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1,000 homes at Darwin Green in Cambridge ‘should not be built due to water shortage’, councils say

A thousand new homes on the edge of Cambridge should not be built because the region does not have enough water to supply them, councillors have said.

But a decision over the next two phases of the Darwin Green development has been taken out of the hands of Cambridge City Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council by the developer, which has lodged an appeal with the Planning Inspectorate.

Darwin Green. Picture: Hannah Brown, Local Democracy Reporter
Darwin Green. Picture: Hannah Brown, Local Democracy Reporter

Councillors voiced their concerns after the Environment Agency objected to the application, stating that it had not seen evidence the new homes could be supplied with water sustainably.

Developers Barratt David Wilson Homes and The North West Cambridge Consortium of Landowners want to build up to 1,000 new homes, as well as a new primary school and secondary school, shops, community facilities and a new country park at the site off Huntingdon Road in the north-west of the city.

It lodged its appeal on the grounds of non-determination, as the planning authorities did not issue a decision within the statutory time limit.

At a meeting of the city and district council’s joint development and control committee on Monday (October 30), councillors unanimously agreed to ask the planning inspector to refuse the plans.

A representative of the Environment Agency told them: “We have objected to this development on the grounds that it will increase abstraction and have an associated increased risk of deterioration to water bodies within the Greater Cambridge area.

“The grounds for our objection are that the water supply demands for this development, both alone and in combination with other proposed developments, propose a significant risk of deterioration to water framework directive designated water bodies.

“Furthermore, the Environment Agency has raised significant concern regarding Cambridge Water company’s ability to meet the demand for water in its supply area without increasing the risk of deterioration to the status of water bodies, which we consider to be of direct relevance to this matter.

“Cambridge Water company is already abstracting to unsustainable levels in some cases.

“In summary the Environment Agency’s best available evidence demonstrates that the environment is under pressure from abstraction currently and in a precarious condition, and therefore a result of any additional development and the associated increases in abstraction will exceed the environmental limits until new strategic solutions, and ones that are more sustainable, can be delivered.”

A representative of the developer said it was “disappointing” to hear the objections raised over the water concerns, adding that the applicants were working “constructively” with the planning team to try and find an “appropriately-worded condition” and said they hoped to have this resolved before the inquiry.

The representative also highlighted that the development included a “significant number of new homes” that would help the authorities to maintain their five-year housing supply and would provide affordable housing.

Cllr Dave Baigent (Lab, Romsey) said the two councils were “between a rock and a hard place”, highlighting the requirement on them as planning authorities to meet housing targets, but also to consider environmental concerns.

He questioned what impact this Environment Agency objection could have on other proposed developments in Cambridge.

He said: “If we are minded to recommend for this to be refused, will that effect mean that we are then bound to refuse all development in the area?”

Philippa Kelly, the strategic sites delivery manager, highlighted that the officer report said the refusal was recommended due to the “absence of adequate mitigation measures”, and said there was the “potential to overcome” this if further mitigation measures were agreed.

She said the developer had committed to looking at further mitigation measures, including potential further water efficiency measures.

Ms Kelly also said another option could be looking at delaying the development until the strategic infrastructure planned has been put in place.

The planned Fen Reservoir was highlighted as one of these projects, which the Environment Agency said was due to be built by 2036 at the earliest.

Cllr Dr Martin Cahn (Lib Dem, Histon and Impington) said the issue of over-abstraction “should have been dealt with 30 years ago” and said the problems being faced “had been coming for a long time”.

He said: “We need to think for the future and plan for the future, maybe this will stimulate the necessary considerations for the future. I hope so.”

Cllr Katie Porrer (Lab, Peterfireld) said she was “disappointed” the developer had decided to lodge the appeal before the councils could come to a decision.

Councillors also had concerns about other areas of the plans.

Cllr Dr Tumi Hawkins (Lib Dem, Caldecote) was unhappy that some of the cycling and walking access points originally planned were not included due to them not being considered deliverable.

She said this was a “big issue” given the need to encourage more people to cycle and walk.

Cllr Anna Bradnam (Lib Dem, Milton and Waterbeach) said she was also concerned about the number of facilities proposed to be provided for “off site”.

She highlighted in particular the lack of any burial space for a development of 1,000 homes, noting many other burial grounds in the area “are quite full”.

Current phases of the Darwin Green development have already faced major issues, with 83 newly-built properties needing to be demolished due to faults with the foundations, as the Cambridge Independent revealed.

The affected properties are a mix of fully and partially-built houses, with some slab and footings only. The developer said no one had yet moved into any of the impacted properties.A

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