The next Local Plan and why we must keep on top of it

The next Greater Cambridge Local Plan will define the development of our area for many years to come. In this post, I want to explore the possible implications for Queen Edith’s and take a quick look at the wider context in which the Local Plan is being drawn up.

You’ve probably already seen coverage in the press of the output of the kick-off activities in the plan: the ‘Call for Sites’ and the ‘First Conversation’. If not, here’s a Cambridge Independent news story.

First, let’s look at what the ‘Call for Sites’ is and how it fits into the Local Plan process.

What’s being proposed

Late last year, land owners and developers were invited by the Greater Cambridge Shared Planning Service (GCSPS – a joint confection of Cambridge City Council and South Cambs District Council) to suggest parcels of land which might be appropriate for development. All of these suggestions have now been published as an interactive map. From this, you can follow individual site links to see who has proposed them and what they are proposing might be accommodated there.

It is important to emphasise that just because a piece of land has been proposed, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it will be adopted for development.

In total, the sites proposed would accommodate 220,000 homes across Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire. This is far in excess of the estimated range of 5,000 to 30,000 new homes which the GCSPS is currently assuming will be required for the Plan period. The GCSPS will now assess the proposed sites to see if they are both ‘suitable and deliverable’ against ‘sustainability-led tests’ and fit with their ‘preferred spatial option’ for how development is distributed across the Greater Cambridge area. You can read a lot more detail on how this is all supposed to work here.

Until that assessment and several subsequent rounds of consultation have been completed, all sites are technically equally (un)likely to be adopted. But the reality is that we know that land in and around Queen Edith’s will be a focus of intense speculation. Here’s why.

  1. Of the six options offered as the basis of the broad spatial strategy in the ‘First Conversation’, Queen Edith’s would qualify under four – densification, edge of Cambridge in/not in Green Belt and public transport corridor. The only two which don’t apply to us are dispersal in new settlements and in villages.
  2. The pro-growth lobby group Cambridge Ahead has already identified “the area around the Biomedical Campus” as one of its five priority areas for growth, reflecting its belief that selection of sites for housing development should be “employment led”.
  3. Developers will assert that sites here are highly ‘sustainable’ because of their proximity to expanding employment sites at the Biomedical Campus and the Peterhouse Technology Park (where ARM is currently based); and promised improvements to transport infrastructure in the shape of Cambridge South station and the CSET busway.
  4. Precedents have been set for the removal of land from the Green Belt in the 2018 Local Plan such as GB1/2 on Wort’s Causeway and the Phase 3 expansion of the Biomedical Campus. The City Council’s 2015 Green Belt study found that further incursions into the Green Belt would be justifiable; and the huge economic significance of Cambridge to the national economy means that the test of ‘exceptional circumstances’ offers less of a challenge than it might in other locations.
  5. The County Council owns farmland adjacent to the current edge of Queen Edith’s and, given its current straitened finances, will look to maximise its return on its assets.

So where are the sites?

With all of that scene setting out of the way, this map shows the location of the sites proposed in and around Queen Edith’s:

(Purple denotes residential and housing; red denotes residential only – click to enlarge)

Sites by owner/developer and size (hectares)
1 Cambridge University Hospitals 2.20
2 Cambs County Council 28.32
3 Cambs County Council 29.75
4 Cambs County Council 13.32
5 CEG 158.01
6 Cambs County Council 15.48
Total 247.08
Sites by number of residential units
1 Cambridge University Hospitals Not specified
2 Cambs County Council 990
3 Cambs County Council 880
4 Cambs County Council 380
5 CEG 1,500
6 Cambs County Council 490
Total 4,240
Sites by commercial space (sq.m)
1 Cambridge University Hospitals
2 Cambs County Council 132,000
3 Cambs County Council
4 Cambs County Council
5 CEG 139,354
6 Cambs County Council
Total 271,354

As you can see, taken together these would extend the edge of the city out to Shelford Bottom roundabout; would engulf Babraham Road Park & Ride site; would extend over Limekiln Road up to the Beechwoods and flow over the hill to join up with Cherry Hinton.

Again I must emphasise that none of these sites are anything other than proposals right now. But to try to make sense of some of those numbers, by mid 2020s, the Queen Edith’s City Council ward will comprise about 4,000 dwellings. The sites above (4,250 dwellings) total at least that many again. Another way of thinking about scale is that the ‘Southern Fringe’ development has added about 3,600 dwellings to Trumpington over the last decade. On the commercial side, the total Phase 2 development for the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, currently in planning or starting construction, will comprise 75,000sq.m of commercial/clinical space. The proposed sites above total 3–4x this amount.

While the potential size of development is staggering, the proposers are depressingly predictable. It’s no surprise that the largest (site 4 above) is sponsored by CEG and is a direct rehash of the proposal they took to appeal during the preparation of the 2018 Local Plan. They have included a recap of their arguments, linked here (click the tabs). It was also inevitable that the County Council would want to cash in some of the land assets, but I have to confess that the extent of their submissions exceeded even my expectations. I’d certainly like to understand how, in the event that these sites are adopted into the Plan, they intend to reconcile their ‘Think Communities’ policy approach to change on this scale to our neighbourhood. This extract, from a July 2019 report, highlights the potential conflict:

Why we must keep on top of this

There are many complex arguments about the best way forward for Cambridge and the correct priorities to adopt. Claims to ‘sustainable’ development must always be assessed against all three components – economic viability, social equity and environmental protection – and this will not be easy in light of the single-minded pursuit of global recognition and global finance promoted by some dominant voices in the local arena. But this just makes it all the more important that residents stay fully in touch with the next steps in the Local Plan process. I will flag up opportunities to contribute your views as they arise.

All this also requires that our local councillors are fully engaged and willing to speak – and vote – against the party line where necessary. Unfortunately, the history of the last Local Plan does not inspire confidence on that point.

Note that the Greater Cambridge Local Plan process may be further confused by the various changes proposed by national government in its recently released Planning White Paper. This proposes both the introduction of a new methodology for calculating each area’s housing targets and a new approach to approving development according to which of three categories the site is in:

  • Growth areas suitable for substantial development, where outline approval for development would be automatically secured provided applications conformed to specifications laid out in the Local Plan
  • Renewal areas suitable for some development, such as ‘gentle densification’
  • Protected areas where development is restricted.

There were also rumours of a major shake-up to local government structures to remove some layers deemed unnecessary, although that seems to have been put on hold, for now.

We are entering a time of great uncertainty, with a great deal at stake for the future of Queen Edith’s and the city of Cambridge. Let’s make sure that as many of us as possible play our part in retaining what is best about our area and ensuring that forthcoming development avoids the mistakes of its precursors.

I add to this blog whenever there’s something important happening in our area. If you’d like to get these posts by email as they happen, please add your name to the list using the form on this page.

One Reply to “The next Local Plan and why we must keep on top of it”

  1. Predictably the County Council will yet again sell Queen Edith’s down the “concrete” as these sites will give them a good cash cow and many Officers especially have never taken any interest in the ward as a community at all, only as an annexe to Addenbrooke’s. It’s deeply depressing, but highly predictable.

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