HATCHFIELD FARM: Housing plan decision deferred

LORD DERBY, the man behind controversial plans for 1,200 homes in Newmarket was a surprise speaker at a crucial meeting of Forest Heath District Council Planning Committee on Thursday.

Leading personalities from Newmarket's horse racing industry took part in a noisy protest outside the council's Mildenhall offices when around 100 objectors waved placards and banged on windows.

But after an hour and 40 minutes of discussion councillors voted by a majority of nine to five to put off a decision after two proposals to refuse planning permission from Newmarket councillors Andy Drummond and Warwick Hirst were defeated.

Council planners said more time was needed to consider the effect of traffic from the development on the town's Fordham Road and the nearby junction with the A14.

William Gittus, managing director of Jockey Club Estates speaking on behalf of the racing industry and the Save Historic Newmarket action group, had urged councillors to reject the development. "The people of Newmarket are wholeheartedly against it," he told councillors.

"We are hugely concerned about the effect a development of this scale would have on Newmarket's racing industry and it is the impact of the increased traffic it would generate that we are most concerned about."

Cllr Richard Fletcher, chairman of Newmarket Town Council's planning committee who also called for the application to be turned down, said: "This development on a pristine greenfield site would threaten the viability of an industry on which one in four households in Newmarket depend on for their livelihoods."

He added: "Owners would take their horses elsewhere and that would be a local disaster and a national humiliation.

"We would be destroying valuable agriculture land just to create a dormitory estate to serve Bury or Cambridge on the edge of an already crowded A14."

But Lord Derby told councillors that he would "ensure that Newmarket's racing heritage is not detrimentally affected."

He said he did not intended to sell the site "wholesale" to a commercial developer but would dispose of it in tranches.

"I am not a house builder but I would retain control of the site and if the first 600 homes built had any adverse effect on Newmarket's people or its racing I would not go beyond that number."

Cllr Warwick Hirst said that the traffic data on which Lord Derby's advisors had based their submission was "totally unsatisfactory."

"According to Lord Derby only 20 per cent of traffic from Hatchfield Farm will go down the Fordham Road," he told councillors "But with no facilities on the new estate where are the other 80 per cent going to go.

"The true impact of the increased traffic on the town is that it will harm the horseracing industry, the community and the conservation area and will make Newmarket unworkable.

"This application is full of holes and it beggars belief that Lord Derby and his people have based their traffic evidence on a survey done on one morning and one evening three years ago."

Afterwards the meeting Lord Derby said he felt the councillors' vote to defer making a decision – possibly until June – was sensible one and agreed there were major issues to be considered – particularly the traffic aspect.

Rachel Hood, who chairs the Save Historic Newmarket group, said after the meeting: "We expected it to be deferred and we're not too down-hearted because we believe the council will turn it down next time."