07:18 Friday 31st October 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
DOTTY MCLEOD: A petition has been launched calling for the Estover playing fields in March to be protected from development. It also calls on the Leader of Fenland District Council John Clark to resign over what it says is an ‘unprecedented breakdown in trust‘ between him and the people of March and Fenland. There are proposals to build on the former grammar school fields, but with Cambridgeshire County Council highlighting the town has a lack of green spaces, some local residents are calling for the plans to be put on hold. Our reporter Johnny D. has been on the fields this morning.
JOHN DEVINE: Dotty I’ve come down to the Estover playing fields, and I’ve got with me Trevor Watson. He’s a resident and one of the organisers of the petition. So just to put us in the picture, paint a little picture of what we can see in front of us Trevor.
TREVOR WATSON: Well at the moment we’re standing in front of a long-established playing field, going back many decades, probably seventy, eighty years. It’s been used by previous schools. It’s now used by the public and for football matches for the last fifteen years. As you can see it’s a beautiful field. It’s got about fifty very mature trees, some about a hundred years old, they’re all covered by tree preservation orders. And it’s more than just a playing field. It’s like a small town park.
JOHN DEVINE: And we’ve got some residential housing just over the road, so it’s quite close to people as well.
TREVOR WATSON: Indeed. Yes. It’s being increasingly used by people as the population grows around this area. They’re using it as a very pleasant place to walk the dog, and for children to play in in the evenings and at weekends during the summer. So it’s a very well used playing field.
JOHN DEVINE: So why have you set up the petition then Trevor?
TREVOR WATSON: Well basically it goes back some distance, but what happened .. this land, there’s another sixty acres of land beyond the playing field, was allocated for housing last year by the District Council. Now we set up a petition then. We pointed out to the District Council that the playing field, how well it’s used, and we shouldn’t be losing it, because we’ve got a deficit of some forty eight acres of this sort of land in the town. And we shouldn’t be losing another ten acres. Apart from that we’ve got particularly traffic issues between here and the town centre via the railway level crossing, which as you know there’s about a hundred trains a day cross there, and there’s tremendous holdups. So we don’t want to see substantial housing at this end of the town. We’ve totally agreed to small amounts of minor housing, but major housing of this magnitude really is just not on.
JOHN DEVINE: How many signatures have you got?
TREVOR WATSON: Currently it’s running just under seven hundred, and that’s been collected within the last eight days, online petition and door to door petition. And it’s been really well supported, and people are very, not just concerned, they’re very very angry at what’s been happening. Once this area was deleted for housing last year by the District Council, and now the County Council are coming along with a proposal for a hundred houses on the playing fields.
JOHN DEVINE: There is a desperate need for housing. You know that.
TREVOR WATSON: Indeed I do, and of course last year the District Council produced their Core Strategy. And within that they’ve allocated land and the planning permission for some four thousand houses. Most of it was down to the south of the river in March, where it’s better located to the by-pass. It’s better located to the local schools.
JOHN DEVINE: So you think the houses should be there, in a better geographical location.
TREVOR WATSON: That’s where they’re actually located now. There’s no need for substantial housing at this end of the town, where we have all the infrastructure problems.
JOHN DEVINE: Are you a nimby Trevor?
TREVOR WATSON: No certainly not. When we put forward our concerns to the Council last year, we put forward very sound planning reasons. Lack of infrastructure, as I said the traffic issue is major up here. We have drainage problems, and really that scale of development originally proposed was totally out of character to this area.
JOHN DEVINE: And why do you want John Clark, Leader of Fenland District Council to reign?
TREVOR WATSON: Well at the end of the day we’ve got no particular vendetta to any particular councillor on the District Council, indeed any officers. John Clark is the Leader, and he at the end of the day he has to carry the case, the fact that he still wants development up here. He made a statement only a matter of a few days ago that he wants housing on this playing field. And we do not support that. It goes against all the matters that were agreed last year by both the District Council, fully supported by all councillors on the District Council, and we can’t see the reason for having houses up here now, when it’s already been agreed to be deleted.
DOTTY MCLEOD: That’s Johnny D. on the Estover playing fields this morning in March. You could hear the little birds tweeting in the background. Well we did ask Fenland District Council to come on this morning to talk about this. Instead they’ve sent us a statement, which reads:
“We’re aware of the strength of feeling among local residents on this issue. A full report spelling out in detail the situation regarding Estover and its place within our local plan is going to the Full Council meeting next Thursday. It will be debated there. That report is included in the papers for that meeting which are already available on our website.”(pdf)
That’s from Fenland District Council.