Sound objections from local residents were once again ignored by Cambridge City Council’s Planning Committee this week, which approved new houses in Queen Edith’s Way and Cavendish Avenue without addressing neighbours’ concerns. The meeting, which I attended in part, was thoroughly dispiriting and another small example of who calls the shots in the way the city is suffering death by a thousand small disfigurements.
In Queen Edith’s Way, the local building developers who have bought numbers 3 and 5 Queen Edith’s Way returned to pursue their bid to demolish these lovely houses and replace them with six new ones. It’s quite clear that the idea of ‘six houses replacing two’ is one which currently gets councillors’ juices flowing, and I felt very sorry for the local residents whose reasonable objections were dismissed so quickly. The developers played the “we’ve done everything the council has advised” card beautifully, and dismissed offhandedly the way these new houses would loom over their neighbours.
No Queen Edith’s City Councillors turned up to speak on behalf of the local residents, and our City Councillor actually on the committee, George Pippas, decided to abstain from the final vote, something which seems to have made one of the residents almost as angry as anything else which happened.
Meanwhile, in Cavendish Avenue, a resident had applied to build a house at the bottom of their garden, with one storey buried underground. This would be a fair way from the main house, but right up close to two or three other houses accessed from Hills Avenue. The residents of all these houses were rightly horrified. Doubtless the applicant wouldn’t build a second house that close to their own one.
There are several reasons why this greedy ‘garden grab’ ought to have been thrown out by the council officers, but they recommended it for approval regardless. One councillor told me that we shouldn’t be surprised, as “the bit they don’t tell you is how concerned the council is nowadays about disapproved applications ending up in the courts”.
As usual, the visuals provided to councillors were rubbish, based mainly on selective views provided by the developers.
The real issue of concern here, however, was the apparent ignorance of council officers of what guidelines apply to these ‘back land developments’. One of the residents decided to use much of the pitiful 90 seconds she was allowed to speak, to highlight the relevant government guidelines, which clearly advise against these developments.
On the back of this, there was much discussion from the committee of councillors, and requests for advice from the council officers who they rely on. The replies from the officers were just worryingly vague waffle which suggested that the council officers don’t really know what guidelines apply.
To me, the sensible ruling from the chair, Councillor John Hipkin, should have been that the decision on this and similar applications should be deferred, pending clarification from council officers on what guidelines apply to these ‘back land developments’. Instead, and despite several other questions from committee members remaining unanswered, the chair announced that he was going to approve the application (before taking the vote), in a manner which suggested that after 45 minutes, he’d got fed up with discussing the item.
In this case, one of our local City Councillors, Tim Moore, did turn up and speak on behalf of residents. His arguments went similarly ignored. Councillor Pippas voted against the application, but the rest of the committee followed the chair.
In both cases, I understand that local residents are considering ways in which they can continue the fight, despite the Planning Committee’s decision. This would be ironic if it were true that the council really does favour the side which it reckons will give it the least chance of the application rumbling on. The Cavendish Avenue house, for example, would not appear to be accessible by the local fire brigade, which must be a concern with respect to building regulations.