South Cambs Liberal Democrats condemn Mayor James Palmer’s interference in a major planning application as an ‘intolerable affront to local democracy’
Leading councillors in Lib-Dem run South Cambridgeshire have expressed their anger at the way in which Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Mayor James Palmer has intervened in the planning application for a controversial proposal by SmithsonHill for an Agritech park in the countryside.
James Palmer, using his position as Mayor, has written to the planning inspector who will be deciding on the appeal on the proposal to build a huge business park that the applicants say will help to build up an agritech sector.
Aidan Van de Weyer, Lib Dem deputy leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, said:
“James Palmer has really overstepped the mark this time. This is an unacceptable interference in the business of another council and an intolerable affront to local democracy. We are the planning authority, not Palmer. Our planning committee looked carefully at the proposal and concluded that it was inappropriate and did not fit our policies. We always try and keep politics out of planning decisions, but Palmer is doing the opposite.
“This is clearly an abuse of his position as Mayor. He has taken this action without support or even knowledge of his own board.
“It is vital that our political leaders maintain the appearance of propriety. Two years ago, just before he was elected as Mayor, James Palmer’s local Conservative Association received a donation of £20,000 from one of the partners in the Agritech proposal. Many people will feel that the mayor isn’t acting with the propriety we all expect.
“This is a speculative application with almost no evidence to show that there is an economic need or that it will contribute significantly to the growth of the particular industries that Greater Cambridge is specialising in.
“James Palmer cites the recent CPIER report in aide of his position, but it has not identified the hi-tech agriculture industry as an important driver of growth for the Greater Cambridge economy. The CPIER report did in fact suggest promoting agritech as a complement to the agricultural industry in the Fens, so the focus of the Local Industrial Strategy should be there and on the Cambridge-Norwich corridor.
“So many of Palmer’s decisions over the past two years have not been based on sound analysis of the evidence, whether it is employing his political allies at the Combined Authority, directing investment to pet road schemes, loaning housing money to East Cambs. And now he is interfering in the planning process on a site that could be worth millions of pounds.”