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The six guiding principles that Cambridge needs to achieve sustainable growth

Jane Paterson-Todd, CEO of Cambridge Ahead, writes for the Cambridge Independent, in the second in a series of articles from the business and academic membership organisation.

Jane Paterson-Todd, CEO of Cambridge Ahead. Picture: Keith Heppell
Jane Paterson-Todd, CEO of Cambridge Ahead. Picture: Keith Heppell

Cambridge is a magnet for innovative, fast-growth industries. Couple this with its status as a world-leading university city, and we have a celebrated ‘national jewel’ with a booming economy. But we need to ensure that this growth is sustainable and inclusive, and that our vibrant city enhances the quality of life for its residents.

By this, I mean that people of working age have access to good jobs; that there are education pathways that allow young people to reach their full potential; housing is affordable to live in; we have an accessible, efficient, and environmentally ‘gold labelled’ transport system and spaces where play and fun are harmonised with work, providing leisure and entertainment and respectful access to nature.

But Cambridge does not offer all of the opportunities essential to quality of life and sustainable growth, to all of its residents. There are pockets of our community, now larger than before the pandemic, where people live without equal access to good jobs, education, housing and so on.

Economies exist in one of three states; either they grow, stagnate, or decline. If we do not invest and spread the wealth of Cambridge so that the whole community can benefit from it, we will not achieve long-term sustainable growth and our economy may stagnate and even decline with time.

From left Dan Thorp, Jane Paterson-Todd and Harriet Fear, of Cambridge Ahead, outside the Bradfield Centre. Picture: Keith Heppell
From left Dan Thorp, Jane Paterson-Todd and Harriet Fear, of Cambridge Ahead, outside the Bradfield Centre. Picture: Keith Heppell

Cambridge Ahead’s role

Cambridge Ahead works alongside our local authorities and the national government, bringing independent, deep thinking, research and evidence to policy making, to help ensure that our city, the region and its people, thrive.

Each of Cambridge Ahead’s project groups has a different but inseparable role to play in supporting sustainable growth and quality of life in Cambridge:

Quality of life

Jeremy Newsum, chair of the Cambridge Ahead Quality of Life Group talked in a recent article about the research we have commissioned, through RAND Europe, to gauge how people relate to the city, how they rate their quality of life, and where there are areas for improvement.

Quality of life is a complex topic and in-depth analysis allows us to recognise the different strands and see how other cities, whether UK or overseas, have created their own, very individual, place making strategies. RAND Europe conducted a desktop analysis across 90 placemaking publications world-wide that helped us to comprehensively understand the opportunities for good place making, so that we could undertake our own primary research with Cambridge community leaders, identifying areas that are most important to them and the communities they represent. This research is ongoing.

We are huge advocates of the Bennett Institute for Public Policy at the University of Cambridge, which talks about ‘wealth economics’, the ingredients of which give us a framework of six capitals:

  • Human (health and skills)
  • Natural (environment, ecosystems, raw materials)
  • Social (community cohesion, trust, social norms)
  • Physical (infrastructure, homes, equipment, information and communications technology)
  • Institutional (quality and reliability of governance)
  • Knowledge (accumulated best practices and ways of doing things)

The six capitals provide an excellent map for guiding investments that create sustainable growth and we will be using the framework as we complete our research into quality of life and as a checklist for work across our thematic project groups.

Regional economic planning

Knowing and understanding the actual employment figures and the projecting growth helps the regional economic planning group and the local authorities to fully understand what investment is needed to sustain good growth. It helps to ensure that investment is appropriately channelled into housing, transport and education, for example, in a way that makes sure that how and where we grow is in the interests of the city and the region.

A host of schemes are in the pipeline to ease the familiar problem of Cambridge congestion
A host of schemes are in the pipeline to ease the familiar problem of Cambridge congestion


The ability for people to move easily to and across the city is important to the economy and to quality of life. The aim of our transport group is to influence transport initiatives to support sustainable growth and maximise the region’s potential, while enhancing quality of life for our communities.

We need to create a transport system that is fit for the here and now and to future proof our city’s needs. Cambridge Ahead is fully supportive of the Greater Cambridge Partnerships four transport corridors into Cambridge leading from the north, west, south and east of the city that connects our business clusters, villages and towns into Cambridge.

These adaptable, car free transport routes will allow buses today and the public transport vehicles of the future to move quickly and easily across our city. They also seamlessly connect to the greenways so that cycles can travel safely across even greater distances along the corridors and greenways.


Housing is one of the most obvious and visible indicators of quality of life. The place that people call ‘home’ is centred in a community and how that community behaves and interacts, the relationships that people form with others in their community, and the facilities and systems that they have access to, all contribute to their wellbeing and sense of satisfaction.

Currently, Cambridge is labelled one of the most unaffordable cities to live in, with the cost of housing at least 13 times the average salary. This is a major priority therefore for Cambridge Ahead if we are to ensure that we continue to achieve sustainable growth, so we are working closely with our authorities on finding enhanced housing strategies that will increase access to more affordable living in the city.

Coupling priorities for transport and housing under physical in the six capitals framework, Cambridge Ahead has developed important models for growth that balance nature and the environment with the needs for more housing and better infrastructure and public transport across our city and the region.


Apprenticeships are vital to bolstering skills (49261511)
Apprenticeships are vital to bolstering skills (49261511)

Education is essential to quality of life; the level of education a person obtains translates directly into their future opportunities and career choices, and forms part of the human element of the six capitals.

We need industry to work closely with our education providers to showcase the opportunities our great city has to offer, providing work placements and apprenticeships, so that young people are inspired from an early age to discover their talents and aspirations and to find out about the industries, businesses and workplaces around them.

Cambridge Ahead has conducted extensive research on this vital area and is now in conversation with both central government and the local authorities about how schools can be funded to fully ensure careers education is properly embedded in the curriculum.


With exponential growth in flexible and remote working and education, it is now vital that we have the broadband and mobile infrastructure in place to ensure access for everyone across the city, and this will mean investment in our more deprived communities to ensure that everyone can embrace the advantages of digital technologies.

In our technology group we work with the authorities responsible for digital infrastructure to support the achievement of this aim. We also tap into the expertise in our membership to understand where the cutting-edge technology being created in Cambridge can be deployed locally for the city’s benefit.

Young people

Ultimately, Cambridge Ahead is conscious of its responsibility for shaping our city and the economy in a way that appeals and is relevant to the next generation and the generations after them. The young advisory committee is our newest working group, established for under-35s, so that we can better understand their desires and needs.

The committee’s work has, for example, supported local projects to improve biodiversity and the Doubling Nature strategy, and contributed ideas for bringing nature into the city.

Jane Paterson-Todd. Picture: Keith Heppell
Jane Paterson-Todd. Picture: Keith Heppell

The future

Evidence shows us that a city that works collaboratively, across employers and local authority bodies, is a city that finds a better path to sustainable growth.

Employment, skills, transport, housing and nature are intrinsic in the relationship between quality of life and sustainable growth so, our working groups focus on promoting the six capitals, while our policy group provides supporting and complementary evidence and research to enhance and advise on the policies and plans that our local authorities are working on.

In this way, Cambridge Ahead is providing the vital foundations for future sustainable growth that puts quality of life for the people of Cambridge at its heart.

Read more

Cambridge Ahead’s Jeremy Newsum: ‘Quality of life is an essential aspect of economic growth’

‘Cambridge is an engine of job creation - but don’t take it for granted’ says Cambridge Ahead

How Cambridge Ahead is helping to tackle the toughest challenges facing our city

Three new board members for Cambridge Ahead

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