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20,000 homes needed for growing Cambridge Biomedical Campus

About 20,000 new homes are needed to support the growth of Cambridge Biomedical Campus, says a new report – and housing secretary Michael Gove has called on authorities to get on with delivering its expansion.

Now one of the most important biomedical centres in Europe, the campus is already home to 22,000 workers – but the plan is for that to grow to 40,000.

Cambridge Biomedical Campus (CBC)
Cambridge Biomedical Campus (CBC)

A long-term vision aims to grow the campus onto surrounding land, but Mr Gove wants that process accelerated.

He said the “national importance” of the city’s life sciences sector justifies “early expansion” of the site.

In a written ministerial statement, Mr Gove said one of the “first priorities” of a Cambridge Growth Company would be to “support immediate collaboration between key stakeholders” to speed up the growth of the campus.

But as the campus grows, so will the pressure on housing.

And a new report, prepared by Lichfields on behalf of Cambridge Biomedical Campus (CBC) Ltd, has indicated the scale of the housing needs associated with the burgeoning workforce.

It states that there is a current and future need for 14,000 to 16,000 affordable homes for campus workers. There is also demand for a further 1,600 to 3,600 build-to-rent homes and 1,200 co-living style units.

“Cambridge faces significant housing challenges, with high housing costs and affordability problems, with those challenges extending to those who work at CBC,” the report says. “A survey of more than 2,700 employees at the campus (12.5 per cent of the workforce) shows highly varied housing needs, but with cost, location and transport all issues CBC workers have with their current accommodation.”

The report stresses how demand for housing in the city has significantly outstripped supply, resulting in high house prices, rents and worsening affordability.

It calls on authorities to ensure the needs of campus employees are met to make sure housing does not act as an “ongoing and significant barrier to the ability to recruit and retain workers”.

It goes on to say: “Overarching all of this is CBC’s wish to see the housing needs of its workers met, particularly at the lowest incomes, where needs are most acute and where affordable housing delivery should be protected as a first slice of development proposals.”

Homes provided for campus workers may free up their existing accommodation for others, the report notes.

The campus is home to Addenbrooke’s, the Rosie and Royal Papworth hospitals, along with research institutes and companies including AstraZeneca and Abcam, and will soon welcome a dedicated children’s hospital and a cancer research hospital.

Cambridge Biomedical Campus housing need in numbers. Graphic: Cambridge Independent
Cambridge Biomedical Campus housing need in numbers. Graphic: Cambridge Independent

Representing them is CBC Ltd, a non-profit collaboration of the organisations currently on the campus working in health, education and life sciences.

Neither it nor its members own any of the land beyond the campus’ current boundary. This includes land allocated in the 2018 Local Plan, which is owned by Cambridgeshire County Council.

Responding to Mr Gove’s statement, CBC Ltd said that it was “looking forward” to working with the new growth company, campus landowners, local politicians and residents to “deliver coherent expansion and improvements to the existing campus”.

The organisation says it does not have a preference on where the housing for campus workers should be, but said recently: “Our expectation is that any proposals from those organisations owning land will be subject to scrutiny through established committees and processes, including consultation where appropriate, involving officials and elected representatives in local government.”

Lichfields’ report states: “The purpose of the housing needs assessment is to inform how CBC can engage with and influence the type of housing growth that occurs in Cambridge.

“This will help ensure CBC workers’ housing needs are being met whilst also helping CBC to ensure housing does not act as an ongoing and significant barrier to the ability to recruit and retain workers at the campus, both for existing organisations or new ones as they locate to the campus.”

The issue has been raised previously, with the campus’ Vision 2050 identifying a need for homes, shops and restaurants on site to make the campus a real community, rather than simply a place of work.

The vision statement noted: “CBC is a major employment site, with key workers, scientists, and business people commuting every day. Many travel long distances and are squeezed out of the city by high housing costs. These pressures can have detrimental effects on the institutions, who struggle to retain key staff, and communities: pushing up house prices, creating congestion and generally impacting the quality of life of local people.”

There have also been warnings previously about how a lack of housing for workers at the city’s hospitals could impact services.

Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (CUH), which runs Addenbrooke’s and the Rosie maternity hospital, has previously previously stated that potential staff are being turned away because it could not find accommodation close to the hospital.

In 2020, Savills, on behalf of CUH, published ‘Assessing the Housing Need of Hospital Workers’. This looked only at CUH employees, but found 2,466 ‘priority group’ households in need of affordable housing.

The drive to expand Cambridge’s life science sector was a key driver behind the government’s announcement in March that a new dedicated growth company would be set up and tasked with accelerating development in Cambridge. Mr Gove said he envisaged 150,000 homes in the Cambridge region to the shock of local authorities and politicians, who are currently planning for about 50,000 more by 2040 under the Local Plan process. The pressure on water supplies is one of the key issues that Mr Gove’s new growth company will face.

The company will be responsible for leading development through “large-scale land assembly, major infrastructure projects and ensuring maximum recovery including through planning contributions”. Its remit will also include unlocking development that has been held up on sites allocated in the current Local Plan.

It follows a government announcement last year that the Cambridge Delivery Group was being set up to lead the development of the city, led by the chairman of Homes England, Peter Freeman.

In his written statement last week, Mr Gove, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, said: “Part of the Cambridge Delivery Group’s strategy is to focus on enabling and accelerating key developments that align with the overall strategy for growing the urban area of Cambridge, while ensuring we protect overall green space and that the wider region benefits from improved transport, better access to services and enhanced amenities and employment prospects. The Cambridge Biomedical Campus is one such strategic site, as Europe’s leading centre for medical research and health science.”

Kristin-Anne Rutter Executive Director at Cambridge University Health Partners and Nick Kirby Managing Director Cambridge Biomedical Campus. Picture: Keith Heppell
Kristin-Anne Rutter Executive Director at Cambridge University Health Partners and Nick Kirby Managing Director Cambridge Biomedical Campus. Picture: Keith Heppell

Referring to money for the Cambridge South East Transport busway plan, he added: “At Spring Budget, we announced a £7.2million investment for locally-led transport schemes to provide the Cambridge Biomedical Campus and £3million to support Cambridge University NHS Trust to develop longer-term capacity and delivery plans for the site.

“In addition, the government is satisfied that the national importance of the Greater Cambridge life sciences sector is sufficient to prompt, in principle, the early expansion and coherent delivery of this foremost UK life sciences cluster.

“In particular, the government is satisfied that the imperative to support this key sector provides sufficient justification for immediate collaboration between key stakeholders on development proposals coming forward ahead of the emerging Local Plan, to address the coherent enhancement, intensification and expansion of the Cambridge Biomedical Campus adjacent to Addenbrooke’s Hospital.

“One of the first priorities of the new growth company will be to support immediate collaboration between key stakeholders at the Cambridge Biomedical Campus.

“The growth company will also help to address any barriers to the early expansion and coherent enhancement of the campus, including through the accelerated delivery of any associated housing development and the provision of appropriate levels of affordable housing to meet the housing needs of those working at the campus.”

The statement released by CBC Ltd following the announcement said: “We welcome the government’s commitment to realise the full potential of Cambridge by prioritising the coherent enhancement of the campus and affordable housing for the people who work here. It is essential for the evolution of the campus to align with the aspirations of the wider city-region, realise its international role and to deliver tangible benefits for local people.

“The Cambridge Biomedical Campus’s (CBC) mix and scale of NHS, academic and industry organisations is unique across Europe and allows scientists to make new discoveries in the lab, demonstrate and refine them alongside the NHS and then deliver them at scale with industry partners, all in one place. It’s a formula that has already led to global innovations like monoclonal antibody technology, which is used to make a third of all new drugs across the world, as well as better health outcomes for patients treated in our world-leading hospitals.

“We are now looking forward to working with the new growth company, the campus landowners, local politicians and residents to deliver coherent expansion and improvements to the existing campus.

“Our aim is to develop a successful place that works for staff, visitors, neighbours, patients and students including better amenities and life science facilities, improved public transport links and access to more affordable housing for our 22,000 staff.

“Our recently-commissioned housing report found that up to half of people working here cannot afford market rate housing in the local area, an issue that particularly affects staff working in the hospitals on campus.”

CBC Ltd says to help the campus “grow and thrive” it wants to see a housing market in Greater Cambridge that works for campus workers. It calls for housing sites to be made up of at least 30 per cent affordable housing, at least 13 per cent shared ownership and rent-to-buy properties, and a mix of affordable homes by size.

It asks that sites provide an ‘allocations mechanism’ for some housing to go towards local workers in hard-to-recruit-to sectors. And the report also lays out a set of ‘housing principles’ and ‘placemaking asks’ which include support for “well designed, built, managed and maintained homes” in “locations which can capitalise upon and enhance accessibility”. The principles also include that development and growth should be close to, or provide, amenities to “make sustainable communities and places”.

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