Campaigners applauded as controversial plans to convert the Croylands building into 20 retirement flats were thrown out by councillors.

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After more than two years of applications, reports and re-submissions, the issue finally came to a head today (Friday) as councillors voted by a majority of eight votes to four to refuse McCarthy & Stone’s application.

The application, councillors agreed, represented an over development of the site, did not cater sufficiently for affordable housing and did not satisfactorily address issues around the protection of the great crested newt.

Councillor Mike Rouse told the meeting: “I have consistently opposed this money-grabbing overdevelopment. There hasn’t been a significant change in this scheme, it is still simply too large and I think it should have been thrown out from day one.”

And Cllr Gareth Wilson added: “The idea that a developer that is going to make a substantial profit cannot afford to provide the amount of affordable housing we would expect to see it outrageous as far as I’m concerned. It doesn’t make any sense at all.”

One councillor, Soham’s Joshua Schumann, walked out of the chamber before the vote was completed.

McCarthy & Stone originally applied to East Cambridgeshire District Council to convert Croylands, in Cambridge Road, Ely, into 20 later living apartments for the retired back in 2012.

After hundreds of letters of protest, including two from SE Cambs MP Sir Jim Paice, the developer made a series of amendments to its plans, including reducing the height of its plans, in order to satisfy objectors.

It also agreed to pay the public purse £48,472 in lieu of providing affordable housing on the site.

Though independent planning officers Keith Hutchinson agreed that the changes made were “a major improvement”, he added that he could not recommended the plans for approval because not enough work had been done to see if the protected great crested newt was present in the gardens of the 19th century former vicarage.

After considering legal advice from the council’s legal officer Jeanette Thompson, councillors agreed.

McCarthy & Stone do still retain the right to appeal the decision to the Planning Inspectorate.

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