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4,000 new homes for Northstowe approved despite claims of ‘ecocide’ and fears of water shortages

Four thousand new homes have been approved for Northstowe following a lengthy debate that heard claims that the plans would represent “ecocide” and leave people facing the “worst of both worlds” through water shortages and flooding.

The homes will form part of the third phase of the creation of the new town near Longstanton.

Northstowe phase 3a - an illustrative image of MIlitary Lake. Picture: Homes England
Northstowe phase 3a - an illustrative image of MIlitary Lake. Picture: Homes England

Homes England’s plans for the site, just north of Oakington, will also include two primary schools, shops, allotments, sports hubs and a BMX track.

But a separate application for a further 1,000 homes was deferred because councillors on South Cambridgeshire District Council’s planning committee meeting had already spent nearly seven hours debating the first set of plans on Friday (January 28).

They heard the fears from a number of groups about the impact the development would have on groundwater levels as well as drainage.

Daniel Fulton, from the Fews Lane Consortium, presented pictures of dried up ponds in Longstanton, which he said had been caused due to the initial phase of the Northstowe development impacting groundwater levels.

He branded the development “ecocide” and argued the council was not ready to grant permission for the site, and called for the application to be deferred.

The chairman of Longstanton Parish Council, Cllr Dan delaMare-Lyon, told the committee that the parish council had concerns over the plans due to subsidence they believed had been caused by the first phase of the development.

Northstowe phase 3a - an illustrative image of MIlitary Lake. Picture: Homes England
Northstowe phase 3a - an illustrative image of MIlitary Lake. Picture: Homes England

He said people in the village have told him they have had to bring in “tonnes of material” as their gardens were sinking.

Cllr delaMare-Lyon added that subsidence at the Village Institute had created cracks big enough to put a hand inside.

He told councillors these effects were due to dewatering caused by the first phase of the Northstowe development.

On the issue of drainage, Keith Wilderspin, from the Swavesey Internal Drainage Board, told councillors he had sleepless nights worrying about how Uttons Drove will continue to meet the sewage and drainage demand.

He said that if the Northstowe development and any future development at Cambourne all needed to use Uttons Drove, then they would be in “big, big trouble”.

Northstowe phase 3a masterplan. Picture: Homes England
Northstowe phase 3a masterplan. Picture: Homes England

Mr Wilderspin said he believed that by 2027 the site will be at capacity.

He added that worries about the drainage at Uttons Drove keep him awake at night more than anything else in his life.

Cllr Deborah Roberts (Ind, Foxton) said the statements made by Mr Wilderspin were “alarming” and that future residents would have the “worst of all worlds” by having either not enough water or flooding due to the drainage being over its capacity.

She argued that the council would be “shot to ribbons” if it ignored the concerns raised by all the different people and granted approval.

But an agent speaking on behalf of Homes England said the plans followed multiple rounds of consultation with the public and said it was a scheme that “meets or exceeds” the council’s requirements and is of high quality.

Hilary Stroude at Kingfisher Pond, Longstanton, which is in poor condition compared with years previous. Picture: Keith Heppell
Hilary Stroude at Kingfisher Pond, Longstanton, which is in poor condition compared with years previous. Picture: Keith Heppell

He said that the plans were accompanied by a full environmental impact assessment and that the Environment Agency was satisfied that all the permits were in place for water extraction for the development.

He added: “The proposals are based on a masterplan that will deliver a vibrant 21st-century settlement with strong local identity.

“The masterplan aims to promote sustainable transport, creating a highly permeable movement network.

Northstowe phase 3bPicture: Homes England
Northstowe phase 3bPicture: Homes England

“Homes England is committed to ensuring it builds a sustainable community.”

A representative from the Environment Agency said at the meeting that with the proposed condition to manage water usage to 110 litres of water per person per day, and with more “strategic solutions” also being planned across East Anglia, he said they believed there would be a sustainable supply.

The meeting heard that when at capacity, the sewage could be pumped elsewhere, although the infrastructure may not be completed for another eight to 10 years.

The joint director of shared planning at the district council, Stephen Kelly, highlighted to councillors that the Environment Agency, despite raising initial concerns, had been satisfied with Anglian Water’s assertion that it could meet the projected demand, and therefore had raised no objection to the application.

Mr Kelly went on to say that while water and drainage were material considerations, under government guidance, water issues should be dealt with under the council’s strategic plans, as it impacts all of the area, not just the individual application site. He also said that monitoring of the situation was proposed.

He pointed out that the planning committee was not the responsible authority for drainage, and advised councillors that if they were to refuse on those grounds, due to there being no objection for the responsible authorities, it would be hard to defend if it came to appeal.

Cllr Dr Tumi Hawkins (Lib Dem, Caldecote) said while concerns had been raised, the committee had to rely on the expertise of the statutory bodies.

Northstowe phase 3a illustrative sketch. Picture: Homes England
Northstowe phase 3a illustrative sketch. Picture: Homes England

Cllr Dr Martin Cahn (Lib Dem, Histon and Impington), although having previously in the meeting indicated he might support a deferral for more information to be provided, concluded that he agreed with this and highlighted that the situation can be reviewed when more detailed applications covering ‘reserved matters’ are submitted to the council.

However, Cllr Dr Richard Williams (Con, Whittlesford) argued that the district council could not just say “this is not our responsibility”.

He added that while he respected the view of the Environment Agency, he said they were “not the people on the ground”, and that an expert had told the committed that there was a “real problem”.

Cllr Williams asked “what was the point” of the council if it did not consider the water and drainage issues, and stressed they are material considerations.

After extensive debate, the committee finally came to the vote, with the majority of councillors voting in favour of the plans.

Due to it being an outline application, future more detailed applications will need to be submitted to the district council for approval before any development can take place.

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