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256 Cambourne homes approved – despite ex-headteacher’s warning of ‘fatal accident waiting to happen’

A “fatal accident is waiting to happen” outside Cambourne schools, a former headteacher told councillors - but that failed to persuade them to reject plans for 256 new homes without a new through road.

The decision prompted the Conservative on South Cambridgeshire District Council to accuse the Liberal Democrat leadership of “putting profit before the safety and wellbeing of the students and their parents”.

How the new homes beside Cambourne Business Park would look. Image: SCIP
How the new homes beside Cambourne Business Park would look. Image: SCIP

The move was also opposed by Cambourne Town Council - and met with objections from the company ZEISS, which has its microscopy business close to the site.

The homes will be built to the north of Lower Cambourne, beside the business park, on land that is currently a meadow.

The application was put forward by South Cambridgeshire Investment Partnership, a joint venture development company set up by the district council and Hill.

The district council planning committee got to determine when the proposals went ahead at its meeting last Wednesday.

Councillors heard 102 of the 256 homes will be made available as affordable housing and the existing marketing suite on site will be turned into a cafe under the plans.

Claire Coates, who retired after 10 years as headteacher of Cambourne Village College last summer, told the committee about the concerns of the school and the Hardwick and Cambourne Community Primary School, both of which are located to the west of the new development.

She warned that a route for vehicles through the business park was needed to solve the issues the two schools faced with traffic when parents are picking up and dropping off their children.

Congestion was causing safety concerns, she warned, telling councillors a “fatal accident to a child is waiting to happen”.

She argued the current proposals for the development - lack a through route - would end up creating more congestion. It will mean drivers will continue to weave through existing residential roads, potentially putting students walking to school at risk.

Representing Cambourne Town Council, clerk John Vickery said the lack of a through route for drivers went against agreed council policy, which he said had been put in place to help Cambourne West integrate with the rest of the town.

Councillors representing the town also objected to the development, with Cllr Helene Leeming telling the meeting that connectivity between Cambourne West and the rest of the town was important for it to function as a community.

Paul Belton, representing SCIP, said the plans would “deliver a broad range of housing”.

How the new homes beside Cambourne Business Park would look. Image: SCIP
How the new homes beside Cambourne Business Park would look. Image: SCIP

He said sustainability was “at the heart” of the proposals, highlighting that the homes would be gas free and built to Passivhaus energy efficiency standards.

Mr Belton said consideration had been given to the creation of a through-route for drivers on to the business park road. But this would increase traffic in the business park and put at risk potential new bus services that could get caught up in the traffic, he suggested.

Mr Belton said he understood the schools’ concerns, but argued the through route was not the best way to deal with the traffic problems being faced.

Stephen Kelly, the joint director of planning and economic development for the council, told councillors that the school’s travel plan indicated that it would encourage parents and children to “walk, cycle, or scoot” to the school rather than arriving by car.

He said there would be access created to the business park road for buses, and for people to walk and cycle through.

Cllr Dr Richard Williams (Con, Whittlesford) felt the proposals were a “huge missed opportunity to link up these communities”.

Cllr Williams also felt the development was “not beautiful” and suggested it “completely jars with the predominant architecture of Great Cambourne”.

Cllr Heather Williams (Con, The Mordens), leader of the Conservative opposition, had concerns about the land solely being developed into new homes, when it had previously been expected that some of it would be used to create jobs.

She told the meeting that sustainable communities “can not just be houses” and said jobs were needed too.

But other councillors said they believed the plans should be supported.

Cllr Peter Sandford (Lib Dem, Caxton and Papworth) understood there was a traffic problem around the schools, but did not think the development would make the situation worse.

Cllr Dr Martin Cahn (Lib Dem, Histon and Impington) did not believe the through route was necessary for the proposed development and said the time to have provided that link would have been when the plans for Cambourne West were approved.

The application had been deferred in October because ZEISS, which has its global manufacturing centre for Carl Zeiss Microscopy on the business park, warned the development could “permanently harm” its operations.

In response, a proposed substation for the new development has been relocated to a position 30m from the site boundary, but the company remains concerned about “potential risks” to its business during the construction, so did not withdraw its objection.

Five councillors voted in favour of approving the plans and two councillors voted against, meaning the development will proceed.

After the meeting, town and district councillor Cllr Shrobona Bhattacharya (Con, Cambourne) said: “This is really a sad occasion for me as a ward and town councillor for Cambourne. The council has wasted land that should be used for employment purposes.

“Cambourne has historically welcomed more housing – but we need local places for people to work. Instead of solving the real problem, this is inviting more problems further down the line.

“I am sure Cambourne Town Council is extremely disappointed with the decision. This is totally unwanted and is not what the people of Cambourne need.”

County councillor Mark Howell (Con, Cambourne) added: “I am extremely disappointed that this golden opportunity to give access to the school has been wasted. It seems that this Liberal Democrat administration has put profit before the safety and wellbeing of the students and their parents.”

Additional reporting: Hannah Brown, Local Democracy Reporter

ZEISS fears ‘direct negative impact’ from construction

ZEISS warned that there will be an “inevitable and direct negative impact” to its operations on Cambourne’s business park as a result of the construction of 256 homes on adjacent land.

The company, which manufactures complex microscopes on the business parks - now called Cambourne Park Science and Technology Campus - opted not to withdraw its objection to the proposals.

The official opening of ZEISS House in Cambourne. From left Dr Markus Weber, Paul Adderley, Dr Jochen Peter and . Picture: Keith Heppell
The official opening of ZEISS House in Cambourne. From left Dr Markus Weber, Paul Adderley, Dr Jochen Peter and . Picture: Keith Heppell

After the planning committee’s decision, Daniel Aldridge, managing director of Carl Zeiss Microscopy Limited, part of the ZEISS Group, said: “Since the planning committee meeting on 11 October, 2023, when the planning application decision for the land South of Pond next to Cambourne Business Park was deferred, ZEISS has been in regular contact with the planning applicants, South Cambridgeshire Investment Partnership (SCIP) to proactively collaborate on the updated mitigation strategies and proposed conditions.

“ZEISS’ business operations at ZEISS House, which is directly adjacent to the eastern boundary of the application site, are highly sensitive to environmental conditions, particularly electromagnetic fields, noise and vibration.

“Based on technical assessments, the identified impact of the proposed development in the October 2023 application would have immediately and permanently harmed the existing operation, with a resulting critical impact on all operations and future investment at the site.

“We are pleased that the revised plans submitted in January 2024 show that the proposed substation to serve the new development has been relocated to a position which is beyond 30m from the site boundary.

“However, the effective implementation of construction conditions as described in the latest plans, which include a noise and vibration monitoring strategy that will reactively (rather than preventatively) stop construction work in the event of an alert for noise and vibration, will have an inevitable and direct negative impact on the operational activities of ZEISS and continue to pose potential risks.

Inside the ZEISS House on Cambourne Business Park. Picture: Keith Heppell
Inside the ZEISS House on Cambourne Business Park. Picture: Keith Heppell

“ZEISS fully supports the planned residential development and the provision of affordable housing in Cambourne and all that it will offer to the local community.

“However, we cannot tolerate disruption to our business operations, so we have not withdrawn our objection to the plans and we will continue to encourage effective engagement and direct consultation from SCIP as the committee-approved development plans progress to ensure a positive outcome for all.”

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