At a special meeting of the City Council on Thursday night to discuss the Local Plan for 2014, councillors refused to remove the Wort’s Causeway development from the plan, despite many local protests. Click here for the report on the meeting by Chris Havergal of the Cambridge News.
On the night, the council’s only independent member, John Hipkin, proposed an amendment to the plan which would delete the two Wort’s Causeway sites. He was supported in this by the council’s only Conservative party member, Shapour Meftah (Trumpington). However, none of the Labour or Liberal Democrat councillors present were prepared to vote against their own party lines, and the amendment was defeated by a massive 32 votes to 2. Queen Edith’s councillors Jean Swanson and George Pippas, along with Cherry Hinton councillor Robert Dryden, abstained from the vote. The third Queen Edith’s councillor, Sue Birtles, was absent after recent surgery, and it was said that Cllr Dryden’s abstention was on her behalf. However, she sent a message which was read out (see “Message sent by Cllr Birtles” below).
Cllr Swanson continued to put forward her argument that if the Green Belt remained undeveloped, somehow the situation could get worse for local residents, saying: “While I dislike the idea of building on 18 hectares of green belt land and don’t want it to happen, if it is not released a planning inspector could delay the whole process, leading to a planning vacuum.”
When it came to the vote on the whole Local Plan (including the Green Belt development), the Conservative and Independent councillors joined the Liberal Democrats to vote in favour; the Labour councillors abstained, although that was over a transport issue. So in the end, there was no support on the night for stopping the Green Belt development, although the efforts of the Independent and Conservative councillors should be recognised.
It will be interesting to see if the fact that our two Queen Edith’s Liberal Democrat councillors could only bring themselves to abstain on the “Wort’s Causeway amendment” will have any effect in next year’s council election for the seat currently held by Ms Swanson.
Message sent by Cllr Birtles (Queen Edith’s):
Firstly – apologies for my non attendance at the meeting this evening. I am currently recovering from recent surgery at home.
I’m sure that the views of the Queen Edith’s residents on the selection of sites GB1 and GB2 will be well represented this evening, however, this issue has been so robustly debated, and I have had so many continuous representations made to me by other ward residents, that I also wanted to make a contribution to the debate this evening.
There has been a very strong campaign within the ward against the development of these 2 sites, and a very pro active response to the consultation. Of the 576 responses, 490 were strongly against the use of this site for housing.
Cllr Tim Ward, executive councillor for planning, in the Cambridge Evening News earlier this year said: “The views of the public on these sites, and the results of traffic modelling by the county council, will be reported to councillors when the consultation has closed, and councillors will then decide, bearing in mind the responses to the consultation, whether or not to include these sites in the next stage of the process, which is the draft plan, which in turn will be consulted on in the summer.”
Sadly, there is a very strong feeling in Queen Edith’s that the consultation was simply a tick box exercise, and that residents views have not been fully considered in the proposals to include GB1 and GB2 for development. Having followed the debate through the various committee stages – it is not hard to understand why residents have formed this view.
Concerns about the impact on biodiversity on these sites which host priority bird and bat species have led to speculation that the site’s ecological value has been underestimated, and that it’s rating at amber, may not have fully taken into account the wide variety of plant and bird species. We have been lucky to have had the input of local resident, John Meed who has undertaken various bird studies of the area and will be able to inform members of his results.
At the Environment and Scrutiny Committee I asked for a reassessment of this site. This was felt to be inappropriate; however, it would certainly give residents reassurance if further assessment of these sites could be carried out, and a full rationale of how the exceptional criteria for the use of green belt for development have been met in this case.