A small village near Ely, Cambridgeshire

Wilburton - The Local Plan

Local Plan Farce

Latest - the 2018 local plan has been removed - reverting back to the 2015 local plan. The planning inspector made recommendations for the plan to be made sound - which included removing the community-led development policies and the Kennett CLT. ECDC did not want to do this - so after 2 years of work by many people, have voted to remove the 2018 plan. The reason for removing the community-led policies is unknown - but clearly the inspector felt they were not suitable.

With the current uncertainty over the local plan, and the almost silence from the SWCLT on their plans, we will try to include the latest developments here. The 2018 local plan was geared towards favouring community-led development, something ECDC are known to be keen on exploiting for profit via East Cambs Trading Company / Palace Green Homes and CLT East (or whatever they call themselves this week!).

The 2018 Local Plan - the planning inspector found the plan to be not sound, but wanted to work with the council to make it sound. The council offered up some modification in Dec 2018, but unusually the inspector's responses were not published - including a letter dated 19th Dec 2018 - main modifications needed for soundness - a further letter in Jan 2019 - and - an ultimatum.

In Feb 2019 ECDC finally published the inspector's comments - these showed that, amongst many comments, the inspector wanted to see the removal of all community-led development from the local plan - including the 500 house proposal at Kennett. Her reasoning has yet to be published - but it is known she spoke at length to residents from Kennett, whose reports to the local plan examination are very damning of the process - see Kennett Action Group - Matter 12 and Kennett Action Group - Matter 16. The latter highlight the total lack of community support for Kennett - something which Charles Roberts stated had 72% support (but forgot to mention that was from a closed vote of selected/known CLT supporters). That is not true CLT, it is East Cambs CLT.

ECDC has now decided to drop the 2018 plan - and vote on reinstating the 2015 plan - which can be found here. This plan was challenged and overturned soon after being adopted - and has been described as being "as much use as a chocolate teapot". But it does offer some hope for affordable housing in the region - as for some unknown reason ECDC has tried to reduce the amount of affordable housing provided in developments in the region. The 2015 plan includes the following:

4.4.4 Affordable housing on development sites are an importance source of supply and can help meet a proportion of this need. Policy HOU 3 sets out the proportion of affordable housing that the Council will seek to secure on development schemes – 40% in the south of the district, and 30% in the north. These percentages have been informed by a realistic assessment of the viability of general market housing schemes - as set out in the Council’s ‘Community Infrastructure Levy Viability Assessment’ (December 2011) and Addendum (April 2012).

For the 2018 local plan, ECDC appeared to lower this to 20% in Littleport and Soham, and 30% elsewhere - it is not clear why they reduced these figures. Wilburton is classed as being in the north of the district. Littleport and Soham are also in the north, so should see their affordable housing requirement increased again.

The 2015 local plan also includes a section on Affordable housing exception sites (Section 4.5):

Policy HOU 4: Affordable housing exception sites Affordable housing development on exception sites can make an important contribution to meeting local housing needs, and schemes may be permitted on sites outside settlement boundaries where:
  • There is an identified local need which cannot be met on available sites within the development envelope (including allocation sites), or sites which are part of community-led development.
  • The site is well related to a village which offers a range of services and facilities, and there is good accessibility by foot/cycle to those facilities.
  • No significant harm would be caused to the character or setting of the settlement and the surrounding countryside.
  • The scale of the scheme is appropriate to the location and to the level of identified local affordable housing need.
  • The scheme incorporates a range of dwelling sizes, types and tenures appropriate to the identified local need; and
  • The affordable housing provided is made available to people in local housing need at an affordable cost for the life of the property.
An element of open market housing will only be acceptable where there is insufficient grant available, and it is demonstrated through financial appraisal that the open market housing is essential to enable delivery of the site for primarily affordable housing, and does not significantly increase the land value above that which would be payable if sufficient grant were available to provide 100% affordable housing.

It would be interesting to know what "an element of open market housing" actually means - as in Stretham this element is at present around 70%, with just 30% affordable housing. ECDC policy suggested a maximum of 20% open-market housing on countryside exception sites - which is more in line with true CLT.

For Wilburton, the 2015 local plan states that "Wilburton is a small village situated 6 miles south-west of Ely" - note that in the 2018 plan Wilburton became a medium village, enabling more development. The "regular bus service to Cambridge" is a little misleading - being once in the morning to Cambridge and once in the evening returning. In terms of housing, the 2015 local plan states:

Wilburton is likely to continue to grow at a modest rate, with new housing being built on suitable ‘infill’ sites within the village. No new housing allocation sites are proposed on the edge of Wilburton.

A ‘development envelope’ has been drawn around Wilburton to define the built-up part of the village where infill development may be permitted. The purpose is to prevent sprawl into the open countryside. Development on infill sites will need to be in line with Policy GROWTH 2.

Outside the development envelope, housing will not normally be permitted – unless there are exceptional circumstances, such as essential dwellings for rural workers, or affordable housing. A Community Land Trust has been established for Wilburton and Stretham, and the group has aspirations to bring forward an exceptions scheme on the edge of Wilburton to deliver affordable housing and other community benefits. This and other housing schemes outside the development envelope will be assessed against Policies GROWTH 2, GROWTH 6 and other Local Plan policies as appropriate.

A final note for Wilburton regarding infrastructure and community facilities states:

The current community facilities in Wilburton (including the village hall, social club and recreation ground) contribute to the quality of people’s lives. The District Council will work with the County Council and Parish Council to secure funding, including developer contributions, to improve facilities wherever possible. The loss of existing community facilities will also be resisted under Policy COM 3. Proposals for new community development that benefit the village will be supported in principle, subject to Policy COM 4.

That could imply that the existing Recreation Ground is protected via policy, so why was SWCLT even allowed to suggest it could move the recreation ground? Why wasn't a village meeting called to allow discussion? There was a meeting called when it was rumoured the cricket pitch may be moved. Maybe there is too much overlap between PC and SWCLT - and that creates a conflict of interest where the village is concerned.

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