Neighbours of laboratory site ‘feel let down’ over councillors’ decision to back housing plan

Forensic Science Services lab at Huntingdon. Picture: GEOFF SODEN

Forensic Science Services lab at Huntingdon. Picture: GEOFF SODEN - Credit: Archant

Hinchingbrooke residents are “gutted” after a controversial housing development was given the go-ahead by councillors after a crucial vote was taken while three members were unable to attend.

Plans to build 103 houses on the site of the former forensic science laboratory in Hinchingbrooke Park Road had been brought forward on the agenda of Huntingdonshire District Council’s development management committee - which started an hour earlier than usual - and objectors believe there could have been a different outcome if the three councillors had been able to take part.

Now a complaint is set to be made to the council’s standards board over the way committee chairman, Councillor Eric Butler, handled the meeting which started early because of the size of the agenda.

Former council leader, Councillor Jason Ablewhite, who was unable to attend the 6pm start, had played a key part in the development being turned down by the council earlier this year and told The Hunts Post that his views had not changed.

He said: “I believe this is premature.

“I would like to know why the meeting and the agenda item were brought forward. I didn’t have the opportunity to speak.”

People living near the site are concerned about traffic from the development impacting on existing congestion, which can be severe at peak times, and on education provision.

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Town councillor Brett Morrell, who lives at Hinchingbrooke and was part of a large group of residents present, said: “We feel gutted and totally let down by the district council.”

He said Cllr Butler brought the item forward for the convenience of residents, but it was not something the residents had called for and would have been prepared to wait for the three councillors to arrive.

Cllr Morrell said residents accepted that the site would be developed and would not have objected if the houses had been approved, subject to a delay in construction until roadworks associated with the A14 upgrade were completed.

He and town and district councillor Tom Sanderson are to raise the way the meeting was chaired with the standards board.

Planners had recommended approval for the scheme, by Persimmon Homes (East Midlands), subject to an agreement for community benefits.

They said the number of vehicles using the former forensics site had to be taken into account and that there had been no objections from the highways and education authorities. Persimmon Homes has appealed against the council’s initial refusal of the scheme.

Councillors said they had sympathy for resident but had no option but to approve the plan.

Cllr Ryan Fuller said the council would not have been able to defend an appeal on traffic grounds since the highways authority did not object to it.

Chairman explains decision

A planning committee chairman has said there was “no ulterior motive” in starting a sensitive item early.

Huntingdonshire District Council’s development management committee began an hour earlier than usual on Monday night and an item on building new homes at Huntingdon’s former forensic science laboratory was also brought forward to a time when three councillors could not attend.

The move, which saw the plan being approved, has angered neighbours who opposed the scheme.

But chairman Councillor Eric Butler said the meeting was started early because of the size of the agenda and the item brought forward for the convenience of attendees.

Cllr Butler said he took the decision because of the members of the public who turned up and did not want to keep them waiting at a meeting which lasted six hours.

“I took the decision to bring it forward but there was no ulterior motive,” he said.

Cllr Butler said the 6pm start had been published in advance.