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200 homes for Queen Edith’s ward in Cambridge approved with unusual affordable housing condition



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A new development of up to 200 homes that prioritises affordable housing for people who work or have social connections to the Queen Edith’s area of Cambridge has been granted approval.

The city council’s planning committee voted by a majority on Wednesday (February 3) to grant outline planning permission for the development on farmland north of Wort’s Causeway, which will be known as Netherhall Gardens.

An indicative artist’s impression of the Netherhall Gardens development, off Wort’s Causeway in Queen Edith’s, Cambridge. Image: JTP/CEG/Guy’s St Thomas’ Charity (44278766)
An indicative artist’s impression of the Netherhall Gardens development, off Wort’s Causeway in Queen Edith’s, Cambridge. Image: JTP/CEG/Guy’s St Thomas’ Charity (44278766)

Councillors voted by four votes to three to approve the application, despite concerns raised over its connectivity to the rest of Cambridge and the unconventional “local connection” criteria for allocating affordable housing.

The affordable housing in the development will be prioritised for people who live, work or have a social connection within a proximity of between two and five kilometres of the site – which includes the Cambridge Biomedical Campus.

Ahead of the meeting, Cllr Colin McGerty (Lib Dem, Queen Edith’s) said he was “thrilled to see this local link for new affordable housing being proposed”.

Planning officer Yole Medeiros told the committee that the area is the second most unaffordable in Cambridge in terms of house prices. The planning report said around 64 per cent of the people who work in Queen Edith’s live outside of Cambridge, and that the affordability issues perpetuate unsustainable travel.

Of the 80 affordable homes to be provided, 60 will be for social or affordable rent, and 20 for shared ownership.

An indicative artist’s impression of the Netherhall Gardens development, off Wort’s Causeway in Queen Edith’s, Cambridge. Image: JTP/CEG/Guy’s St Thomas’ Charity (44278768)
An indicative artist’s impression of the Netherhall Gardens development, off Wort’s Causeway in Queen Edith’s, Cambridge. Image: JTP/CEG/Guy’s St Thomas’ Charity (44278768)

In addition to the usual eligibility criteria, 32 of the affordable homes will be prioritised for people who work in the area, and 24 will be prioritised for people with a social connection in the area.

Cllr Kelley Green (Lab, Petersfield), who voted to approve the development, expressed concern over how much influence the developer will have in deciding who can live in the affordable housing, as opposed to the city council.

She pointed out that the city council has more than 2,000 people on its housing list, and voiced concerns the local connection clauses would mean some people may “jump the queue”.

Cllr Dave Baigent (Lab, Romsey), who voted against the application, said the local connection was a “political matter,” and not something that should be decided by an apolitical planning committee.

“It is council policy not to do this,” he said.

Planning officers said the local connection clauses are policy compliant, that affordable housing would go to people on the housing register and that a registered provider of affordable housing would be involved.

In September last year, outline planning permission for 230 homes on an adjacent site to the south of Wort’s Causeway was granted by the committee to This Land, a development company wholly owned by Cambridgeshire County Council.

The two sites were released from the Cambridge green belt for development in the council’s 2018 Local Plan.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England objected to the latest plans, raising a number of concerns, including that the move could set a precedent for “further urban sprawl into the green belt around Cambridge”.

Another key concern raised by a number of councillors and residents at the committee was over the connectivity of the two sites to the rest of the city.

The committee heard that the site under consideration will not necessarily provide additional links or cut-through points on its northern boundary, even though these would have improved access to the shops and other community facilities, including in nearby Wulfstan Way.

Some councillors argued residents of the two developments would instead have to use a circuitous route, involving main roads, which they said would encourage car use, especially as there is not a bus stop in the immediate area.

Cllr Baigent said: “I’m very unhappy with the idea of accepting a development that is locked off and forced down on to Wort’s Causeway. There needs to be a route through at the top end of the site.

“This development [across both sites] is effectively 400-plus houses, and should provide provision to get to the schools and local facilities. We can’t cut off a thousand people from our society. It becomes a rural development that way – it is not part of our city.”

The planning report noted that the council’s access officer objected to the application, citing the need for more information on accessibility.

Camcycle, the Cambridge Cycling Campaign, also objected, arguing that Wort’s Causeway is a “dangerous road” for cycling.

Illustrative master plan for Netherhall Gardens development off Wort's Causeway in the Queen Edith's ward of Cambridge. Image: JTP/CEG/Guy’s St Thomas’ Charity. (44278764)
Illustrative master plan for Netherhall Gardens development off Wort's Causeway in the Queen Edith's ward of Cambridge. Image: JTP/CEG/Guy’s St Thomas’ Charity. (44278764)

The council’s planning delivery manager, Nigel Blazeby advised that “the lack of linkage” on the north of the site would not give “reasonable” grounds for refusal.

Given the recent approval of the site to the south, he predicted: “I think we would struggle to defend that at appeal.”

The committee heard that the developer - Guy’s St Thomas’ Charity, which describes itself as an “urban health” charity - had explored the option of creating a purpose-built link, but that it was not possible to do so as it does not own the necessary land.

A condition attached to the outline approval now requires the developer to show that “all reasonable efforts have been made to improve pedestrian and cyclist connectivity”.

Speaking on behalf of the developer, Sophie Pryor said the development would be sustainable and “attractive”.

She said the proposal was the outcome of “extensive public and stakeholder engagement” and that it was clear there is “significant demand for housing for essential workers employed in locations within a close distance of the site”.

The development would deliver a net gain in biodiversity of 17 per cent, she said.

Details of design will be dealt with when a further ‘reserved matters’ application is submitted.

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