Forest Heath District Council will not be appealing the Secretary of State’s recent decision to overturn the planning permission it granted for 400 new homes at Newmarket’s Hatchfield Farm.
But the council will be meeting with the minister and, early next year, will lead a new process to look at how the town can grow in a way that is sustainable and beneficial to residents, business and the horse racing industry.
“Newmarket is a unique place and of great importance to the national economy, and as a place to live and work, but it cannot be set in aspic,” said Cllr Lance Stanbury, cabinet member for planning and growth. “The future of Newmarket is bigger than Hatchfield and this council will lead the process to create an exciting new prospectus for the town. The Secretary of State wants to come to discuss Newmarket, and its future, and we want to bring together representatives from the community, the council, the town council, the Newmarket neighbourhood plan group and the racing industry to work together.”
Speaking at a highly charged meeting of the authority’s ruling cabinet when members agreed unanimously to stay out of any expensive and potentially lengthy legal action in the High Court, Cllr Stanbury said the council remained “an interested party” and supported landowner Lord Derby’s intention to appeal.
But he feared a court challenge could delay the council’s own local plan beyond the government-set deadline of the end of next year.
“As the local planning authority we were very disappointed that the Secretary of State refused planning permission for Hatchfield Farm,” he said. “The cabinet deliberated the pros and cons of entering into a challenge and, because there would be such a detrimental effect on our Local Plan which could lead to many speculative applications in our towns and villages, we have reluctantly decided not to challenge the decision ourselves,
He added: “If the plan is delayed this council would lose its new homes bonus which could affect council tax charges and other services.” As for making up for the potential loss of the Hatchfield site Cllr Stanbury said since April planning permissions granted by the authority meant the council only had to accommodate 145 homes, 10 a year for the duration of the local plan period.
During the debate, some council members and several speakers argued the council should join Lord Derby. These included Bill Rampling, who also heads the 15-village Rural Parishes Alliance, which last week confirmed it was taking up the peer’s invitation to be part of the challenge on a cost-free basis.
Cllr Rupert Osborn, chairman of Worlington parish council, said he thought the district council should continue to fight what he called a “perverse decision” by the Secretary of State which he claimed had been made “under massive political pressure from the Newmarket elite.”
Newmarket district and town Cllr Andrew Appleby said the council had to have faith in its own planning decision and the subsequent ruling by a planning inspector which upheld it after it was ‘called in ‘ by Newmarket MP Matthew Hancock.
“We have made a democratic decision. This is about re-enforcing what we have democratically decided. This development would bring £6.9 million of benefits and 120 affordable homes to Newmarket and would not damage the racing industry,” said Exning councillor Simon Cole.
Studlands Park councillor Ruth Allan said “This is an ideal location for these houses to be built. We must show the people of Newmarket that we care about them.”
After the decision Lord Derby said: “Whilst we would welcome the involvement of Forest Heath in the challenge we recognise the difficulties in doing so. Many local parties are working to find a solution that delivers the best outcome for all local people both racing and non-racing across Newmarket, the surrounding villages and Forest Heath. I welcome this support as we look to move on.”