Ministers ‘have held no discussions’ with Thakeham over 25,000-home plan for South West Cambridgeshire
Ministers have not discussed the controversial proposal for a 25,000-home community in the South Cambridgeshire countryside with developer Thakeham - and assessment of it will rest with the district council, the Cambridge Independent can confirm.
That will be welcome news to villagers fearing that local democracy could be bypassed by plans that would irrevocably alter the character of the area.
West Sussex-based Thakeham dropped its bombshell proposal for the UK’s “first zero carbon community” on a site it called “South West Cambridgeshire” earlier this month.
It has yet to submit formal plans or precisely define the boundary for the land it is targeting, but it surrounds Barrington, Bassingbourn-cum-Kneesworth, Foxton, Meldreth, Orwell, Shepreth, Whaddon and Wimpole.
A campaign group set up by Liberal Democrat councillors, set up in opposition to the plans, expressed fears that the government had held discussions with Thakeham, potentially in the context of its proposals to develop the Oxford-Cambridge Arc.
But a spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government told the Cambridge Independent: “This is not a matter for the government – it is a local planning matter and any application would be assessed by South Cambridgeshire District council in the normal way.
“There has been no ministerial discussions or involvement related to this proposal at any stage.”
The Cambridge Independent understands that neither Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, or housing minister Christopher Pincher have discussed the plans with Thakeham.
Anthony Browne, the Conservative MP for South Cambridgeshire, has indicated his opposition to Thakeham’s plans, which he has warned would be “incredibly destructive”.
He told the Cambridge Independent: “I very much welcome the fact that national government has made clear it has nothing to do with the speculative proposal by the developer Thakeham, and ministers have not met them nor had discussions with them about it.
“The government also made clear this is a planning decision for South Cambridgeshire District Council.”
Mr Browne questioned why Cllr Aiden Van de Weyer, deputy leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, had been involved in helping to establish the
South West Cambridge Action Group, when he would have a role to play in determining the plans.
“Local residents and villagers have been caused undue concern by Liberal Democrat councillors - who control the district council - deciding to play the fool and throw around baseless allegations rather than represent the interests of voters and accept that the final decision is actually theirs,” said Mr Browne.
“The resulting farce has left the deputy leader, who has responsibility for strategic planning and thus the Local Plan process in South Cambridgeshire, setting up a campaign group to campaign against himself. Only he can explain why he has done that.
“Political farce aside, the most important thing for residents is whether South Cambridgeshire District Council will approve this town or not. I have made my opposition clear. It is their decision – will they oppose it?”
For now, there is no application for the council to consider. Thakeham has said it is still developing its plans ahead of a submission.
The Cambridge Independent has learned that the company controls much of the land involved already, but is in discussion with other landowners.
Cllr Van de Weyer said: “The proposal for South West Cambridgeshire is wholly inappropriate. It cannot be sustainable and it damages our ambitions for providing well-planned housing over the coming decades. I will be campaigning against it.
“It is extremely disappointing that Thakeham has not yet submitted the proposal into the Local Plan and has not stated clearly that it will do so.
“The proposal must be subject to the same proper democratic and local scrutiny as any other application.”
Thakeham has made donations to the Conservative Party nationally, and has been present at both Conservative and Liberal Democrat party conferences.
The company said: “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.”
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