I was warned recently that Cottenham people make up what they don’t know. I think everyone everywhere could fall prey to this which is why transparency is so important for government at all levels and why David Jenkins, one of our former County Councillors, and I have been campaigning for the County Council’s relevant Committees not to hold secretive meetings about their aspirations for development in Cottenham. David, with help from the County’s Monitoring Officer and some legal advice, managed to change this recently. This item should be open to the public now, as it always should have been. Of course, sometimes, however hard you try to be transparent, some people prefer to make things up.
Good legal advice and representation has a part to play in planning applications too.
It has been clear since the public meeting in 2015 that Cottenham people, in general, do not welcome large developments partly because they usually come without the necessary infrastructure improvements to support the expansion, partly because of the inevitable increase in traffic, and partly the effect on the ”look and feel” of the village – its character.
The Parish Council took the precaution of seeking legal advice at a “low key” level so we understood better what was going on. The District Council’s Planning Committee, chaired by Lynda Harford at the time, refused planning permission in May 2016 for Gladman’s first attempt to develop land off Rampton Road. The applications are, after all, against SCDC planning policy but argue that many of those policies are invalid because not enough houses are being built around here. Gladman almost immediately submitted an appeal against the refusal and, having modified their proposal slightly at the expense of the setting of the Almshouses and the views from Rampton Road, submitted a second application.
In March this year, just before the Gladman appeal was due to be heard, the SCDC Planning Committee not only granted outline planning permission for up to 200 houses and 70 residential places with care but also withdrew their opposition in the appeal which opened the way for Gladman to challenge several s.106 obligations they had signed up to in the permission.
The Parish Council felt this risk was sufficiently large as to warrant escalating its representation at the Appeal and to challenge the way in which SCDC reached their decision. SCDC accepted that their process had been flawed, agreed to request that the permission was quashed and pay some of CPC’s legal costs. A key reason for CPC’s success, albeit limited, was a Supreme Court ruling that allows SCDC to stand by some of its housing policies despite the lack of 5-year supply of land with planning permission. Unfortunately Gladman submitted a third planning application which was processed and granted by SCDC with extreme haste but sufficiently properly to render another legal challenge too risky. CPC’s accounts show a net cost for legal fees of around £16,500. Between Gladman and Persimmon the s.106 contributions for Cottenham’s Community Transport scheme and burial grounds should outweigh those legal costs twenty-fold.
Having approved both the Gladman and Persimmon applications on 9th August, the Planning Committee applied its policies more rigorously to the County Council application and refused it. Developments of this scale should, more properly, be made at the City edge or on strategic sites like Northstowe and Waterbeach which have the necessary infrastructure to support them.
There will always be naysayers, but there is an irony in the way the District Council can refuse planning permission for a new Village Hall & Nursery, despite these being widely supported in the village, mostly because the proposed building would be too big to be located in the “open countryside” at the same time granting permission for nearly 400 houses in pretty much that same “open countryside”. Yes, there were some issues of height relative to the neighbouring Primary School or of style when reducing the height also reduced the roof pitch. Yes, there were some issues of safe pedestrian access if the intensity of usage increases. None are insurmountable, say the Planners. But “open countryside” when the site is immediately adjacent to the Primary School and surrounded on two of the other sides by residential properties? Maybe it is a conspiracy to persuade us to accept the County Council proposal to surround the fields completely?