Anthony Browne MP condemns Thakeham’s ‘incredibly destructive’ plans for 25,000 homes in South Cambridgeshire
Anthony Browne, the Conservative MP for South Cambridgeshire, has condemned proposals for a new 25,000-home community in the countryside, warning they would be “incredibly destructive” to villages and cause “monumental” damage to the ecosystem.
Thakeham, a development group based in West Sussex, announced its vision for a new town and connecting villages in a region it called ‘South West Cambridgeshire’ on Monday.
The company wants to build the ‘zero-carbon community’ on an undefined area of land around Barrington, Bassingbourn-cum-Kneesworth, Foxton, Meldreth, Orwell, Shepreth, Whaddon and Wimpole. The idea has no planning status currently.
Mr Browne, who grew up in Fowlmere, successfully stood for election as MP in 2019 with a pledge to protect the South Cambridgeshire countryside from being concreted over.
Reacting to Thakeham’s proposals, he said: “I am extremely concerned about the impact of yet another enormous development on the character of South Cambridgeshire. Whatever the context, a new town is both unwanted and unsustainable.
“I have said many times that South Cambridgeshire welcomes sustainable development – but this is not it. Not only would this be incredibly destructive to some of the most beautiful villages in South Cambridgeshire, destroying their way of life, but it would cause monumental and lasting damage to local ecosystems.
“South Cambridgeshire has already had two new towns in the last two decades, including the largest new town to be built in Britain in the last 50 years, and it still has some of the highest housebuilding rates in the country. It is leading to increasing urbanisation, more pressure on local services, increases congestion and water shortages.
“I will continue to campaign for the South Cambridgeshire District Council not to approve building any more houses than required by national government targets and for residents to be openly consulted before even considering such radical proposals.”
Liberal Democrat-run South Cambridgeshire District Council and Labour-run Cambridge City Council are working on the next Local Plan, which will act as a development blueprint for the Greater Cambridge area to 2040.
As the Cambridge Independent has reported, Thakeham did not submit its plans during a ‘call for sites’ for consideration in the Local Plan, but the proposals can still be considered as a late entry, as the councils are still analysing submissions
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A public consultation on a whittled down list of sites is not expected until summer or autumn of 2021.
Meanwhile, Cllr Heather Williams, leader of the Conservative opposition group on South Cambridgeshire District Council, hit out at the Liberal Democrat administration, claiming it had prior knowledge of the proposals.
Cllr Williams, who learned via Twitter from press coverage of the plans, claimed the Liberal Democrats had treated residents with “contempt” and used the situation for their own political gain.
The Liberal Democrat council leader Cllr Bridget Smith said in response that she had met with the developer, but not in secret, and that she and the council requested the proposal be made public.
But Cllr Williams pointed to the action group created by Liberal Democrat councillors to oppose the plans, which was set up in advance of the December 1 announcement.
She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “I, like many residents learnt about the Thakeham proposals on Twitter [on Tuesday], despite the Liberal Democrat administration clearly having prior knowledge and secret back-room meetings on the subject.
“The administration has obstructed the democratic process by not sharing with all members their knowledge of the proposals. It is clear that they are using this situation to protect their own political careers as opposed to what is best for residents, they are diverting the attention away from the fact that it will be South Cambs District Council where they have an overwhelming majority, as the planning authority, that will make the decision via the local plan process.
“This proposal must have no special treatment during its planning consideration, despite any secret meetings that may have taken place between Lib Dem members and the developers to date. Residents’ voices must be taken into account and all district councillors should be able to have the information we need to represent our residents, not have the administration withhold for their own political advantage as has happened in this case”.
She added: “The South Cambs Conservative group will not support developments that are unsustainable, and inappropriate. We will not support proposals that destroy the rural nature of our district or result in the concreting over of South Cambs. We will fight to represent our residents in the best possible way despite the Liberal Democrat administration’s lack of openness and transparency.”
Cllr Smith responded: “There have been no secret meetings between Lib Dem councillors and the developer.
“The developer requested a meeting with me, which I attended with the director of planning. Once it became clear what was proposed, we told them to publish the information by putting it into the call for sites, and comply with the normal process, ensuring that all matters are dealt with in a transparent and open manner. We forced the matter, not the developer.”
Liberal Democrat councillor for Melbourn and Bassingbourn division, Susan van de Ven, who helped set up the action group, said: “Our primary duty as councillors is to the residents of our wards. I owe it to my community to be as prepared as possible.
“This action group is deliberately non-partisan and community-based.
“I hope that all the councillors for all affected areas will join this community effort.”
A spokesperson for the Liberal Democrat group said that councillors in the area “have been hearing rumours about Thakeham approaching landowners for the last two years”.
But the spokesperson added it was only after the announcement of the proposal from Thakeham that “the extent of their aspirations” across the wider area became clear.
On Tuesday, a spokesperson for Thakeham said: “As you can imagine, a certain level of work is needed to get to a point where we could announce a credible vision. Initial discussions have been undertaken with stakeholders, but it is only now that we’re in a position to present a vision to the public. We look forward to working with stakeholders and the local community as the proposals begin to evolve.
“We are at an early stage of forming our vision. South West Cambridgeshire represents an exciting opportunity to develop a carbon neutral development to facilitate Cambridgeshire’s future growth.
“Thakeham is committed to ensuring that the evolution of its proposals for South West Cambridgeshire will be in consultation with all tiers of government, including the Greater Cambridge Partnership, national government and the local community.”
The Conservative mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority has also shared his thoughts on the plans
James Palmer said: “I have always held that new housing developments must be properly planned; the infrastructure to support them must come with or before the houses, and they must be sympathetic to local communities and the local environment.
“It is indisputable that we need to build more houses and the amenity, service and transport infrastructure to support them.
“Simply resisting every new transport project or housing development, or promoting piecemeal short term measures, will not protect our communities from inappropriate development; it just means eventually someone with more authority and less local knowledge will force upon us a scheme we don’t want.
“We must do something different if we are to get the housing we need in an appropriate way. The Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro is the best and only infrastructure project out there that will allow us to bring forward sympathetic, green development in the locations we want and quantities we need.”
The Cambridge Independent has asked for clarity on whether this means Mr Palmer is opposed to the Thakeham plans, which do not cover an area due to be served by the mayor’s metro public transport system.
Additional reporting: Ben Hatton, Local Democracy Reporter