North West Cambridge: The birth of city’s new community

PUBLISHED: 04:20 24 December 2016

Aerial of North-West Cambridge development taken on November 18, 2016

Aerial of North-West Cambridge development taken on November 18, 2016


On paper, North West Cambridge is an intriguing and exciting development.

View from M11 of Brook Leys Lakes, North-West CambridgeView from M11 of Brook Leys Lakes, North-West Cambridge

The numbers alone are striking: 3,000 homes are being built on 150 hectares of former agricultural land, with 2,000 post-graduate bed spaces and 100,000 square metres of research facilities for Cambridge University.

But when you walk around the development in its current state, something more fundamental becomes clear.

What you witness is the birth of a new community.

And it’s not been an easy, or quick, labour. For a start, it’s lasted three million construction hours since the first spade went in the ground more than three years ago.

Gavin Heaphy, construction director, North West CambridgeGavin Heaphy, construction director, North West Cambridge

And, while the first inhabitants are expected to move in as soon as March, completion of the entire site is likely to take another 15 years.

It is changing more than just the landscape of this part of Cambridge, lying on land between Madingley Road and Huntingdon Road. It is changing some of the thinking about what a new community should look like and how the city, Cambridge University and the wider community should interact.

Half of the homes are being built for university and college key workers, while the other half will be built by private developers – to the same exacting standards - for general sale. Meanwhile a university college – as-yet unnamed – is to sign for the post-graduate student accommodation being built.

With Cambridge University’s new primary school already open, a large Sainsbury’s anchor store and other retail units to come and community facilities planned, Eddington will become an exemplar development for a whole range of reasons.

Post-grad accommodation on lot 5 at North-West CambridgePost-grad accommodation on lot 5 at North-West Cambridge

One of the key people in charge of this enormous undertaking is construction director Gavin Heaphy.

He joined the university five years ago following another huge project – developing the Athletes’ Village for the 2012 London Olympics.

“I jumped at the chance,” he said. ”It’s a fantastic project to be involved in. A development like this doesn’t come along very often.

“Being able to manage large-scale projects is not that easy and you need the right team around you.

Post-grad accommodation on lot 5 at North-West CambridgePost-grad accommodation on lot 5 at North-West Cambridge

Our aim is to attract the best people to the university – post-doctorate researchers who are in a global market.

“Cambridge is a really difficult place to find somewhere affordable to live and the university recognised that some 20-plus years ago. This project has been in gestation since then as a way of providing some affordable accommodation for university workers. By doing that, they are taking those people out of the demand market for the rest of Cambridge.

“They can vote with their feet. These guys are pursuing opportunities in the UK, in Singapore, in the States. If we provide them with a decent place to live as well as the fantastic facilities and opportunity of working with the University of Cambridge then we are going to be able to attract them.”

High quality finishes to the one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, which boast plenty of space, are matched by some detailed architectural features.

Playground at North-West CambridgePlayground at North-West Cambridge

Forged from the agricultural landscape, the concept is to provide low-carbon neighbourhoods meeting Level 5 of the Code for Sustainable Homes, while non-residential buildings will meet BREEAM Excellent standards.

Wandering inside one of the near-complete key worker homes, you can see that this means thick walls with plenty of insulation and the need for relatively small radiators as air leakage will be minimal. Photovoltaic cells on the roof generate electricity, while a district heating system powered by a new energy centre will service all the properties – meaning there are no boilers in the homes.

“Once we get further into the development, perhaps five or six years from now, it will generate electricity as well as creating heat,” said Gavin. “The waste heat that comes from the electrical generation is used to heat water and there is a piped network of hot water across the whole site. So our energy centre provides hot water for every building. In the initial stages it will be done using large boilers, but as the electrical demand grows with things like the academic and research facilities, it will change to producing electricity and heat as a waste product.”

Homes completed by third-party developers, such as Hill, which has begun work on site, will need to meet the same requirements – and the university will approve all the designs.

Playgrounds, cricket pitch and paths at North-West Cambridge in September 16Playgrounds, cricket pitch and paths at North-West Cambridge in September 16

Meanwhile, North West Cambridge will also boast the largest rainwater recycling system in the country. A site-wide sustainable urban drainage system – or SUDS – is in place, taking surface water via large, visible swales, crossed by bridges, into the newly-created Brook Leys reservoir on the Western Edge of the site.

“Swales are large ditches that get planted with different types of plants and the closer you get to the western edge the more planted they will be so you end up filtering out lots of particulate,” explained Gavin. “It’s not foul water. We looked at putting in a foul water treatment but you ended up being a utility company ourselves and it wasn’t something the university wanted to get into. Water is the most difficult one to manage – people’s health is what’s at stake.”

However, the harvested rainwater will be pumped back to homes via a non-potable network for use in flushing toilets and running washing machines. This will cut water consumption to 80 litres per person per day – the Cambridge average is 150 litres per day.

The management of surface water will all but eliminate the flood risk to the site and have a positive effect for Girton, which has suffered from a flooding problem in the past.

Parkland at North-West Cambridge in September 2016Parkland at North-West Cambridge in September 2016

Meanwhile, a flood plain on the edge of the reservoir provides further capacity.

Despite the land being developed, wildlife may actually benefit, Gavin suggested. Some 1,500 trees and a large reedbed have been planted.

“We have a full-time ecologist and put together an ecological management plan. We have great crested newts, badgers, foxes, voles, various ground-nesting birds, bats.

“Although it was agricultural land before, a lot of the wildlife was pushed to the hedgerows. We are creating more habitats because of the western edge, the landscaping, more water – all that helps to add to the ecological value of the site,” he said.

Nursery building on lot 7, North-West CambridgeNursery building on lot 7, North-West Cambridge

As you might expect, the development has been designed to encourage greener transport.

“Across the site we have something called the Ridgeway, a cycle and pedestrian centre that runs from Girton, through the site and local centre and out to meet up with Storey’s Way to connect to the rest of the city. No traffic is allowed on it. It’s all part of the sustainable credentials of the development as a whole – making sure people have the opportunity to cycle, to walk and use public transport, the idea being that people live and work in this area. So this area connects up with the West Cambridge and the development the university is doing over there,” said Gavin.

“Any traffic that’s generated by this site has been factored into the local authority’s roads model.”

As anyone driving up Madingley Road will have noticed, a lot of work has already been completed.

Brickwork at nursery on lot 7, North-West CambridgeBrickwork at nursery on lot 7, North-West Cambridge

“We’ve invested £3.5million just in this road corridor already,” said Gavin. “It’s been widened, there are new junctions, there are new crossings and facilities and new public transport links through the site. The main focus is getting people out of cars and walking, cycling.”

Many of the university workers living in North West Cambridge will be working at the university’s nearby West Cambridge site, which is also being developed, and is within walking or cycling distance.

Meanwhile, bus connections from Madingley Road Park & Ride site go to Addenbrooke’s and Whippet, which runs the service, has invested in new fleet to utilise the guided busway, making journey times more reliable.

On site, traffic will be limited to 20mph. It’s clear from the high quality finish to those streets and roads that are in place already that it is intended as a family-friendly community.

Brickwork at nursery on lot 7, North-West CambridgeBrickwork at nursery on lot 7, North-West Cambridge

An on-site nursery will be operated by a third party, as will a hotel. A community centre and doctor’s surgery on site, plus senior living home, sports pitches, parks and play areas will serve residents.

“This has to have a sense of place right from the beginning,” said Gavin.

Visiting North West Cambridge, it’s already possible to see that coming to life.

Community centre exterior at North-West Cambridge developmentCommunity centre exterior at North-West Cambridge development

Phase Two

With phase one mostly complete by the middle of next year and finished by the year end, attention is already turning to phase two and delivering the remainder of the homes and research space.

Gavin said: “We are in the throes of doing our feasibility studies for phase two at the moment. Over the next three to four months we’ll finalise our studies and make some recommendations to our board and the university about how we think phase two should come forward and following on from that we’ll go through a very similar process.

View from M11 of North West Cambridge developmentView from M11 of North West Cambridge development

“We’ll pull together design teams again, and eventually get through to contracting and procurement. In total the project could be another 15 years.”


University housing, lot 8, North-West Cambridge in October 2016University housing, lot 8, North-West Cambridge in October 2016

An art programme for the development is being delivered by the Contemporary Art Society and InSite Arts.

At the primary school, Ruth Proctor’s ‘We are all Under the Same Sky’ is embedded into the fabric of the building, using the glass cloister circling the interior courtyard.

Meanwhile, German artists Wolfgang Winter and Berthold Hörbelt’s have created the Fata Morgana Teahouse, a pavilion that invites audiences to enter to experience the Western Edge landscape through a mediated view.

Gavin said: “It reflects the light, you can see through it, go inside it and go up to the top floor and look out of it. As the whole thing develops it really will reflect its surrounding quite beautifully. It’s going to be a lovely environment.”

University housing, lot 8, North-West Cambridge in October 2016University housing, lot 8, North-West Cambridge in October 2016

The programme also includes a series of residencies and events.


University housing lot 3, North-West CambridgeUniversity housing lot 3, North-West Cambridge

The local centre anchoring the first phase of development at North West Cambridge will be called Eddington.

Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington (1882-1944) was a Cambridge-educated astronomer, physicist and mathematician best known for his work on his friend Einstein’s theory of relativity. He held posts including director of the Cambridge Observatory and was a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Many roads in the development will also be named after eminent - and dead - university academics.

Post-grad accommodation on lot 5 at North-West CambridgePost-grad accommodation on lot 5 at North-West Cambridge

Building the Athletes’ Village

Before working for Cambridge University, and moving to Shelford with his family, Gavin Heaphy worked on the London 2012 Athletes’ Village.

“I was responsible for all the design, procurement and delivery of about two-thirds of the accommodation for the Athletes’ Village, about the same size or a little larger than this,” said Gavin. “The overall village was about £1billion but that included various venues. The overall construction spend that I was responsible for was £350million-£400million.

Artist's impression of university housing on lot 3, North-West CambridgeArtist's impression of university housing on lot 3, North-West Cambridge

“We were very careful about how we planned our work. We also kept an awful lot of contingency up our sleeves. Our target date for completion was 12 months before it was needed to give us sufficient time and space to do it correctly. And we do the same thing here – we make sure we have some contingency and that we are being sensible about when we commit to things.”

North West Cambridge – at a glance

The Masterplan

1,500 homes for qualifying university and college key workers

1,500 homes for sale

Accommodation for 2,000 post-graduate students

100,000 square metres of research facilities

1/3 of the site will be public open space for sport, recreation and ecological use

What’s in Phase One?

700 homes for qualifying university and college staff

400 homes for sale through residential developers

Accommodation for 325 students

The local centre along with community facilities

Senior living home

Faith worker homes

Three-form entry primary school

Community centre and nursery

Doctors’ surgery

Sports pitches

Play areas

Sainsbury’s food store (2,000 sq m)

Up to 8 local shops


Energy centre incorporating a gas fired combined heat and power (CHP) plant


Post-graduate student accommodation completion: winter 2016-17

University homes completions: from spring 2017

Public realm and local centre open: from summer 2017

Market housing for sale completions: from winter 2017-18

The build

1,300-1,400 construction on site now – peaking at 1,500 in early January

8 main contracts plus and the site-wide infrastructure contract with Skanska for deep drainage, electrical work, roads

£50million of infrastructure in the first phase

£300million of buildings in the first phase

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