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Concern over Cambridge neighbourhood watch

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The letter from David Owers about planning in Cambridge (AJ 30.10.03) is both disingenuous and patronising.

It is disingenuous because he fails to declare his personal interest as next-door neighbour to the Malting House. His formal objections to the city council were as much about the (perceived) impact of students living next door to him as the architectural merits of the proposed alterations. It is strange he did not mention this in his letter to you.

His letter is patronising because he seems to think we are all idiots. The application was subject to extensive consultation and, as a result, amendments were made to the extent of the proposed alterations to the house (in particular the retention of the dining room rather than its subdivision into two bedrooms).

The application was discussed at length at two meetings of the planning committee, and Mr Owers was able to address the committee personally to express his concerns. Indeed, more than half the members of the committee had personal knowledge of the house's interior. So I fail to understand how Mr Owers can say that the decisions were made 'without advance participation' (whatever that means).

Rather than presaging the demise of planning control over Grade II-listed buildings, this case is merely an honest difference of professional opinion about the appropriate future for an unusual and quirky building.

Mr Owers would prefer it to continue its life as a family house. As a next-door neighbour, I can entirely understand why he feels that way. However, we believe that Darwin College's alternative proposals, to extensively restore and repair the house (which currently suffers badly from damp on its lower level), and make minor internal alterations to accommodate a community of postgraduate students and visiting Fellows, are also an entirely appropriate future for this building.

Mr Owers knows that we take design and conservation issues very seriously at Cambridge, and I can assure him that the city council's conservation team is one of the most able and experienced in the region.

However, he should also recognise that it is quite possible to have differences of opinion from time to time, and that he does not need to draw such apocalyptic conclusions from this particular case.

Peter Studdert, director of environment and planning, Cambridge City Council

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