Council roughly handled in Coalition ‘copter swoop

17:09 Friday 12th December 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

CHRIS MANN: Local councillors have held an urgent meeting with the Government about the future of Northstowe, the new town for Cambridgeshire. Last week the Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander announced plans for the Coalition to build and sell thousands of the new homes, rather than rely on developers. But South Cambs District Council, which is supposed to be responsible for overseeing development, was left in the the dark about the changes and what it means for the county. In a moment we’ll find out how the meeting went, but first our reporter Tom Horn today was in Oakington, next door to the development, to see what residents there think are the priorities.

RESIDENT 1: The main concern is the impact on traffic. The A14 is going to be absolutely chock a block, and it’s a problem at the moment. And also just the number of cars on the roads in general, and they’re talking about numbers of schools and all the rest of it. You just think my goodness me, what’s the impact of that going to be on the local community.
RESIDENT 2: It takes away a little bit the essence of what Longstanton was about for me. I moved here for a quaint lovely village life, and now we’re going to have this huge new town on our doorstep, which I’m all for development and everything else. Does Longstanton and the surrounding areas really need it? I don’t know. Biggest concern is with the road network. How is it being developed or looked at in order to take the extra many thousands of people that are going to be arriving in the local area, what is already a really congested route early in the morning. It can take up to twenty minutes to get down to the A14 if traffic is particularly bad, and of course the impact on the A14 again as always.
RESIDENT 3: If you’re going to have ten thousand houses, and possibly fifteen thousand cars, and the A14 is chocka in the mornings and evenings anyway. And the roads like through Willingham and Oakington are already congested at peak times. So that’s my biggest concern. People need houses and maybe we do need a new village, but they need to do something about the infrastructure, the roads and the traffic.
RESIDENT 4: It feels to many of us as if it didn’t matter what our concerns were, it was going ahead anyway. So although an awful lot of people objected, it still went ahead. We had a by-pass put in a few years ago, but I can see that it’s once again going to become a rat run up and down the high street. But yes, I think mainly the traffic, but also the fact that part of Longstanton will now no longer be Longstanton, it will be part of Northstowe. We’ve lost our village post office and stores. And all the little things that make it a nice village, the whole reason we moved here thirteen years ago is now being taken away. It’s all being built up.
CHRIS MANN: People talking to our reporter Tom Horn today. So as you heard the overriding concern amongst residents of the two villages is the increase in traffic that Northstowe will bring, and particularly how the A14 will be affected. A couple of guests to talk about this, the first one is Tim Wotherspoon, South Cambs District Council’s Cabinet member for Strategic Planning. His ward is Cottenham. Tim, hello.
TIM WOTHERSPOON: Good evening.
CHRIS MANN: You heard what people had to say there. They felt first of all that they’d been railroaded, and secondly, big concern about the A14 still.
TIM WOTHERSPOON: Well we quite understand the concern about the A14, and of course there will be a very close interrelationship between the build out of Northstowe and the upgrade of the A14. The Highways Agency assures us that Phase One, the first fifteen hundred houses, can be accommodated by the A14 as it is. And of course we have .. the local councils and others have persuaded the Government to put the A14, a major upgrade, back in the roads programme. The Government’s committed to doing that by 2020. The local councils have helped avoid a toll. We’ve contributed towards the capital funding of that and so on. So by the time Northstowe is the full ten thousand houses, that will be well after the A14 is capable of coping with that number of houses.
CHRIS MANN: But that feeling of being railroaded, perhaps helped by the fact that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander flew in by helicopter last week. Didn’t even invite you, did he? You didn’t even know he was there until he’d gone.
TIM WOTHERSPOON: We were late in learning about that. And ..
CHRIS MANN: But your nose was out of joint, let’s be honest.
TIM WOTHERSPOON: I think it’s well known that I wasn’t much best pleased by the way that was handled. But let me just ..
CHRIS MANN: It seems odd not to have invited you. But let’s just bring in our next guest. Paul Kitson is Senior Project Manager for the Homes and Communities Agency. Hi Paul.
CHRIS MANN: You were invited.
PAUL KITSON: Yes we were invited at the last minute. Last week’s announcement was overall extremely positive news for Northstowe.
CHRIS MANN: But it’s a strange way to do it, not to invite those that have been closely involved in this whole project for many many years.
PAUL KITSON: I don’t disagree Chris, and I perfectly understand the local upset about that.
CHRIS MANN: Of course the joke locally was that Danny Alexander had flown in by helicopter because he knew what the A14 would have been like. He’d still be stuck in the traffic jam. You heard the concerns of people there. Pretty unanimous, wasn’t it? What do you say to them?
PAUL KITSON: The transport and traffic issues I think are perfectly understandable, but if we think back to the overall vision and masterplans for Northstowe, the very essence of the place includes a whole range of facilities and activities for people, including employment, retail and commercial space. And the ethos behind that is to produce a place which is .,. supports employment on site, and prevents and stops people needing to travel around. In our masterplanning work that we’ve undertaken on Phase Two we’ve been very .. the design principle right up front actually was to ensure that it was easier to walk and cycle around Northstowe than it was to get into a car.
CHRIS MANN: So you had this urgent meeting with the Government Tim. Are you reassured by what you heard?
TIM WOTHERSPOON: Yes it was a very positive meeting yesterday with Brandon Lewis, the Minister for Housing and Planning. And heĀ assured us that quality was very much his own top priority, as it has been for the local councils. We demonstrated to him that we’ve been .. we can be relied on to keep abreast of the big picture in terms of dealing with the planning matters.
CHRIS MANN: Many people thought that the reason that they brought in a Government agency is because they thought you’d been dragging your feet, and they want to get a move on. So what is the timescale Paul Kitson now?
PAUL KITSON: Sure. Well we’ve submitted our planning application for Phase Two, which is very much the heart of Northstowe, in August of this year. We’re expecting to get to a planning committee at some point around Spring next year. But we had some great feedback from the consultation process the local authority went through, and we’re analysing, the HCA are now analysing those responses. We’ll come back ..
CHRIS MANN: The lady that we heard there who felt they’d been railroaded in some way, that no matter what they said it was going to happen. What would you say to her Paul?
PAUL KITSON: Well I’m always sorry to hear that kind of feedback from people. Consultation on Northstowe has been a feature for many many years, all the way back to the Area Action Plan, through the Development Framwork Masterplan, through the Phase One planning application, through the Phase Two planning application. We can always improve. We can always get better at it. We can always engage people in a better way. I think an interesting thing being launched in the new year is the Northstowe Community Forum, which is an ongoing ‘every other month’ forum.
CHRIS MANN: But the question, will you listen to them?
PAUL KITSON: Of course.
CHRIS MANN: There’s two problems here, isn’t there. There’s the one of people worrying about the infrastructure and being railroaded, and the other one that we really need the houses in this county. Tim?
TIM WOTHERSPOON: Yes. Just .. I do take issue with our dragging our feet, because we have given permission for Phase One, first fifteen hundred house.
CHRIS MANN: Not my .. that’s what the Government obviously feels.
TIM WOTHERSPOON: We’re halfway through processing the planning application for Phase Two.
CHRIS MANN: Please .. what do you think about the need for housing? Is this going to happen .. quickly now??
TIM WOTHESPOON: The developer of the first phase has indicated that a start on site will be early next year, and the indications are that the first occupations will be Spring 2016, something like that.
CHRIS MANN: Thank you both for joining me. Appreciate it. Tim Wotherspoon, South Cambs District Council’s Cabinet Member for Strategic Planning. And also Paul Kitson, Senior Project Manager for the Homes and Communities Agency. Thank you gentlemen.