“How can we have the kind of childhood you had when you grew up?”, Girl Guide asks town council as they express support for controversial meadow homes (press release with video)

Two Girl Guides called upon Chatteris Town Councillors to reject controversial plans to build on an historic meadow in Chatteris at the full meeting of the council on Tuesday 7th September. Developer Cannon Kirk is asking Fenland District Council for permission to build 93 homes on Chatteris’ former Manor Park, known locally as “Wenny Road Meadow”.

Evelyn and Scarlett, who are working on her campaigning badge, told councillors they had shared the news of the meadow with their fellow Girl Guides. Evelyn said her unit was “devastated to hear it will be built on”.

\During a passionate speech that she had written herself, Evelyn told councillors how she visits the meadow for running, picnics, and to play with her siblings in a horse chestnut tree that they refer to as “squirrel tree” – a place that she says holds many happy memories for her.

She revealed that her brothers’ class had recently visited the meadow to explore the wildlife there, pointing out that there is nowhere else in Chatteris where children can experience nature in this way.

Evelyn told councillors: “Children my age are told we spend too much time indoors and that we should get off our screens. Wenny Meadow is a safe place to do all the things we’re told we’re supposed to do. Climb trees, roll in the grass, have picnics, listen to birds, and find shapes in the clouds. There isn’t anywhere else like it in Chatteris where we can do all of these things.”

Concluding her speech, Evelyn asked councillors: “If you vote in favour of building on Wenny Meadow, how can we have the kind of childhood you had when you grew up? What will be left for children like me, and what will Chatteris have for children who are yet to be born, or who will move into the new houses that are already due to be built?”

Responding to Evelyn, Mayor Linda Ashley said her speech was “well written” and Cllr Julie Smith said it took a lot of courage.

Later in the meeting Cllr Alan Gowler, deputy chair of the council’s planning group, confirmed the town council’s decision to support the proposals. He said: “We support this application. We are happy with the design of the houses, and we look forward to the payment of the Section 106 funds being honoured so that the money can be used for the benefit of Chatteris residents. We would recommend that, instead of supplying play equipment on the development, we would prefer to see funds spent on enhancing the nearby Wenny Recreation Ground area as local councils are not prepared to take responsibility for further play areas in the town. We would also like to see the inclusion of swift bricks in the houses.

Campaigners are redoubling their efforts to persuade Fenland District Council, who will make the final decision on the application, to refuse planning permission for what they consider to be a unique area within the town.

After the meeting, Evelyn said: 

“I am a bit disappointed that the council didn’t even talk about the things I’d said in my speech. They thanked me for speaking and said my speech was well-written, but they didn’t talk about it at all. It was like they were impressed that I was there, but didn’t take me seriously because I am only a child.”

After the meeting, Scarlett said: 

“‘I’m really sad that the Town Council supported the application because I love Wenny Meadow. It’s somewhere that I enjoy taking my dog for walks and playing with my cousins.”

A spokesperson for the Save Wenny Road Meadow campaign said: 

“It is frustrating that the Town Council didn’t discuss such an important planning application in detail at a meeting that was open to the public, instead making a decision at a planning meeting behind closed doors.”

“We expected that councillors might discuss the contents of Evelyn’s speech, but instead the application was simply waved through. People often say that young people are not engaged with what’s going on in their local area. Evelyn isn’t old enough to sign our petition, and it isn’t clear whether children are able to comment on the planning application – even though they’re the ones who stand to lose the most from these proposals.”

“We’re concerned that the Town Council is pinning its hopes upon receiving Section 106 contributions from the developer, despite the proposed payment representing only £300 per dwelling and despite a history of developers later succeeding in asking Fenland District Council to further reduce or remove the Section 106 contribution requirement altogether. As well as failing to fight for the future of this special place in Chatteris, councillors are settling for a bad deal for residents in the process. The Section 106 payment of £28,000 should amount to over £700,000 according to the standards set out in the Fenland Local Plan for a development of this scale. How is a pitiful £300 contribution on a £400,000 house sufficient to support the planned growth of Chatteris, the size of which is already expected to increase by 27.5% with the Tithe Barn and Womb Farm developments alone?”

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