I went back to Planning Committee this week to again argue the case for the provision of a direct walking and cycling access route from the northernmost of the two new housing estates being built on Wort’s Causeway (‘GB1’), through to the existing Queen Edith’s neighbourhood.
If this is not provided, to reach places such as Queen Edith Primary School, Netherhall School or the Queen Edith Medical Practice, residents will have to first head in the opposite direction through their new estate, then along Worts Causeway and up through the tiny Field Way alleyway to reach Almoners Avenue and Beaumont Road. This makes the journey several times longer and less safe than it needs to be, and as a result many will choose to drive, rather than walk or cycle. As I have been saying for years, this link is critical if we are to provide convenient access for the estate’s residents and keep yet more cars off our roads.
At the end of this article you can read the speech I made, or you can watch the video of it, but I’ll attempt to summarise and provide some context here.
The basic problem is that, while it is generally acknowledged that provision of this connection would be a good thing, the precise terms of successive planning decisions have made it very hard to force a reluctant site promoter (CEG) to provide it.
CEG, having secured Outline Approval last year, just want to sell the site on, and get a return on their investment with as little delay as possible. One remaining obstacle to them doing that is the existence of Condition 35 of the Outline Approval:
“Prior to development commencing, details of the work undertaken to seek a link to Almoners’ Avenue or Beaumont Road shall be submitted to and approved in writing by the Local Planning Authority, in consultation with the Cambridgeshire County Council, to determine the feasibility of implementing such link and improve pedestrian and cyclist connectivity. Reason: To mitigate the impact of the development and in support of the sustainable access to the development, in compliance with policies 80 and 81 of the Cambridge Local Plan (2018)“. (*Policies 80 and 81 relate respectively to ‘Supporting sustainable access to development’ and ‘Mitigating the transport impact of development’)
CEG applied to have this Condition discharged (i.e. written off) by Planning Committee this week, presenting evidence which, in their opinion, demonstrates that they have done everything asked of them by the Condition. In response, the Planning Officer’s report recommended that Committee should indeed accept that evidence and vote to discharge the Condition.
And this is where you realise just how muddled the thinking around this is. Because, as Paragraph 8.4 of the Officer’s report states: “Whilst the Condition requires the applicant to seek the feasibility of pedestrian and cycle link to the north of the site, there is no requirement for the applicant to implement such link should it be considered feasible.”
What was the point?
Let’s unpick that a bit. Firstly, as I laid out in my speech to Committee, I don’t accept that CEG have done everything they could to determine the feasibility of the link, as required by the Condition. But secondly, even if they did do everything that could reasonably be expected in that regard, and even if they did uncover a way in which the link could be achieved, they still don’t have to do anything about it, and the build-out of the site can proceed regardless!
So just what was the point of including Condition 35 in the Outline Approval last year? I can only interpret it as a well-intentioned, last-ditch attempt by councillors to try to rectify the earlier problem caused by the wording in the Local Plan to approve GB1 as a development site, which said: “Pedestrian and cycle access to local centre in Wulfstan Way to be investigated” (p248).
Not ‘created’. Not ‘delivered’. Just ‘investigated’.
This is wording which could offer a whole load of wriggle room to a less-than-scrupulous developer. To anyone actually trying to use policy to get good sustainable development on the ground, it is as much use as chocolate teapot.
For what it’s worth though, my representations to Planning Committee this week did cut through. Members voted against the officer’s recommendation, and deferred the decision, to allow time for CEG to gather and present more evidence.
However, it’s blindingly obvious that it’s in CEG’s interests to compile only evidence which shows that the link isn’t feasible. And even if it is shown to be feasible, who will do anything about it?
It’s also really depressing that CEG can’t see – or don’t believe – that putting the northern link in will add value to the GB1 site, and increase the price which a developer is willing to pay them for it.
It is very easy to talk about ‘sustainable’ development. The battle to see it achieved at GB1 continues.
- Read my presentation to Planning Committee
- Watch my presentation to Planning Committee (video)
- Watch the entire 50-minute discussion including my bit above (video)
I also made these short videos during my election campaign last year, talking about the connectivity problems facing the new estates: