Planning boss defends decision to use casting vote to allow a new hostel for the homeless in Wisbech
PLANNING boss Martin Curtis last night defended his decision to use his chairman s casting vote to secure a new �2 million hostel for the homeless in Wisbech. Cllr Curtis, chairman of Fenland District Council Planning Committee, said: I felt that, for s
PLANNING boss Martin Curtis last night defended his decision to use his chairman's casting vote to secure a new �2 million hostel for the homeless in Wisbech.
Cllr Curtis, chairman of Fenland District Council Planning Committee, said: "I felt that, for such a sensitive, controversial and important application, the chairman of the committee should stand up and be counted, in whatever direction.
He argued that the debate over the conversion was not about whether Cabinet supported the project but whether the scheme was acceptable in planning terms.
He said there were many areas of concern but these had been dealt with, including that of conservation.
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"English Heritage supported the application and the Wisbech Society was broadly supportive when they spoke," he said.
He also said there had been no evidence to suggest the mixed use proposed for the building was unacceptable, and there were a number of examples around the country where similar schemes operate in historic buildings in sensitive areas.
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"It is not enough just to say not here," he said. "The debate, in my view, needed to be about why this was unique compared to elsewhere.
"If there had been enough robust planning based challenge to that comment, it almost certainly would have made me vote differently because I felt this was the critical aspect of the debate. In my view that evidence was not offered at committee so, again, it was quite clear in my mind that the presumption was in favour."
And on the issue of possible anti social behaviour, he said the Ferry Project who will run the scheme have a robust policy and the fact residents would use a rear access would minimise problems at the front.
Cllr Martin also dismissed a poll run by this newspaper which suggested 87 per cent of people were against the application.
"I am afraid I, personally, cannot offer that significant weight," he said. "Those surveys are great for creating news headlines, but it is easy to fix online surveys like this; by one individual voting on a number of computers, or by deleting cookies and re-voting"
He added: "It would have been easy for me to sit on my hands and watch a vital decision for Fenland go either way and then say 'Not me guv - I didn't vote'.
"I chose to do what I thought was right. I can say quite categorically that if I had considered that the weight of evidence had been against the application I would have voted against.
"I now look forward to this hostel opening, and being an asset to Wisbech and Fenland as well as helping some very vulnerable people to develop and improve their lives.