Soham's district councillors walk out of meeting over private session
Soham’s district councillors walked out of a town council meeting in protest after a decision to talk about a controversial housing development in secret.
At Monday’s meeting, East Cambridgeshire District councillors Mark Goldsack, Dan Schumann, Ian Bovingdon and Carol Sennitt left the room after a plea by town councillor Hamish Ross, who also serves at district level, was turned down.
Cllr Ross asked that the scheduled full discussion about the proposed development of the 550-house Eastern Gateway should be open to the public and press.
“We all have our personal views for the development but we, as councillors, have a duty to discuss openly,” he said.
Town clerk Diane Marshall said the discussion could be commercially sensitive for the town council as owners of some of the land needed for the development.
The meeting’s agenda included a proposal to withdraw from sale of the council-owned Weatheralls allotments, land that is vital for the huge estate to be developed on land off Brewhouse Lane.
“I do not understand why this council cannot discuss this in the open,” said Cllr Ross.
No other town councillors backed his motion for the Eastern Gateway item be discussed in public.
The district councillors left the room with one heard to shout through the door to the public that there would be ‘no new health centre now’ – a reference to the doctors’ surgery which is included in the plans for the new housing estate.
After the meeting, Cllr Mark Goldsack, Soham North, said that walking out was the ‘wrong decision’.
He said: “I felt like death warmed up but I went to the meeting because there is no bigger issue than the Eastern Gateway.”
Cllr Goldsack said that when the council voted against holding the discussion in public he thought there was no longer any reason for him to be there.
"I said on that basis Carol [Sennitt] I'm going home and with that they all said that," he said.
He denied rumours that it was a co-ordinated action between the district councillors. “I categorically say that it was not planned,” he said.
“I think that Soham Town Council has every right to get the best deal they can,” he said. “But I think on this occasion Soham Town Council got it wrong and I saw no benefit in staying there.”
Cllr Goldsack said he had a very good relationship with Soham’s town council.
Charles Warner, the council’s vice-chairman, said the agenda item could have been open to misinterpretation and led to ‘total misunderstanding’ about what was actually being discussed that evening.
The Eastern Gateway development, between East Fen Common and Qua Fen Common, is planned to be built on land owned by Cambridgeshire County Council, Soham Town Council and private owners.
A spokesman from Soham Town Council said: "As owners of the allotment land we have an interest in land allocated for development as part of the Eastern Gateway.
"There has been no signed sale agreement in place between the town council and Cambridgeshire County Councilnot currently an ongoing dialogue with their new development arm, This Land Ltd.
"The town council remain committed to assisting in the Eastern Gateway project and look forward to an approach from This Land Ltd at which time Soham Town Council will consider all options."