Last month the property developer Thakeham announced its proposal to build 25,000 homes comprising a town and series of connected villages on land around Barrington, Bassingbourn cum Kneesworth, Foxton, Meldreth, Orwell, Shepreth, Whaddon and Wimpole. I am writing to you as a resident of one of the villages affected by this proposal.
I want to be very clear from the outset that I am totally opposed to this proposal and will do everything I can to stop it. There is no need for a development of this size, which would transform the affected villages into appendages of a major new town. It would cause huge environmental damage, increase water shortages, create traffic congestion, destroy the character of our villages and landscapes and ruin our quality of life. This proposal is obviously a cause of great local concern, and I have discussed it with parish, district, and county councillors, the Mayor and government ministers.
I want to provide you with information about the process, and how you can make your views known. Any developer that wishes to build new homes must submit a formal planning application to South Cambridgeshire District Council, which is the local planning authority. Thakeham has not yet done so. The District Council has asked Thakeham to submit their proposal for consideration as part of the next Local Plan, which sets out areas for potential development across the District. It is important that the District Council does not accommodate this proposal in the final Local Plan. If Thakeham subsequently submit a formal planning application, there will be a statutory public consultation in which residents can raise objections. I would hope that any application based on this proposal would be rejected by the District Council at this stage.
If a planning application is rejected, the developer can appeal to the Planning Inspectorate, an independent body. The appeal scrutinises whether the District Council’s decision is in line with local planning policy and the National Planning Framework. If the original rejection was made on sound grounds, and based on material planning considerations, it should not be overturned.
If the developer loses the appeal they could, in theory, then ask the Secretary of State to make a final decision under a process called a ‘call in’. However, the Secretary of State calls in very few applications, and only in cases where the project is of major national strategic significance, which this clearly is not.
There has been speculation that government ministers have met with Thakeham to discuss their proposal. However, both the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local government and the Minister for Housing have confirmed that no such meetings or discussions have taken place. This is not a proposal supported by government. In contrast, the government has been absolutely clear that this is a local planning decision for South Cambridgeshire District Council, going through the usual local planning processes described above. I will make sure that remains the case.
I hope this letter has given you some clarity over the process and my position. The most urgent issue is to ensure that South Cambridgeshire District Council does not accommodate this site in their Local Plan. If Thakeham subsequently make a planning application, it will be critical to ensure that South Cambridgeshire District Council reject it.
If you have concerns, I urge you to make them clear to your District Councillor and ask what they are doing to ensure that the Local Plan will not accommodate this proposal. I am calling on councillors, campaigners and residents to work with me to stop this development in its tracks.
Anthony Browne MP