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Approval of 4000-home development for new town in Cambridgeshire to be challenged at High Court

A local campaign group has been granted permission for judicial review of a decision by South Cambridgeshire District Council to approve a 4,000-home development for a new town on the outskirts of Cambridge.

Fews Lane Consortium claims that the cumulative effects of previous phases of the town of Northstowe's development are responsible for the loss of water from ponds and wetland habitats in the neighbouring village of Longstanton.

The group, which campaigns for sustainable development, contends that the district council failed to consider that there is no sustainable drinking water supply available for the development in Northstowe and that the council acted irrationally in allowing the developer, Homes England, to exclude the impacts on Cambridgeshire's chalk streams from the Environmental Impact Assessment.

Northstowe is set to become the UK's largest new town since Milton Keynes, with a total of 10,000 new homes on land northwest of Cambridge.

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The planning approval in question concerns 'phase 3A' of the project and was granted in March 2022. The phase includes 4,000 new homes, a mixed-use centre, two primary schools, and open spaces for play and recreation across 210 hectares (519 acres).

However, the claimant argues that the council ignored an Environment Agency report that suggested water abstraction in the county needs to be reduced to help restore flow to Cambridgeshire's chalk streams, a rare habitat mostly found in southern England.

"Supplying these 4,000 houses would create a need to increase abstraction that is already unsustainable by a further 2 million litres per day," the group said.

Mrs Justice Lang granted the group permission for judicial review on all four grounds.

The grounds allege that the council ignored the water quality policy of its development plan, misdirected its planning committee about a possible deferral of the decision to obtain further environmental information, irrationally failed to require the applicant's Environmental Impact Assessment to consider issues of water supply, and failed to publish the required statement of its reasoned conclusions of the environmental effects of the development.

In 2020, Fews Lane Consortium secured a High Court order quashing South Cambridgeshire District Council's decision to discharge in part conditions relating to foul and surface water drainage for a separate residential development.

The local authority agreed to re-assess the application after the consortium said it should have been able to make comments on the application prior to it being determined.

A South Cambridgeshire District Council spokesperson said: “The council notes the Court’s decision permitting the challenge to proceed to a full hearing, and expects to explain to the court at that hearing how it has reached its conclusions on this application, and that it came to a lawful decision. As this is a live legal case and is proceeding to a hearing on a date to be confirmed, it is not appropriate to comment further.”

Adam Carey

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