Welcome back to my blog – I hope you have had a restful and enjoyable summer! However, if a week is a long time in politics, then developments over the last two months equate to a geological time period. I will do my best to summarise today, and then undoubtedly return to many of these themes in the weeks ahead.
Michael Gove’s vision for Cambridge
The big story breaking in early July was the article in the Sunday Times outlining Michael Gove’s plans for 250,000 houses to be built “in Cambridge”. At the time of my last blog, detail beyond that aspiration was thin on the ground. And, despite a further reference in a speech by Mr Gove himself in early August (though without specific mention of that target), there’s still more heat than light.
Mr Gove has despatched Peter Freeman, the developer who led the regeneration of Kings Cross surrounds, to Cambridge to find out what the barriers to achieving his vision might be. I was fortunate enough to meet Peter on his first trip here, thanks to an introduction from a Queen Edith’s resident. Peter was generous with his time and listened to an outline of the many challenges I have previously catalogued here over the last years, including the deficits in both physical and social infrastructure which we already experience as a result of the rate of growth over the last two decades; and how our dysfunctional governance structures fail to provide the tools to address these.
I then walked with him back to his hotel at CB1 which provided an interesting reality check in the context of how misleading the AI generated images of “a new beautiful urban quarter” for Cambridge might be. How does that saying about ‘fool me once’ continue?
Peter is due to deliver his report in a few months, but plenty of other commentators are already pitching in to the debate. One paper which tries to look beyond the glib phraseology about Cambridge becoming Britain’s Silicon Valley was co-authored by Queen Edith’s resident and Professor of Geography at Cambridge University, Mia Gray. Do have a read.
Revised proposals for the Sustainable Travel Zone
Returning to the theme of our current infrastructure deficits and what might be done about them, the GCP published its revised proposals for the parameters of its Sustainable Travel Zone last week. These will be discussed at the GCP Joint Assembly on 7th September and then by the Executive Board at the end of the month. This process will determine whether the GCP wishes to recommend the proposals for approval by the County Council, which is the ultimate decision making body.
Because the charging zone is now proposed to only operate during in the morning and evening peak, and because a range of other exemptions/exclusions have been added, less revenue will be raised. It is noticeable that the revised proposals are much less specific about the improvements which it might be possible to make to bus services and active travel support as the ‘carrot’ to offset the charging ‘stick’.
Whether the politicians charged with making these decisions will consider this an acceptable trade will remain to be seen. Meanwhile, the graphic below from the report to the Assembly shows exactly why our current governance arrangements are unfit for purpose. As Antony Carpen says: “Why have one organisation responsible for local transport when you can have three?” Note that the City Council doesn’t appear anywhere.
Acknowledging the water crisis
I was interviewed by Dotty McLeod of BBC Radio Cambridgeshire this week about the news that the Environment Agency have asked for more evidence that the planned Cancer Research Hospital on the Biomedical Campus can be built and operated without harming the water environment: “It is considered that there is a potential significant adverse impact of the proposed development in relation to natural resources and water resources.”
Following on from the EA’s objection to three proposed housing developments earlier in the year, it seems that threats to water security are finally starting to be taken seriously, and with good cause. The Environment Agency reported this week that river flows on the Cam and Ely Ouse still rate ‘below normal’ for the time of year, despite the fact that the East received 112% of long term average rainfall during August. You can listen to the interview here, starting at 8.15.
If I’d had more time, I would have emphasised that this is not only an issue about water quantity, but also quality. There has been a very lively debate this summer about the merits of creating a Designated Bathing Area on the Cam, and people are becoming increasingly aware of how polluted our watercourses are. This debate is normally framed in terms of sewage and the risks from faecal coliforms, but the situation is more complicated and concerning than ‘just’ that. See for example, this statement on the Cambridge Water website in relation to nitrate pollution from agricultural run-off:
“Over the last 30 years levels of nitrates in the raw water supply have been increasing to a point where some levels exceed the drinking water standard for nitrates. Historically our approach has been to ‘blend’ water from different sources. This involves mixing water with higher concentrations of nitrate with water which has lower concentrations to ensure all water meets the required standards. … Uunfortunately we are now reaching a point where our ‘low-nitrogen’ water is too high to blend the higher concentration water to an acceptable level. Therefore, we have had to invest in ‘end of pipe’ treatments at some of our sources to help ensure we meet the legal limit for nitrate concentrations. [However] using treatment to remove the problem is the not the most sustainable nor cost effective way of ensuring the long term protection of our drinking water.”
We are going to have some very hard choices to make about how we trade off development of the built environment (both housing and commercial space) vs maintaining food security vs protecting the natural environment. What’s clear is that the measures so far proposed to relieve the pressure – pipelines from less water-stressed areas and the Fen reservoir – will not be delivering water to our taps till the late 2030s. Whether the Gove initiative can advance that timetable remains to be seen.
Next stage for Joy’s Garden
At August’s Planning Committee the charity It Takes a City received planning approval to install four ‘pods’ for the homeless at Joy’s Garden. This marks the end of Joy’s Garden as a ‘meanwhile project’ by the Queen Edith’s Community Forum, and the site has been handed back to the City Council ready for the next stage in its evolution. Happily the ‘book box’ and the ‘bug hotel’ have already been snapped up for relocation elsewhere in the neighbourhood.
Concerns about GB1 continue
Cala Homes, who now own the GB1 site (north side of Wort’s Causeway) ran their residents’ consultation event prior to the submission of the Reserved Matters planning application. I couldn’t attend the event, but I’ve been sent a copy of the summary of comments. It’s not surprise to see that many residents continue to raise concerns about the lack of an active travel connection between the site and Beaumont Avenue, and – if that can’t be achieved – to advocate for the upgrading of the existing alternatives on between Bowers Croft and Almoners Avenue; and Field Way and Rotherwick Way. As the GB1 and GB2 plots both move towards build out, we will see a real test of the claims made in the 2018 Local Plan that these will be sustainable developments.
The Pavilion gets closer, slowly
Nightingale Pavilion continues to grind its way towards completion. I hope many of you will have been able to come along this afternoon (Sunday) and take a look around. I am told that full opening should be possible in “late October”.