Sam Davies

It’s not residents’ responsibility

This week I’d like to bring you a ‘guest blog’ from a resident at the Ninewells development on Babraham Road. I thought you’d find it interesting to hear about the sort of problems I’m often asked to help out with, in the resident’s own words…

I moved in to Ninewells 2016, attracted by the promises made in the marketing materials about the attention to detail given to the creating a high-quality and sustainable development. I’m happy with many aspects of life here since, but there are problems which are still outstanding and which neither developer nor council officers seem able to resolve, to the frustration of many residents. This is our experience.

All new developments have to provide storm-water storage to hold exceptionally high rainfall until the water can drain away into the ground or into surrounding drainage ditches. When the Ninewells development was designed in 2013, the City Council accepted the developer’s plan to combine a major storm-water pond (marked on plans as a “dry pond” a description, which with the benefit of hindsight, should have been a warning) with the provision of play equipment.

Because this pond has to hold sufficient water to deal with a 1 in 100-year flood event, the bottom of it is at approximately the same level as the surrounding drainage ditches, so even normal quantities of heavy rainfall do not drain directly out of the pond, but have to soak away into the ground, however long that takes.

The result is predictable. Despite the drainage modelling in the detailed plans approved through the planning process, after periods of heavy rain, the bases beneath the play equipment and the surrounding grass are often under water or water-logged. No surprise then, that the residents took to referring to the area as the ‘aquapark’.

Hill, the developer, officially moved off site in December 2019, having completed the construction of 270 homes over the previous five years. The three pieces of play equipment were not installed until late 2020, so early residents had already had 4 years without the facility, despite it being an agreed planning obligation.

From June 2020 onwards, the “dry pond” was regularly flooded and the play equipment was in any case still not commissioned for use. During the winter of 20/21 the area was flooded continuously for several months. The residents were in constant touch with the Council, providing photos of the area, and there were meetings to discuss solutions. Eventually Hill did some minor remedial work, but this did not solve the problem.

(It is of no comfort to Ninewells residents that the City Council will almost certainly not allow developers to combine a drainage and play area on other sites in the future.)

The Council is, quite rightly, insisting that Hill provides residents with an acceptable play area before it will take over responsibility for its maintenance.  Various solutions having been proposed, it appears that there might now finally – three and half years on from when the bases were first installed – be an agreed possible solution. However, this will now have to go through the planning system again, so the remedial work will not happen before the autumn at the earliest. If the end of the year is not too wet for work to be undertaken, the play area just might be completed about 5 years after Hill left the site.

For a company that professes to be keen to wrap up its responsibilities on the Ninewells development, Hill has been incredibly slow to respond to what has had to be constant pressure from residents, Councillor Davies and Council officers. Not only is the play area incomplete, but we are still constantly having to chase them to maintain open areas properly and to replace dead trees – some for the umpteenth time. From our point of view, they have failed to fulfil their obligations to the residents, and it appears that Council officers have insufficient powers (or resources?) to force them to respond to the problems in a reasonable time frame.

It should not be left to residents to pressure a developer to meet its obligations on any site – and certainly not nearly 5 years after the last dwellings were completed.

Sam Davies


  • Excellent post, despite the depressing content.
    I wonder who is responsible for cutting back the trees outside Trinity House on the path/cycleway along Long Road? It is almost impassable for a single person, let alone two people passing each other (cyclist and/or pedestrian).

  • Thanks for the blog. Unfortunately enforcement is not something that Cambridge and many other Councils, appear to have a grip of. Delivering on actions and ensuring that outputs are achieved must be as important as producing policies, instructions and plans. It is not just planning and construction where there is a lack of action but many other areas including for example taxis, where there is a taxi handbook with little oversight or control of their parking or idling of vehicles.
    Until a strong and effective Council for Cambridgeshire is achieved rather than the myriad of competing public bodies, effective policy and delivery will remain a distant objective.

  • I am staggered to hear that this row is still going on. I regularly walk past this sunken play area and know how often it fails to meet the needs of residents. When Hill needed approval the firm were very accomodating. This is a disgraceful change, There should be compensation for the residents who probably have to take their children to the Nightingale Recreation park.

  • Wouldn’t it be nice if the developers could be revised planning permission for any new developments until they had made good on these previous obligations? It would seem both fair and logical. Unlike planning….

  • The same Hill that has cornered the market in Cambridge house building, by a “partnership” with the council?

    “Through the creation of the Cambridge Investment Partnership (CIP), we are investing in and transforming Council-owned and other land across the city by bringing together the best of public and private sector expertise, and providing homes that are fit for the future.”

    That Hill?

  • This Hill? The one that has a development “partnership” with Cambridge City Council?

    “Through CIP, we’re addressing the acute housing need in Cambridge by providing high quality new council and market sale homes, along with commercial and community facilities.“