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Decision to replace 291 Hills Road in Cambridge with 14 flats 'to be reviewed'

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A vision of how 291 Hills Road could look
A vision of how 291 Hills Road could look

Planning committee had approved its demolition - but new local plan means it must be reconsidered

291 Hills Road in Cambridge as it is now
291 Hills Road in Cambridge as it is now

The decision to approve controversial plans to convert a “historic” Cambridge home into 14 flats will be reviewed, it has emerged.

Developer Gibson Developments won permission to demolish 291 Hills Road and replace it with flats at a Cambridge City Council planning committee meeting last Wednesday, despite vocal opposition and a 200-signature petition.

But on the same day, a government inspector’s final report on the city’s new local plan arrived at the council, and it approved new guidance that lowers the threshold at which affordable housing is required to 10 units from 15.

Council officers will now review the application against all new policies in the plan and make a fresh recommendation to the committee over the plans. It is possible that they could require the developer to add in an affordable housing element, or make a payment towards affordable housing as part of a section 106 (S106) agreement.

Cllr Colin McGerty, the Liberal Democrat city councillor for Queen Edith’s, told the Cambridge Independent: “After a long campaign, I’m enormously hopeful that we will be enforcing the requirement for this site to contribute to the supply of affordable housing in Cambridge. While in this instance it may only be one of two units, an important principle looks set to be upheld.”

Stephen Kelly, joint director of planning and economic development for the city council, explained: “A decision on 291 has not yet been issued and will therefore be reviewed. The emerging local plan policies cover a range of issues which will need consideration – including affordable housing.”

And he confirmed the door was still open for the plans to be turned down.

“The application, when it returns to the meeting can be determined either way, provided the committee offer planning reasons for their decision,” said Mr Kelly. “The changed policy expectations, including on affordable housing, in the new local plan will need to be considered and responded to by the applicant before we can finalise our recommendation to the committee.”

Jim Griffiths, managing director of Gibson Developments expressed his disappointment at the decision.

He said the site is “not viable” for affordable housing, and that the single expensive house is not as helpful for the city’s housing crisis as 14 flats (at market price) would be.

Cllr Martin Smart, chairman of the planning committee, said: “I am pleased that this item will be considered further by members of the planning committee including the extent that policies in the new local plan apply now, ahead of the decision to approve the plan by full council in October.”

Cllr Smart denied suggestions the committee had heard about the approval of the local plan prior to the meeting.

He said it was a “very unusual” situation and that the inspector’s report had been received on the day of the committee’s decision.

He said the decision had been made under the old local plan, but that it was “correct” that it should be looked at again.

Wendy Blythe, chairwoman of FeCRA (the Federation of Cambridge Residents’ Associations) said: “Aall the issues around affordable housing will need to be looked at again.

“It is all part of a nice bit of Cambridge history. It’s one of the things that makes Cambridge a nice city to live in.”

The house, known as Raylands, was built in about 1913 and is worth more than £1.7million.

Campaigners said it was an architecturally significant building that helps define a “major gateway” into the city.

At the meeting on August 29, Cllr George Pippas, a Liberal Democrat representing Queen Edith’s, feared the decision will set a precedent.

He said: “Cambridge, together with York and Bath, is one of the most beautiful cities in the country. People come here for the architecture, the people, and the history. We want to retain that beauty. I can assure you that, in 20 years time, if we pass this today, all the houses will be knocked down, and they will all look like this.”

Cllr John Hipkin, an independent, said the developers had addressed the concerns the committee had previously raised about the scheme. He said the city council would end up “in serious trouble” if the developers took the application to appeal.

Liberal Democrat Cllr Damien Tunnacliffe said he supported the plans, saying having fewer, but slightly larger flats was a good thing for future occupants.

But Labour’s Katie Thornburrow raised concerns over disabled access.

The plans were narrowly approved, four to three. But the committee will have to consider the plans once more to take account of the new local plan guidance.

Additional reporting: Josh Thomas, Local Democracy Reporter

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