Vice chairman of planning committee launches bid to stop neighbour from opening children’s day nursery
19:11 20 January 2014
The vice chairman of Fenland District Council Planning Committee is waging war with a neighbour to prevent her from using her home to open a nursery for up to 40 children.
David Connor has asked other members of the committee to support his opposition to the proposal even though as a neighbour and with a strong personal interest he is forbidden from taking part in the debate or vote.
Paul Medd, chief executive of Fenland Council, has been asked by the neighbour, Diane Oswald, to investigate whether Mr Connor is in breach of the councillors’ code of conduct.
“Councillors are not meant to use their powers in such a way that is self-gratifying and for their own personal gain or satisfaction,” said Mrs Oswald. “And certainly not to intimidate and worry people living locally within their own community.”
She revealed that the current dispute with the Fenland and Cambridgeshire councillor is the latest in a series of issues with him in recent years.
Two years ago Mr Connor was involved in an unsuccessful county court case in respect of a boundary dispute when a district judge ruled that the boundaries were in accordance Mrs Oswald’s Land Registry title plan and not where Mr Connor thought it should be.
And Mrs Oswald was also given permission to demolish a fence erected by Mr Connor and replace it with a fence of her choice on the correct boundary line.
Trouble flared again last summer over another boundary when Mr Connor wrote to Mrs Oswald stating that unless she removed or shortened it by “Monday June 9 you will leave me no alternative but to report this to the planning department at Fenland Hall with a view to enforcement”. He signed the letter ‘David Connor Fenland councillor for Doddington and district, Cambridgeshire county councillor for Forty Foot district”.
Mr Medd said he would be looking into the issues raised during our investigation “in order to ascertain what, if any, appropriate action might be required.” The names of two planning committee members approached by Mr Connor have been forwarded to him.
The proposed change of use for 50 Benwick Road, Doddington, was expected to be approved under delegated powers when it was first submitted last year.
A handful of objections looked to have been satisfied with Mrs Oswald agreeing to change her original application for 60 places to have a condition attached restricting it to 40 places.
As recently as January 2 Alison Callaby, planning performance manager at Fenland Council, wrote to her agent Peter Humphrey explaining that she “remained hopeful” of a delegated decision but it was dependent on advice from county highways.
On January 7 Nigel Eggar, development management engineer for the county council, said he accepted the reduction in 20 places and with parking provision for staff also amended there would be no objections.
“The reduced level of the proposal accords with my assessment of a reasonably proportioned relationship between likely vehicular activity and parking demand,” he told Kathryn Brand, Fenland’s senior development officer.
With other agreed amendments “I have no objection to the issue of planning permission”.
But the campaign initiated by Mr Connor to block the change of use has attracted other comments locally and Fenland officials advised that it would now, in all probability, have to go before the planning committee for a final determination.
Mrs Oswald has written formal complaints to Fenland and Cambridgeshire councils complaining about her neighbour.
“It appears that David Connor is using his position as a Fenland councillor and vice chairman of the planning committee as well as his position as a county councillor to rally opponents against my application,” she said.
“Councillors are supposed to follow the council’s ethical and other codes of conduct at all times with honesty and integrity. They should be there to represent the people within our community.”
Mr Connor insists his opposition to the proposed nursery is nothing personal but based on his belief that the property is unsuitable.
“We can’t stop growth, indeed we shouldn’t stop growth but putting a nursery along a busy road like this is an absolute travesty,” he said.
He said cars, lorries, buses and farm vehicles already cause congestion along the road. Close by is the hospital, nursing home, cemetery, surgery and further along Greenvale.
“During the summer Greenvale has 72 lorries using this road and although they’ve agreed for next summer to re route some, there is still a huge volume of traffic,” he said.
But Mrs Oswald’s belief is that was such a serious situation relating to traffic on Benwick Road there would have been measures put in place long ago by the Highways Department and permissions would not have been granted for development at the hospital and Sanctuary Housing.
She said: “As the owner of a 130 year old property sited virtually on the road edge I would welcome double yellow lines, weight restrictions and a reduction from 30 to 20mph on the speed limit.
“I am providing a 16 space car park at the rear of my property in order to ensure the safe delivery and collection of children. I have listened to the advice of Cambs County Council highways and I am taking my responsibilities as part of this community seriously.”
The site is opposite Doddington Medical Centre and close to Doddington Hospital and she has told planners that there is no childcare facility of this nature in Doddington, Wimblington or Benwick.
Mrs Oswald believes the nursery would provide a childcare facility for the 200 employees based at Doddington Hospital and the 140 staff who work at the nearby Askham Care Home as well as local families.
The nursery would be registered with Ofsted and would offer free early education places for eligible two, three and four year old children.
She believes other issues raised – such as noise – have been resolved by allowing a maximum of 12 children outside at one time and the installation of a sound-proof fence to control noise.
Mr Oswald also says the proposed 16 space car park behind the property would be large enough to cope with parents dropping off the children.
He said: “Children will trickle in gradually to suit their parents’ working time commitments and so this means that cars will not occupy car parking spaces for more than a few minutes.”
But Mr Connor is unrepentant in his opposition to the nursery and has approached local residents to support him in trying to get it rejected.
“Amazingly enough the council was about to determine this application under delegated powers,” said Mr Connor. He has rallied opponents to ensure it goes before the planning committee.
“I’m really incensed and have almost lost all faith in the planning process,” he said.
Mr Connor is vice chairman of the planning committee but will have to step aside during the debate if he wishes to lead opposition against the nursery. He also requires the council’s dispensation to do this.