and adjacent farmland to the rail line. The fight against the town has been going since the MoD desired to realise the asset value of the land in 1998. The community has fought off the threat three times before – 2008, 2004, and 2001. The last two (and current one) I have led the community campaign.
At the Portfolio meeting I made three interventions. The first was to challenge on the capacity of the A10 (the main road through the ward and the only road that would serve a proposed town. I stated that the A10 was a key reason why the town proposal had been rejected three times before. That already the road backs up to Waterbeach from the Milton roundabout. I asked what specific improvements are planned for the A10 and what extra capacity could that provide.
In addition I asked about the City Deal funding which would be part of infrastructure spending – what would happen if the City Deal did not come forward.
My main intervention I tried my utmost to cover as much ground as possible in the three minute speaking slot!;
The good news; I welcome that the plan includes creating greenbelt along the Bannold Road farmland as we have seen flooding and the awful situation of sewerage backing up into homes due to the treatment plant being full.That is about as far as the good news goes.
That said we are looking to build on an even greater area of farmland as part of the town proposal.
In the report the consultation responses are 10% in favour, 90% against. Yet if you look at the meeting papers the weighting is disproportionate. Also ‘other objectors’ includes the two neighbouring parish councils – Landbeach and Milton. Landbeach is only the other side of the road to the barracks.
Great store is put in the reports to what the Environment Agency has to say about flood risk. An organisation where the public confidence has been shaken. Yet the local experts – Waterbeach Level Internal Drainage Board are classed as ‘other objectors’. They have made serious objections and anything to do with flow rates or any new discharge of the water course will need their consent. Yet despite this no changes have been made or addressed in the ‘minor changes’ section – which only runs to half a page.
Much of the report only addresses major issues to the Area Action Plan and thereby in effect I would suggest, putting into the long grass.
The primary documents only have 7 pages, 7 pages for a town proposal, of which only 2 1/2 pages for assessments. I am still awaiting a response from officers on the methodology of how the consultation responses were considered.
Will the housing meet the local need or be for commuters. Only 1 line on Page 78 relates to this, saying ‘some’ will be bought by commuters to London. How many is ‘some’?
The transport strategy is an aspirational document. The A10 road is overcapacity and there are no firm figures/proposals on how capacity would be improved.
There is no mention in the report of mitigation for the neighbouring villages in my ward – Landbeach & Chittering.
No evidence has been offered on the site/housing need after the current local plan.
One major objection where there is no response or mention of what so ever is with contamination of the barracks site.
I will now cover some areas on legal areas for the legal officer to consider;
You are taking a decision on the current local plan for 1,400 homes, yet you are looking at 8-9000 houses – so are seeking to create a binding effect on future local plans. This could be considered within the law of ‘improper purpose’.
With the law of ‘improper purpose’ is ‘control of discretion’. I would cite (1) the disproportionate weighting between supporters and objectors in the paperwork. (2) The lack of provided methodology with the consultation responses. (3) Major issues such as the A10, contamination, drainage not addressed sufficiently or at all in the assessment document.
The ‘no evidence’ rule in law. Within the substantial amount of meeting papers produced for the meeting only 7 pages are about Waterbeach of which only 2 1/2 pages relate to assessments. Is this adequate to make a decision on?
Within Judicial Review ‘right to reasons for a decision’. Only one line on Page 78 about the smaller options.
Now I would like to end on an optimistic note. I accept that there is a housing need. But I would like to put forward an alternative vision. You say you need to build 1,400 houses within the Local Plan for Waterbeach. Why not just build those on the built area of the barracks. The infrastructure is there especially in terms of drainage. That would save the farmland. You still meet the housing need, yet on a smaller scale, instead of the 8/9000 house town, just the 1,400 on the built area of the barracks could be brought forward sooner, this would help with the housing need in Waterbeach and support the local economy. If you are a listening Council this would be more welcomed by the community, if you proceed with the town the community will continue to fight you on this. Let’s go with the alternative vision on a smaller scale.
It was very flattering to have many Councillors come up to me in the break and congratulate me on the speech made. Well known Councillor and Independant Deborah Roberts praised my intervention in her speech that followed.
I now look to the Full Council meeting of March 13th.