At the present time, Thakeham has yet to submit a proposal to SCDC, so there is no proposal to consider. It had agreed to do so by Easter but this now appears to be delayed. The ‘Call for Sites’ closed two years ago but by law, late plans can still be submitted until a very late stage, even now – and by law, SCDC must accept late submissions.
As the Local Planning Authority, SCDC is required by law to consider all planning applications according to statutory processes If it fails to follow those processes it exposes itself to potential Judicial Review, which in turn can become the basis for an appeal by the applicant (in this case Thakeham). It is common for speculative developers to seek avenues for appeals, as we’ve seen in Barrington (Cemex) and Melbourn (New Road 199).
Ultimately the Local Plan must be signed off by an independent Inspector, who is appointment by the Government.
And the Housing Minister has the power to override a Local Planning Authority decision.
Thakeham continues to maintain that it is openly seeking national development channels – new government created channels that sit above and apart from Local Authority processes – to achieve its objectives. These are part of a general trend by Government to centralise planning powers away from Local Planning Authorities.
Government controlled national development channels could include a ‘Cambridge Development Corporation’ as mentioned by Rishi Sunak in his 2020 budget, or the recently published Oxford to Cambridge Arc, which indicates four ‘opportunity areas’ along the East West Rail central section between Bedford and Cambridge – though these areas have not yet been identified.
The South West Cambridge Action Group is seeking to understand how far national channels have been pursued by Thakeham, and to what extent they may have been discussed with Government ministers and their departments. To that end, several key Freedom of Information requests have been denied, on the basis that information would be a ‘distraction’ and ‘not in the public interest.’ Those FOI responses can be found at http://www.swcag.org.uk/news-and-events.
Requests: “Please disclose details that you hold of all meetings between a) the property development company known as Thakeham (including limited companies Thakeham Homes Limited, Thakeham Client Limited, Thakeham Homes (Southern) Limited) and/or any of its subsidiary companies and/or any of its representatives, and b) Rishi Sunak MP, Stephen Barclay MP, Robert Jenrick MP, Simon Clarke MP and Kemi Badenoch MP from 24/07/2019 to date.” “Please disclose all documents that you hold (including, but not limited to, notes, memos, papers, emails, letters and presentations) relating to the ‘New Town in Cambridge’ referred to in the 2020 Budget from 24/07/2019 to date.”
Response to both: “Release of information would have a detrimental impact…A qualified exemption...protecting the Government’s ability to discuss and develop policies and to reach well-formed conclusions."
Request: All correspondence relating to land in South Cambridgeshire between Thakeham and/or any of its subsidiary companies and/or any of its representatives, and Jack Airey, special advisor planning and housing from 01/01/2020 to date; and, details of all meetings between Thakeham and/or any of its subsidiary companies and/or any of its representatives, and Jack Airey, special advisor planning and housing from 01/01/2020 to date.
Response: “Mr Airey held a virtual meeting with Mr Rob Broughton, in his capacity as a member of the Home Builders Federations Future Homes Taskforce, on 3 December 2020. This was a general discussion about how the housebuilding industry can deliver zero carbon homes.”
We have now received a delayed response from East West Railway Company (EWR) to a Freedom of Information request; this is provided in three documents. The request was for “copies of any correspondence between EWR Co and Thakeham and/or any advisors, consultants or similar working on Thakeham's behalf for 2020, 2019 and 2018.”
In summary, the response indicates that Will Gallagher, Strategy Director at EWR, had at least two meetings with Thakeham over a six-month period in 2019, though we have been provided no information about the content of those meetings. The initial email of introduction from Thakeham to EWR includes an assertion about their relationship with Homes England. Homes England is a government agency tasked with accelerating housing delivery, and sits within the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. It is led by Robert Jenrick MP.
On 8 February 2019, Thakeham wrote the following to EWR: “I write as we are assembling a sizeable potential development on the Oxford/Cambridge Arc. We are moving through legals with land that can yield 10,000-15,000 properties currently and negotiating on further land attached that could see us at 25,000-30,000 units in total. We are in advanced discussions with Homes England to join us as our promotion and delivery partner.” The last sentence is somewhat at odds with what Thakeham indicated to us on 4 January 2021, when they confined their comments relating to Homes England to simply, "Homes England know of the scheme’s existence". We have written to both Thakeham and Homes England to ask for clarifications and will report any responses.
Freedom of Information Response: Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government
Ministry refuses to release information on new town proposal:
A Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has been denied, on the basis that information revealed would be a ‘distraction’ and that ‘it is not in the public interest to disclose this information at this time.'
The request was for information relating to a Cambridge ‘Development Corporation’ – a central government vehicle for creating new towns that bypasses normal planning processes. SWCAG is seeking to confirm whether or not the Development Corporation is tied to the proposal by Thakeham developers.
Notes: In last year’s budget, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the setting up of a Cambridge Development Corporation, but did not reveal any details, including where exactly the new town would be situated. There has been no engagement, nor any timeline published. The FOI response has been shared with Anthony Browne MP and is published here for public information. The decision will be appealed.