Agenda item

Public Questions

The deadline for receipt of public questions is noon on Monday, 15 March.

The Council’s scheme for public speaking at remote meetings may

be inspected here:

Public Questions at Remote Meetings



There were two questions received ahead of this meeting.


a)    From Mrs. Jane Williams


In 2016, the Council granted planning permission for the development of Cambridge North Station at Chesterton sidings. As part of that planning permission, approximately 1.6 hectares of land was designated for ecological migration measures including the retention of existing trees and vegetation, the creation of a new area of wetland habitat, and the installation of new habitat areas for invertebrates. The site, which forms an important connector between the Bramblefields Local Nature Reserve and nearby habitat areas was deemed to be of near SSSI-quality and was in particular noted for its potential as a rich habitat for invertebrates and reptiles.

When the Council released its draft North East Cambridge Area Action Plan last year, this 1.6-hectare ecological site was inexplicably not included on the spatial framework maps, and the land was instead reallocated to provide for more profitable town centre, retail, and housing uses.

In the past several months, the entire site was clear-cut of all trees and vegetation in violation of the 2016 planning permission.

In its recently adopted “Doubling Nature” strategy, the Council says that it will “make the most of our direct influence on the natural environment as the local planning authority”, but in this case, Greater Cambridge Planning has ignored its own designation of 1.6 hectares of land for ecological mitigation.

In light of the ecological devastation we have seen associated with Council-approved developments at Cambridge North and other sites, including Northstowe, how can the public have any confidence that the council actually cares about doubling nature and what measures will be taken to remediate this?

Response from Councillor Dr. Tumi Hawkins:


Firstly, I would like to re-iterate from the start that this council cares about doubling nature and is taking steps within its control to do this.


Secondly, in respect of the specific matter you refer to - the land near Cambridge North Station where trees and vegetation have recently been cleared, the 2016 Planning Permission and condition which you identified as designating the land for ecological mitigation, was in fact not implemented.


Instead, subsequent applications were submitted in to and approved by both South Cambridgeshire and Cambridge City. The land that has been cleared was included in these subsequent permissions which were implemented, and which had a condition that required the submission of a Landscape and Ecological Management Plan (LEMP).


The Landscape and Ecological Management Plan (LEMP) was submitted at the time and assessed by the City Council’s ecologist who found the plan acceptable. The LEMP did not show landscape or ecological features to be retained within the area of the recent works. So there was no requirement through those subsequent planning permissions to retain the vegetation in this area, there is no breach of condition, and as such no enforcement action can be taken.


I would remind you that removing trees and vegetation from land does not require planning permission (unless a TPO is involved). Therefore, in this case, the Council had no control over these works.


Thirdly, and hopefully to give you and the public the assurance that we are committed to our aim of increasing biodiversity and doubling nature in the District, as part of the work on the North East Cambridge Area Action Plan, the Council had already undertaken a biodiversity assessment (in June 2020) of the area. This will be used as a baseline for any future applications in the area where we expect proposals from developers to meet the National planning Policy Framework requirement for net gain and our own emerging policy objectives.


The draft Area Action Plan also provides significant opportunities for delivering the Council’s biodiversity objectives through a wide range of new formal and informal spaces across the site and by maintaining existing habitat through design of sites that come forward.


We are demonstrating our firm commitment to doubling nature through recent planning decisions across the District and through the emerging policies. I hope you and our residents will recognise that commitment as those new consented permissions are built out.


At the invitation of the Leader, Mrs. Jane Williams confirmed she wished to ask a supplementary question


Mrs. Jane Williams expressed admiration for the doubling Nature Strategy but said she would like assurance as to how these aspirations would be brought forward. She was concerned about how, after planning had been approved, it translated on the ground, in matters such as parameter plans, such as land profiling, ensuring that we were doubling nature and dealing with contamination. For large sites coming forward, she would like to have reassurances, as to ensure checks and balances would be applied, because of the implications on nature and the landscape.


Councillor Dr. Tumi Hawkins said she recognised the concerns expressed. A strategic sites team had been established, and she was working with that team to ensure permissions and conditions were considered in detail. If it would be helpful, she would be willing to invite Mrs Jane Williams to a more detailed discussion as to how the Doubling Nature Strategy would enable such consideration.


b)    From Mr. Daniel Fulton


On 18 January the Portfolio Holder for Planning said that the Council’s internal audit team would be undertaking an audit of the Q2 2020 PS2 planning performance return for non-major applications submitted to the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government. Two months later, no report has been forthcoming. Could the Portfolio Holder please provide an update on the status of this report?


Response from Councillor Dr. Tumi Hawkins:


As you may appreciate the Council audit team has a work schedule so when additional work is required, it is fitted into the work stream as quickly as is possible.


The Council’s internal audit team began the Audit of the Council Q2 2020 PS2 submission in February 2021 and I am advised by the Lead Audit Officer that the team expect to be in a position to report their findings to the Scrutiny Meeting on 20th April 2021.


The Leader invited Mr. Daniel Fulton to ask a supplementary question.


Mr. Daniel Fulton said he appreciated that reviewing the audit submission would involve the review of over 3000 individual documents associated with over 300 planning applications, which he realised took time. However, he said it took a team of relatively inexperienced team of volunteers, approximately two days to complete an audit so in his view, this matter needed to be progressed as quickly as possible.


The Leader of the Council responded that any audit would be taken thoroughly.