Local people may remember that in early 2020, the Queen Edith’s Community Forum (QECF) carried out a ‘Place Standard’ survey to gather views on how people felt about the area. Place Standard is a credible and widely-used tool originally developed by the Scottish government. The survey received nearly 250 responses, and the results were presented at a public meeting in February 2020. You can watch my presentation on video here, and the results are still available here.
Why am I referring to this now? Because to the best of my knowledge, it is the one and only time that any organisation has actually asked local residents about the good and bad aspects of living here.
That’s right. Despite all the changes which have already happened in the 20 years since the creation of the Biomedical Campus, and all the changes which the emerging Local Plan envisages for the next 20 years, there has never been a systematic attempt to build an evidence base about how residents feel, or to construct any kind of vision about how this neighbourhood should co-exist alongside the Campus.
In the new Local Plan’s ‘First Proposals document’, there’s a huge amount about how the Greater Cambridge Shared Planning Service (GCSPS) proposes to deliver “thriving” new settlements. But there’s far less about managing the incremental changes experienced by the city’s existing communities.
Needless to say, I’ve heard from residents asking what can be done to address the issues arising from these incremental changes, other than responding to the First Proposals consultation.
I’ve also been asked whether a Neighbourhood Plan might offer a way forward.
What is a Neighbourhood Plan?
The Neighbourhood Plan structure was created by the 2011 Localism Act. A Neighbourhood Plan is “a community-led initiative giving local communities power to prepare a planning document that forms part of the statutory development plan for the area”. These plans have to go through a rigorous formal process before adoption, but once adopted, they have equal planning status to the Local Plan.
They cannot be used to propose less growth than is in the Local Plan, but they can allocate sites for development for housing/employment/community use, and help determine the type and design of new developments.
They are compiled using a detailed and wide-ranging evidence base, such as the information about windfall site distribution which I mentioned last week. There’s more local detail on the GCSPS website.
Eagle-eyed readers will note that while there are four adopted Neighbourhood Plans in South Cambridgeshire villages, and another 15 going through the process, there is only one under development in Cambridge, in South Newnham. You can read about that here.
Why might this be?
- Does the Parish Council structure provide a better basis on which to undertake the work?
- Is a village a more readily definable spatial concept than a suburb on which to locate a Plan?
- Were officers from South Cambs District Council historically (ie pre-GCSPS merger) more active in promoting Neighbourhood Plans?
- Are city residents just less bothered about what happens in their neighbourhoods?
I have tried and failed in the past to get an explanation of why there is such an imbalance. In fact, I’ve struggled to even get any acknowledgement that this imbalance might be significant and worthy of further exploration. You might also note that all the GCSPS material provided under the ‘Neighbourhood Planning Support Offer’ and ‘Neighbourhood Planning Toolkit’ headings still relates only to South Cambs, not the City. This could deter potentially interested city residents or make them think it’s not a viable option.
As you can see from the chronology given on the South Newnham website, theirs has been a protracted process which first started in 2016. I’m not for one moment suggesting that a Neighbourhood Plan is a quick or simple fix to the highly-contested debate about the future of our neighbourhood. That would need real commitment from a team comprising a minimum of 21 residents with relevant skills and experience, over an extended period. And its proposition would have to be sufficiently compelling that it secured approval in a referendum of all residents in the area, while also meeting the legal requirements.
But undertaking a Neighbourhood Plan process would actually provide a means of finding out what matters to people who live in this area and how they see the future. I hear many unfounded – and indeed unfair – assertions and assumptions about what people here think about planning, development and growth.
Maybe the time has come to actually find out. What do you think?