Estover – County Council Leader bids to save the land from development

07:20 Thursday 15th January 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

DOTTY MCLEOD: A campaign to prevent developers moving onto the Estover playing fields in March appears to have made a significant breakthrough. It’s been reported in the Cambs Times, who are supporting this campaign, that the Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council has pledged to hand over half the area to March Town Council. The other half would be offered on a lease to sports groups. The Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council Steve Count joins me now. So Steve, what are you suggesting now for these playing fields at Estover?
STEVE COUNT: Good morning Dotty and thank you for giving me the time on air to put a couple of these things right. The County Council isn’t pledging anything. What I’ve done is take a personal motion to the Council, where I think I’ve got enough support to win, to actually give just about 60% over on a 99 year lease, and 40% roughly on a 7 year lease. And both leases, as opposed to what was in the paper, go to March Town Council, who have the constitutional set-up to receive them. March Town Council will then set up a charitable trust with the local playing fields association and all the sports bodies in March, trying to get as much interest as possible to actually set that up for a more sustainable long term development. So just a little bit of clarification there. The point about being a Private Motion is as opposed to the County Council that once things are passed they go ahead and do it ..
DOTTY MCLEOD: It’s an attempt, rather than a pledge. Is that right?
STEVE COUNT: Yes. I have to win the vote. Yes.
STEVE COUNT: I think the way that local people have demonstrated to the people at Cambridgeshire County, just the depth of feeling and the reasoning why it shouldn’t be developed on, has given me a great help in putting towards a package that I now believe we can deliver all the sports facilities without the need for development.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Because there was previously this suggestion that there would be 100 odd homes on the site. What’s happened to that?
STEVE COUNT: That’s still sitting there. That is still the County Council option that they believe is the preferred option, and it is, if I succeed at Full Council, that my option becomes the preferred way forward. If I fail, then it goes back to the General Purposes Committee, which will be afterwards, to go back to Plan A so to speak.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Were you involved Steve in the initial decision to put that County Council proposal in place?
STEVE COUNT: Very much so. Yes. I’ve been involved in this ever since I’ve been a county councillor.
DOTTY MCLEOD: So what’s changed your mind?
STEVE COUNT: The fact that I now believe that we can get the sporting facilities without the development, and the way that the local people have been able to help with this massive massive campaign. Without that, I don’t think I could have convinced a number of other people to back this new approach. It will be on a knife-edge. I think I have enough support to actually achieve this, and I think if the people of March continue to lobby in exactly the same way as they did before, I think we can get this over the line.
DOTTY MCLEOD: OK. And when does your motion get decided?
STEVE COUNT: 17th February.
DOTTY MCLEOD: OK. So a little while to wait.
DOTTY MCLEOD: And that’s Steve Count there, the Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, bringing a motion to stop the plans for development on the Estover playing fields. Johnny D is in March this morning. He’s been meeting one of the men behind the campaign to keep these buildings off these playing fields.
JOHN DEVINE: Dotty, I’m at the home of Trevor Watson. He’s the chap who with others started a petition against building development on this land at Estover playing park, which we’re just sitting in his house around the corner from that actual park. And the land itself, to describe to the listeners, is 19 acres of open green spaces. There are football pitches on there. There are ancient trees bordering it. You get lots of dog walkers. So Trevor, why protect this land?
TREVOR WATSON: Well as you correctly say, this has been a playing field for well over 70 years. It’s been used by schools in the past for their sports facilities. In the last 15 or 20 years it’s been used privately, but still football teams play on there on a regular basis. Indeed as you say, both members of the public including children make use of that important facility.
JOHN DEVINE: And what is the level of support against any development on there?
TREVOR WATSON: Well as you know, we carried out a petition late last year, and in a little over two and a half weeks we gathered nearly 800 signatures supporting that the playing fields should be retained as it is, with no housing development at all.
JOHN DEVINE: And what contact have you had with councils?
TREVOR WATSON: Well we put forward the petition to our own council, that’s Fenland District Council late last year. Unfortunately the petition wasn’t very well received. They decided .. there was no debate hardly on it. And we still don’t know the outcome of what their thoughts were on the petition.
JOHN DEVINE: Because the land is actually owned by Cambridgeshire County Council, isn’t it?
TREVOR WATSON: Yes indeed. The land has been owned by the County Council for probably 40, 50 years through the school use etcetera. And it’s now on a very short term lease until the last few years, when there’s been no lease at all to the local group the Estover Playing Field Association, who have managed the field for the last 15 years, maintaining it and organising all the football matches and different events that are held on the playing field.
JOHN DEVINE: So can you see where they’re coming from in a way? Because they’ve got to generate some cash from somewhere. That could be prime land that would be worth an awful lot of money, wouldn’t it?
TREVOR WATSON: Well they see it from that point of view. But of course the land isn’t allocated for housing. And unfortunately they’ve discovered, not a policy in the Local Plan, but a terminology about windfall, where up to 249 houses could be considered for housing on land that’s not allocated. And this is something we were just not aware of. Indeed a number of our own local councillors were not aware of that particular issue.
JOHN DEVINE: And Steve Count’s apparent U-turn – what do you think about that?
TREVOR WATSON: Well, I suppose the cynical side of me would say there are elections looming in the future. But no. I think to be honest it’s the right move. It follows the vast majority of people’s wishes and indeed some of the district councillors. So he has made the right move. But we must remember it is his own proposal at the moment. He has to put it to his own Council at Shire Hall, and there are some 70 councillors on that committee. And they will have to make the final decisions. So yes, it’s the right step in the right direction, but there’s still a long way to go.
JOHN DEVINE: The victory is not won yet.
TREVOR WATSON: It’s not, but we have to start somewhere, and you could say we’re well on the way to victory.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Yes. It ain’t over yet. And that motion from Steve Count will go before the Full Council on 17th February.