Newmarket’s racing community knew it only had an outside chance of persuading councillors not to agree Lord Derby’s proposal to build 400 homes on 50 acres on his Hatchfield Farm in Fordham Road and after a discussion last night, lasting almost two hours, its worst fears were realised.
Members of Forest Heath District Council’s planning committee, who had visited the greenfield site during the morning, voted by 10 to five, with one absention, to approve the scheme which racing has long argued could do irreparable harm to a world-renowned industry that pumps more than £200 million a year into the local economy.
The Newmarket members on the committee, with the exception of chairman Cllr Chris Barker, voted against the scheme along with council chairman, Cllr Andy Drummond, and Lakenheath’s David Gathercole.
Newmarket councillor, Warwick Hirst, said one of his biggest concerns was the traffic the development would generate and he said he had no confidence in the traffic study carried out by Suffolk Country Council’s Jon Noble, who claimed the development would see daily movements of just 51 cars turning left out of the development and 55 turning right.
“Most mornings a week between 8am and 9.15am traffic is static from the roundabout at Fordham to the A14. I just don’t believe that two sets of traffic lights on the A14 slip roads are going to make the traffic flow ok,” he said.
However Brandon councillor Eddie Stewart, who spent much of the meeting complaining how long the discussion had taken said: “All this emotion does not sway me. As for the traffic issue, I always listen to highways. We need the houses, we have discussed this to death and I am fed up with it.”
Before the meeting there was a demonstration outside the council Mildenhall offices by objectors to the scheme and at the start of the meeting, William Gittus, chairman of the Newmarket Horsemen’s Group, trainer William Jarvis, Newmarket deputy mayor Cllr John Berry, representing Newmarket Town Council, and Hugh Anderson, managing director of Godolphin, and a director of Darley, the racing and breeding arms of Sheikh Mohammed’s thoroughbred operation, urged councillors to reject the scheme.
Bob Sellwood, representing Lord Derby, said, at a previous planning appeal, when the peer’s proposal for 1200 homes was thrown out, the Secretary of State had said the it would not harm the racing industry.
However the meeting was told that Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for communities and local government, had informed the council that, should the application be approved, he reserved the right to ‘call in’ that decision, just as he did with last year’s supermarket applications.
After the meeting Mr Gittus said he was disappointed but not surprised. “We hope we are wrong,” he said, “because by the time we are proved right it will be too late.”