This week saw the publication by the Greater Cambridge Shared Planning Service (GCSPS, i.e. Cambridge City Council and South Cambs District Council) of the provisional ‘Preferred Options’ for development in the next Local Plan which will cover the period to 2041.
This was accompanied by around 10,000 pages of supporting evidence, explaining how these proposals have been reached.
This publication does not yet mark the start of a public consultation, which will follow in November. The time between now and then is allocated for consideration by councillors. However, what it does deliver is an opportunity to see the broad spatial form and policies deemed to be consistent with the four high-level themes:
- Climate change
- Biodiversity and green spaces
- Wellbeing and social inclusions
- Great places
There’s more than a whiff of motherhood and apple pie about the four themes. Great places? Who is going to advocate a theme of ‘mediocre places’? And inevitably the devil is all in the detail: with Local Plans, there is a lot of detail.
So rather than try to imply that I’ve already read and digested the thousands of pages published this week, I’m simply going to report factually on three sites closest to Queen Edith’s.
The first two are just off Cherry Hinton Road:
- Clifton Road Industrial Estate. The principle of this area being redeveloped for ‘mixed use’ including 550 dwellings was approved in the 2018 Local Plan. This week’s draft provides an update: “S/C/M2: Clifton Road Area – the redevelopment of this site to provide new homes will result in a significant loss of employment uses that would need to be relocated, and we have limited evidence that it will still come forward, and therefore we will need to work with the landowners to gather this evidence to have greater certainty that this site will be brought forward for development by 2041. These issues will be considered further as the draft Local Plan is prepared.”
- The Paddocks Industrial Estate. This was also approved in principle for residential development (120 dwellings, ref R7) in 2018, but the update states “This is an active site of mixed commercial uses and in reviewing whether the allocation should be carried forward, it is considered more appropriate to retain the site for the existing uses, rather than it being redeveloped for residential uses. We also have no evidence that it will still come forward for residential uses.”
This reads to me as if it is now more likely that these will now be retained for employment space rather than developed for housing. This would follow the pattern of the Swiss Laundry site, also on Cherry Hinton Road, which was approved for redevelopment for 30 dwellings but is now being built out as office/R&D space.
The third is the proposal for yet another phase of expansion at Cambridge Biomedical Campus (CBC), details of which start on p.88 (Policy S/CBC).
Just to recap, the Campus is currently marketing and building out units on the ‘Phase 2’ land spreading south to the Shelford cycle path. Abcam moved in to its new HQ in 2019, and in February 2021 planning permission was granted for a 5-storey office/lab building. In addition, in the 2018 Local Plan, a parcel of land was removed from Green Belt designation in order to become ‘Phase 3’ land, which extends south again to the hedgerow closest to Nine Wells Local Nature Reserve.
It is worth noting that, under national planning policy, land can only be removed from the Green Belt when there are deemed to be ‘exceptional circumstances’. The evidence base underpinning the 2018 Local Plan determined that the need to accommodate growth at the Campus could indeed meet the threshold for ‘exceptional circumstances’, hence the approval of the Phase 3 land.
So… what’s in the Draft Plan for this area?
The Campus recently launched its 2050 Vision, describing how it intends to stay “at the forefront of globally significant research and development”. It also alludes to how it proposes to facilitate its further physical expansion: “To realise all the opportunities within our Vision, we need to plan for sustainable growth. As part of preliminary work, we have identified land near the campus that would enable us to grow sensibly, and we are in dialogue with the relevant landowners to shape proposals. Those landowners have now submitted a high-level outline proposal to Greater Cambridge Shared Planning as part of the Local Plan process.”
So it was the landowners, including the County Council, (not the CBC) who submitted the so-called ‘Cambridge South’ proposal to the Local Plan (easily confused with, but entirely distinct from, Network Rail’s Cambridge South railway station application). However, the proposal was shaped by the intention to accommodate the CBC’s growth ambitions and incorporated very substantial parcels of land in both Trumpington and Queen Edith’s:
The vast majority of this proposal has NOT been included as one of the Preferred Options. The CBC is now considering the implications of this for its growth ambitions and presumably the landowners may contest the GCSPS’s weighing of the evidence, and appeal in due course.
The one area which has not been rejected is on the edge of Queen Edith’s, running south from the Ninewells development to Granhams Road, marked S/CBC/A on the map below. S/CBC/E/2 is the already approved ‘Phase 3′ land. The remainder of the blue-edged plot is a new proposed area of “biodiversity and green infrastructure improvement’.
Let’s take these two new elements separately.
There is relatively little detail about what form of development might be approved for the Campus extension. It’s described as possible mixed use, i.e. employment sites and housing, and there is a passing reference to the possibility of “affordable and key worker homes for campus employees”. Development here, it’s suggested, will also be contingent on various improvements to the existing Campus, including optimised use of available space, implementation of a ‘trip budget’ to manage traffic impacts and a commitment to improving wellbeing for Campus users and surrounding communities, “as well as addressing the spill over impacts on individuals and communities of this intensive employment location”.
It is acknowledged that removing this land from the Green Belt would bring about a “high level of harm”, with accompanying biodiversity and landscape impacts.
‘Doubling Nature’ aspiration
With reference to the proposed enhanced biodiversity and green infrastructure area, this forms part of the so-called ‘Doubling Nature’ aspiration now adopted by local councils. At present, the arable land available to wildlife within what the CBC ‘area of major change’ adds up to around 70 hectares – if the Phase 3 land and the S/CBC/A proposal were implemented we would be left with around 40 hectares, so looking to ‘double nature’ while the land available on which to achieve this is halved.
Finally, what’s also noteworthy are the sites which have not been proposed for taking forward in the next Local Plan, including the possible extension of the GB1 (Wort’s Causeway) site down to and across Limekiln Road and over to the Beechwoods. However, it is possible that the potential developers here, CEG, will also appeal against the exclusion.
Who wins or loses
I’m sure everyone reading this will have their own opinions about the fundamental issues which the Local Plan process forces us to address, both the quantifiable details of the location and scale of site allocations, the balance of housing and employment, the built form which development takes and the biodiversity impacts; and also more qualitative considerations how we feel about the rate of change in the city, and who wins or loses from its growth.
As the Local Plan process now moves on, conflicting assertions about what factors should take precedence will become more strident and discussion will become more intense. It is my intention through this blog to make sure that as many of you as possible are aware of what is proposed, the arguments for and against, and most importantly let you know how you can make your views heard.