Developers criticise MP after he calls their planning proposals disappointing

MP Steve Barclay with Whittlesey Town Councillor Dee Laws at the appeal over the Showfield site
MP Steve Barclay with Whittlesey Town Councillor Dee Laws at the appeal over the Showfield site
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Developers have criticised an MP who expressed disappointment at their plans to build 220 homes on the Showfield site in Whittlesey.

Land owners Showfields Ltd have hit back at Steve Barclay, MP for North East Cambridgeshire, after he wrote a piece on his personal website expressing concerns to their proposals.

Mr Barclay was a vocal critic of a previous application put in by Showfields Ltd on the site in East Delph, speaking against it at a hearing and labelling it “one of the worst I have ever seen.”

The application was rejected by Fenland District Council in December 2013.

Showfields Ltd then appealed but a government planning inspector upheld the council’s decision last November, with flooding concerns cited as the main reason.

Showfields Ltd’s new application to the council would allow for up to 220 homes to be built, instead of 249 which they had originally applied for.

I did not find the points raised at the meeting by the developer or his lobbyist persuasive.

Steve Barclay

However, the developers say under the new application the homes would only be built on land identified by the Environment Agency as being in the low-risk Flood Zone 1.

A second application has also been put forward which the developers say would enable up to 23 acres of land near the Showfield site to be a community nature park.

Mr Barclay wrote on Wednesday (March 4) that he had met a day earlier at the House of Commons with Mr Rose of Showfields Ltd, Mr Flood of Insight Planning, a planning consultancy, and Mr Arnold of Lexington Communications, a political lobbying firm.

He added: “It is disappointing that so soon after the planning inspector reached her decision against the developer we find the same developer with another very similar scheme for largely the same land.

“The developer suggested that in removing 29 homes from the land with highest flooding risk they had addressed the prime concern of the planning inspector.

“They also said that they planned to allocate a small amount of land for community use, including to develop biodiversity.

“Not surprisingly, this is the land that they could not build on due to the high flooding risk – a flooding risk previously dismissed by the developer.

“The developer has appointed political lobbyists to assist with their communications and told me that a leaflet setting out the benefits of the new scheme will be circulated shortly to residents.

“The developer appeared to dismiss other local concerns raised at the planning inspector’s hearing, such as the pressure on local highways or the increased risk of flooding to existing homes nearby, on the grounds that these were not in his view the principal objection of the planning inspector.

“Mr Rose told me that if the scheme does not receive planning approval this time he does not believe residents should be able to continue to access this land as they currently do.

“He said he intends to turn it into arable farm land.”

Adding that it would be district councillors who decide whether to approve the applications, he said: “As I made clear to the developers I continue to have concerns regarding their proposals. I did not find the points raised at the meeting by the developer or his lobbyist persuasive.

“I will continue to work closely with residents in Whittlesey to ensure their voice is heard, not least given the significant spending power of the developer.”

Showfields Ltd have since responded to Mr Barclay’s website post.

A spokesman said: “We are just beginning the process of explaining our proposals to Whittlesey residents.

“We recently met Mr Barclay as the first step in this process.

“Regrettably, despite our best endeavours, Mr Barclay has made some fundamental errors in the version of the meeting he has chosen to publish.

“The company does not feel that Mr Barclay’s account is balanced or accurate, so we want to set the record straight in the interests of an informed public debate on our plans.

“The implication of Mr Barclay’s statement is that the nature park would be sited on land freed up by the reduction in the number of homes from 249 to 220 and that the land allocated to community use is ‘small’.

“This is frankly untrue. The nature park is proposed for a separate site, something perfectly evident in the fact that separate planning applications have been submitted.

“We intend to gift this land to the community and provide financial assistance to turn it into a nature park with new points of access, more wildlife habitats and greater biodiversity.

“The total land proposed for public open space in both applications is equivalent to 22 football pitches.

“Mr Barclay also references an ‘increased risk of flooding to existing homes nearby’.

“The planning inspector, the Environment Agency, the Drainage Board and Fenland District Council have all confirmed that there is no such risk in relation to the land now proposed for development.

“Indeed, Environment Agency research makes it clear that, even in a very extreme flood event, the proposed housing would remain dry.

“The question has been raised about our intentions in the event that planning permission is not forthcoming.

“We cannot afford to leave our land fallow indefinitely and would have to consider putting it to active agricultural use.

“But our clear preference is to provide quality homes, including affordable homes, and a new nature park to deliver a fantastic gateway into the town along the B1040.”