Approval for housing on old Lafford site

The former Lafford School site in Billinghay. EMN-170803-123430001
The former Lafford School site in Billinghay. EMN-170803-123430001

Residents groups are vowing to keep up the pressure to have more of a former school site for community use despite planning permission being given to build houses on it.

North Kesteven District Councillors at last Tuesday’s planning committee were sympathetic with the objections of Billinghay Parish Council and Billinghay Community Group but said they could not find strong enough grounds to turn down the outline plans put forward by the county council landowners, fearing it would cost taxpayers thousands if it went to appeal.

The scheme is for 16 homes to be built on the site of the old Lafford High School building on Fen Road. There would be a play area, associated parking for the houses and enhanced access, drop off and parking area for the neighbouring primary school, children’s centre and swimming pool. The remaining playing fields are expected to be handed over to the parish and the primary school.

However the parish council and community group have argued that more of the site (the old tennis courts) should be used for public amenities, claiming the county council had gone back on its original pledge to keep the site for education and employment uses.

They have put forward an alternative layout, still allowing for the housing development but retaining enough land for a community leisure hub building and access alongside, in line with the aspirations of the emerging Neighbourhood Plan that they have been working on for the last two years in cooperation with NKDC.

The scheme had been deferred last month by district councillors at their last meeting hoping to bring both the county council and residents back to the table to reach a compromise. However the county council rejected the offer, claiming it had spent several years in meetings and discussions with the community about uses. The county said it had come to a time ‘to manage its assets with an ever increasing issue of budget pressures’. They claimed their scheme fits in with the emerging local plan, yet had not discounted potentially selling the site back to the community or having further discussions, but only after the plans have been determined.

Robert Doughty, on behalf of the applicants, said there were no material reasons to refuse the scheme as it fitted in with the district’s own local plan, using a ‘brownfield site’.

NKDC development manager Mark Williets said not enough weight could be given to the Billinghay Neighbourhood Plan as it was at too early a stage of development and although aspirational, there were doubts that the proposals for the site by the community were viable given that they do not own the land.

He added that arguments that the site was needed for community amenities such as school and GP practice expansion were not backed up by the education authority or the NHS.

Claire Markham, chairman of Billinghay Community Group told the committee that according to planning rules, the county council had not demonstrated these 16 houses should be taken as an exception beyond the 560 already allocated for Billinghay’s future expansion, nor did they have community support. Parish council vice-chairman Kathryn Locke added they had produced an alternative design as Billinghay needed at least part of this site for community use.

She was confident funding could be secured, with full public support.

Billinghay ward member Susan Matthan said the community had been blocked and avoided and their efforts brushed aside as ‘aspirational’. She said: “I am proud to live in a village where residents are aspirational.”

Fellow ward councillor Gill Ogden was very annoyed that the county council had not complied with their request to meet. “Billinghay do not need more houses - they are in the pipeline. They need shops and community facilities,” she said.

Coun Pat Woodman, chairman of the committee, described the county council’s disregard as ‘scandalous’.

Proposing the approval of the outline plans, Coun Susan Waring expressed sympathy saying if it was in her village she would be ‘marching up and down with placards’ but could find no reason to stand in its way, adding that the asking price of the land was now likely to rise.

The scheme was passed by a majority decision of 13 to 6 votes with 2 abstentions, although some councillors suggested the community seek to press ahead with putting in an alternative planning application for the site with a view to buying it off the county council - possibly with grant aid and the help of a willing developer.

After the meeting, the parish council and community group members drew hope from the sympathy of the committee.

Sharon Rossides from the group felt the work done so far on their neighbourhood plan had been ‘undermined’ and said: “It is a disgrace that the county council did not talk to us. We have talked with professionals about what we can do on that site and now we have to buy that land. We were willing to work with the county council.”

Coun Locke said the parish would act quickly to move forward with plans and seek to ‘crowd fund’ if necessary. “We have not given up yet.”