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3,500-home new village at Bourn Airfield given outline planning permission

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Outline planning permission for a 3,500-home development on the Bourn Airfield site has been approved by councillors.

No more than 500 of the homes can be occupied before the Cambourne to Cambridge busway or an equivalent public transport link is in place, they agreed.

An artist's impression of the new village at Bourn Airfield. Image: Countryside Properties
An artist's impression of the new village at Bourn Airfield. Image: Countryside Properties

South Cambridgeshire District Council’s planning committee voted by six votes to five on Friday (February 19) to approve the application for the new village, which will be located on the airfield between Cambourne and Caldecote, south of the A428.

The application, submitted by Countryside Properties and the Taylor Family, is for up to 3,500 homes plus community facilities including a new secondary school, two primary schools, a hotel, community centres and playing fields.

The decision grants outline planning permission subject to the council’s planners agreeing Section 106 community contributions with the developer.

Key community contributions approved by the committee include the new schools, a contribution toward a special needs school at Northstowe, 40 per cent affordable housing on site, free bus passes for residents in their first year, green spaces and sports facilities, a contribution toward a leisure centre at Cambourne, and a £20million contribution towards the Cambourne to Cambridge busway and related transport improvements.

Andrew Taylor, group planning director of Countryside Properties (of no relation to the Taylor family), told the committee the applicant is committed to creating a “vibrant and sustainable village,” which will create up to 490 new jobs in addition to the jobs linked with its construction, and help the council deliver on its short and medium-term housing supply commitments.

He also said the development would include the equivalent of 175 football pitches worth of open space, and that a “sustainable energy strategy underpins the scheme”.

An artist's impression of the new village at Bourn Airfield. Image: Countryside Properties
An artist's impression of the new village at Bourn Airfield. Image: Countryside Properties

An indicative delivery timetable was shown to the committee by planning officers which said the first homes could be built on site by 2022-23, and that 530 homes could be built by 2026-27.

Cllr Des O’Brien, the chair of Bourn Parish Council and a campaigner against the proposed development since 2013, said he felt “resigned disappointment” following the decision.

But he said a change to the conditions to ensure a public transport link is required to build more than 500 homes is a “silver lining”.

Cllr O’Brien had raised concerns before and during the meeting that the original conditions proposed were not strong enough and could see the development proceed with a clause which would remove the requirement for a new public transport link. He had argued that would be “perverse,” as the principle of developing the site was “inextricably” linked to the new public transport infrastructure.

Cllr O’Brien’s concerns were shared by district councillors on the planning committee, which voted by nine votes to two to remove the condition which could have seen the 500 home occupancy limit changed.

But councillors who voted against the application still cited “a lack of certainty over the timing and delivery” of the Cambourne to Cambridge busway or equivalent infrastructure as a reason.

Cllr O’Brien had asked the committee to delay deciding the application until there is greater clarity on the busway, and he claimed the council is proceeding prior to achieving that clarity to avoid the legal and planning difficulties that would arise from not being able to demonstrate it is building enough homes.

He noted that progress on the Cambourne to Cambridge busway has been delayed, and said “in spite of that, because of pressure to deliver houses in the five-year housing land supply, I think the planning authority are obliged to get 500 houses on the books, and that’s why they are pushing this through”.

The Bourn Airfield site. Map: Countryside Properties/ Google Maps (44508432)
The Bourn Airfield site. Map: Countryside Properties/ Google Maps (44508432)

The chair of the committee, Cllr John Batchelor, responded that such a claim came with a “health warning” and represented Cllr O’Brien’s opinion.

Cllr Heather Williams said there was the potential for “harm by even allowing the building of those first 500 homes”.

She said there is a “possibility” the first 500 homes could be built, and then, if the transport link condition is not fulfilled, the rest of the development may not be able to proceed. Such a situation would leave the first 500 homes with “no infrastructure whatsoever,” she said.

Representatives from nearby parish councils, including Bourn and Barton, raised concerns over the impact the new development would have on the roads in their areas.

The district councillor for the area, Cllr Tumi Hawkins, who has been a vocal critic of the proposed development in the past, argued for a number of conditions, including the reinstatement of the limit of no more than 500 homes occupied before a public transport option is in place.

“This council has inherited a questionable lemon in Bourn Airfield, but it does not mean you cannot make reasonable-quality lemonade from it,” she said.

An artist's impression of the new village at Bourn Airfield. Image: Countryside Properties
An artist's impression of the new village at Bourn Airfield. Image: Countryside Properties

The density of the development, which could include a six-storey building at its centre, was also cited by some councillors as a reason to vote against.

Cllr Richard Williams argued it would be out of character for the area, saying: “I don’t know of any other villages in South Cambridgeshire that need a six-storey building to mark their village centre”.

Cllr Peter Fane praised the application as a “very high-quality development proposal”.

Ahead of the vote, chairman Cllr Batchelor stressed to the committee that the decision related to outline planning permission only.

A reserved matters application will still need to be submitted and separately approved before construction can begin. The principles of development agreed at the outline stage cannot be used to refuse the reserved matters application, which makes the decision a key milestone.

Cllr Batchelor said: “The exact details of what will actually happen on site will come to us again with the reserved matters. Clearly the transport issue is at the centre of this, but I think everything has been done that can be done – absolute certainty, which some have been asking for about when that will be delivered, simply doesn’t exist in the real world.

Parish councillors from left Des O'Brien, Les Rolfe, and Steve Jones. Picture: Keith Heppell
Parish councillors from left Des O'Brien, Les Rolfe, and Steve Jones. Picture: Keith Heppell

“We have to accept that the checks and balances that are actually being put into the conditioning very much means that it cannot proceed beyond 500 unless there is a proper transport system in place.”

Councillors Henry Batchelor, John Batchelor, Martin Cahn, Peter Fane, Geoff Harvey and Eileen Wilson voted to approve the application.

Councillors Anna Bradnam, Grenville Chamberlain, Deborah Roberts, Heather Williams and Richard Williams voted against.

After the decision, Mr Taylor said: “Having worked with the council, parish councils and residents for nearly a decade, we are delighted the planning committee has decided to grant our sustainable village planning permission.

“We have always sought to work cooperatively with our partners, and this has allowed our scheme to evolve over time, ensuring it works not only for the residents who will be moving into the new village, but also for those in the surrounding area”.

He added that it would provide a “major boost” to affordable housing in the area and create employment opportunities.

Mr Taylor said Countryside Properties is committed to “continuing to work with the council and our partners to build the first homes in the near future”.

Bourn Airfield
Bourn Airfield

Liberal Democrat councillor Aidan Van de Weyer, the deputy leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council and lead cabinet member for strategic planning and transport, said the decision “will help to bring forward many new homes that we know we desperately need”.

He added: “These plans have come forward over the course of several years and the Bourn Airfield scheme is long-term, planned development that is part of our current Local Plan.

“I’m pleased to see that there is a real focus on nature for this site, with woodlands, wildlife habitat areas, grassland, allotments, community orchards and open space all included. There are strict controls in place to ensure that local transport upgrades come forward hand-in-hand as new homes are built, and we will of course be working alongside our communities and local government partners to ensure these are delivered efficiently but sensitively.”

The Greater Cambridge Partnership has instigated a review of the £161m Cambourne to Cambridge busway, following opposition to its proposed route through the West Fields at Coton from the Combined Authority mayor James Palmer. The potential for a northern route, suggested by the mayor, will be weighed against the original plans during the review.

Read more

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