10:10 Friday 30th September 2011
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
ANDY HARPER: We’re looking at the implications for the county following the demise of Cambridgeshire Horizons. The organisation that has overseen development in the county for the last seven years is being wound up today. It promoted plans for Northstowe, but it also led widespread opposition to Hanley Grange. That was the eco-town proposed by Tesco on countryside south of Cambridge. But we’ve learnt that it’s back on the table, along with Six Mile Bottom, Waterbeach and others, as a possible site for future house building. Well Peter Topping is Conservative District Councillor for Triplow, who had just been elected when the Hanley Grange proposals were put forward for the first time. Peter, good morning to you.
PETER TOPPING: Good morning.
ANDY BURROWS: So, you and others must have thought you’d seen that off.
PETER TOPPING: Well we did, although I’ve always thought that it would keep coming back like a bit of a bad smell, because Tesco having bought the land, what are they going to do with it? They have to find some use for it, and I think they will keep trying to put this on the table at every opportunity.
ANDY BURROWS: Now when you first became a councillor, it was one of the ongoing battles. Looking back at that, and Cambridge Horizons were certainly part of, and in the vanguard in opposing it, what were your feelings at the time? Did you think, well this is it?
PETER TOPPING: I must say there were times when we thought we were just going to get rolled over by some very slick operations, the PR that they put out, and all the rest of it. And I must pay credit to Cambridgeshire Horizons, because they steadied the boat. And they produced a lot of very sensible evidence which helped to push the argument towards, well if we’ve got an eco-town on the cards at Northstowe, why do we want a completely unplanned cooked up eco-town at Hanley Grange? And that was a very powerful argument which helped to win the day.
ANDY HARPER: If these plans come back on the table. as you fear they might, who will coordinate opposition this time round? Because people who didn’t want it then don’t want it now. And as you’ve just said, Cambridgeshire Horizons were one of the leaders in the fight against it. Who will replace them? Or will we just have to accept this time round there’s not going to be any sort of concerted campaign against it?
PETER TOPPING: Well I think there are two things, one of which is that I’m sure that there will be concerted campaigns. We’ve already seen comments in this morning’s newspaper about people saying they’re opposed to Hanley Grange and some of the other developments that have been put forward. But I think the difference this time is that Hanley Grange was being fast-tracked as this slightly spurious eco-town badge, whereas this time, at least there’s a proper planning process which South Cambs. District Council oversees. So the process of winnowing out the bids for building which are unsustainable or completely unsupported by local people is something that the local council, which has a level of local democracy in it, will be able to control. And that is I think the difference between what was happening with Hanley Grange a couple of years ago and this. I don’t think it will be easy. And I think it will be complicated. But at least it is in the hands of the local authorities who are elected by the local people.
ANDY BURROWS: Should people in these areas that we’ve mentioned this morning be concerned? There is a feeling you see that maybe Government policy is being driven by developers who make donations to the Conservative Party.
PETER TOPPING: (LAUGHS) Well! All I can say is that we have a meeting with Greg Clark. the Minister, in a couple of weeks time, us and a number of other local authorities. Ane we’re going to press very hard for things like the sensible suggestions around Northstowe, which is a well planned, sustainable town, which is going to take a lot of the housing pressure off the rest of South Cambridgeshire. And we also want him to listen to the point that there has to be a level of local support. Obviously not everyone has to sign up for it. But there has to be some sort of level of local support for development. Otherwise what’s the point of localism?
ANDY HARPER: You represent Triplow, as I said, and that’s a beautiful village, set in glorious countryside. How would people feel there if suddenly they were told hundreds of houses were going to be built around the village, or on an area just outside the village?
PETER TOPPING: Well I also represent Whittlesford, which is an equally beautiful village. But I think people would be very concerned. However, I don’t think we can just preserve all our villages in aspic. Because I know that the villages round here, there are lots of local families where younger people just cannot afford to live anywhere near the place that they went to school, the place that they were brought up in. So I think there has to be a middle-ground between rampant development and we can’t just preserve everything as it was fifty years ago. And the reason I say that is because we have a pretty strong economy in South Cambridgeshire, and that wasn’t achieved by selling each other pots of marmalade. You have to have something more than just pretty villages.
ANDY HARPER: Peter, it’s been good to talk to you.
PETER TOPPING: OK.
ANDY HARPER: And no doubt we’ll talk again. Thank you very much. That’s Peter Topping Peter is Conservative District Councillor for Triplow and indeed as he said, Whittlesford as well.