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Homes approved for Cottenham despite green belt concerns

Plans to build up to 34 new homes in Cottenham have been approved despite concerns over flooding and building in the green belt.

Cllr Dr Tumi Hawkins, lead cabinet member for planning at South Cambridgeshire District Council. Picture: Keith Heppell
Cllr Dr Tumi Hawkins, lead cabinet member for planning at South Cambridgeshire District Council. Picture: Keith Heppell

The outline application to develop the site off Histon Road was approved by South Cambridgeshire District Council’s planning committee on Wednesday (September 14).

Concerns had been raised over flooding and how sewage from the proposed homes would be managed, as well as whether the application met the special circumstances needed to warrant building in the green belt.

As an outline application further detailed plans will need to be submitted to the district council for approval before building work can start.

Submitted by Prime Crest Homes Ltd, the plans include the provision of up to 34 homes as a social housing rural exception site.

This means that all of the homes would be ‘affordable housing’, however whether this would be shared ownership or affordable rent was not set out.

The application had been recommended for approval by planning officers, who said there was an identified need for affordable housing in the village.

They added that the site was considered to be a “sustainable location” and that the plans met the exception tests for development in the green belt.

The district council’s housing officer explained that there were 108 people on the housing register waiting for a home with links to Cottenham.

Cllr Dr Tumi Hawkins (Lib Dem, Caldecote), lead cabinet member for planning, said she believed the identified housing need met the special circumstances needed to build in the green belt.

However, not all agreed, Cllr Dr Richard Williams (Con, Whittlesford) said the plans breached the district council’s planning policies, highlighting that policy required exception sites to be ‘small and limited’ which he said the plans were not.

Cllr Williams argued that allowing a development in the green belt that breached policies, based on housing need in the area would be “declaring open season” in the rest of the district, explaining that there was a housing need in many villages.

Illustrative masterplan for homes in Cottenham Picture: Prime Crest Homes Ltd. (59354616)
Illustrative masterplan for homes in Cottenham Picture: Prime Crest Homes Ltd. (59354616)

Opposition group leader Cllr Heather Williams (Con, The Mordens) raised concerns over the density of the site exceeding the council’s policy. She said social and market housing should have “equal standards” and did not want to see more “crammed in” just because it was affordable housing.

Cllr Williams also questioned whether other sites had been looked at, and after the selection process was explained said she did not believe the special circumstances to build in the green belt could be met while there was a potential alternative.

One of the planning officers explained that while other sites had been considered, they faced other problems, including being in a conservation area, as well as being more visible from the village. They said they were happy the proposed location was the more appropriate site.

The officer recognised that while the plans proposed more homes in the space than the authority’s policies said there should be, he highlighted that as an outline application there could be a chance to reduce this number in later applications.

Cllr Richard Williams said developers did not normally come back offering fewer homes, but he said instead often proposed more, adding that the committee had to be “realistic” about what was likely to happen.

Cllr Peter Fane (Lib Dem, Shelford), vice chair of the council and vice chair of the planning committee, said that compared to other development taking place in the village, the proposals in his view were small and also limited as it would only meet some of the recognised housing needs in the village.

He added: “I think the question really for this committee is, how serious are we in meeting the local affordable needs within our villages and in particular within Cottenham.

“If we are serious about that then we have to look very seriously at giving consent in this particular case.”

Cottenham Parish Council had objected to the application amid concerns over drainage. The parish council said the site often had standing water on it and that most years the gardens of nearby homes would flood.

Cllr Hawkins said drainage was a “constant issue” for the planning committee, adding that while Anglian Water had not commented about drainage said this “did not negate the concerns” of neighbours who said their gardens tended to flood.

She added that as the internal drainage board had said it was happy with the proposals, the committee “might be treading on unsafe grounds to refuse on that point”.

However, Cllr Hawkins did highlight that Anglian Water had said there was not currently capacity in the area to deal with the foul water that would come from the development, but that it would be the company’s responsibility to make sure it could take it if the plans were approved.

She said this was a “standard statement” and that it worried her as this responsibility had ‘not always been fulfilled’.

Councillors also asked whether they could make a condition to require the roads in the development to be built to an “adoptable standard”, meaning Cambridgeshire County Council could ‘adopt’ and take responsibility for the maintenance of the roads.

The highways authority had said the planned access road would be too small to meet the standards needed in order to be adopted.

Councillors highlighted that people living there in the future would face extra costs to maintain the roads if they were not taken on by the county council.

Questions were raised by councillors from both parties as to whether this was appropriate given the proposed development was for people who qualified for affordable housing.

The district council legal officer advised that it would be hard for the authority to add a condition for the access to be designed to an “adoptable standard”, but suggested that one could be added requiring further details to be submitted and approved by the council.

It was also highlighted that the internal roads will still need to be approved in a reserved matters application later on.

When put to a vote the application was approved, with five votes in favour, four against and one abstention.

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