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£54m East Barnwell plans for new homes and local centre approved by councillors





A £54million redevelopment project to create new council homes in one of Cambridge’s most deprived areas has been approved by councillors.

Cambridge City Council wants to redevelop two sites at the Newmarket Road junction to create a new ‘local centre’ and build 120 flats – plans that prompted significant debate.

Illustrative image of the proposed East Barnwell redevelopment in Cambridge. Image: Cambridge Investment Partnership
Illustrative image of the proposed East Barnwell redevelopment in Cambridge. Image: Cambridge Investment Partnership

A third party has requested that the Secretary of State ‘calls in’ the proposals, which could yet take the decision out of the hands of the planning authority.

The move was described as “quite unusual” by a planning officer, and it is thought unlikely that the government would intervene, with one councillor stating that she had “never seen something of this relatively minor scale being called in”.

The proposals have been put forward by the Cambridge Investment Partnership (CIP), a joint venture between the city council and housebuilder Hill.

Under the proposals, the existing buildings on both of the sites would be demolished, including the Abbey Bowls Club, the library and a parade of 1960s shops with flats above them.

In their place, 120 new affordable homes are proposed to be built, alongside a new community centre, library, pre-school, shops and potentially a new café.

The new homes would include 43 one-bedroom flats, 61 two-bedroom flats, 12 three-bedroom flats and four three-bedroom maisonettes. The council estimated the project will cost more than £54m.

Once completed, the library and pre-school will be leased to Cambridgeshire County Council, with the education authority leasing the pre-school to an operator. The city council will retain ownership of the community centre.

The application, which attracted a raft of objections over the scale of the development and its impact on neighbouring areas, came before the council’s planning committee yesterday (Tuesday, 11 June).

One resident, who lives in Rawlyn Close, told the committee: “I appreciate the urgent need for new housing and vital community facilities planned on site one of the project, but what I do object to is the sheer scale of this high rise, high density project.”

She continued: “The proposed high rises are out of character with the domestic low rise architecture of East Barnwell, which has the air of a garden suburb and the design of the new flats is very plain and boringly beige.”

Another Rawlyn Close resident said the four, five and six storey heights of the buildings were “not in keeping with the character of the existing surroundings”.

He said the common response from residents was that the plans were “overwhelming, over-development and too high”.

Illustrative image of the proposed East Barnwell redevelopment in Cambridge. Image: Cambridge Investment Partnership
Illustrative image of the proposed East Barnwell redevelopment in Cambridge. Image: Cambridge Investment Partnership

Jim Pollard, senior development manager with the city council and CIP, said proposals for regenerating the area go back “many years”.

“It’s a remarkable opportunity to address the housing crisis and the climate crisis in terms of the quality of these homes,” he said, adding that “greater density” was acceptable in the area to support the businesses and other community facilities.

There were 29 objections lodged against the plans with concerns raised about the potential “overbearing nature” of some of the new blocks. There were also concerns about the impact on traffic, loss of privacy and the loss of green space.

As the Cambridge Independent has reported, a petition, signed by almost 900 people, was set up raising concerns about the loss of the existing shops, including the Spar, while the redevelopment construction work takes place.

Ward councillor Naomi Bennett (Green, Abbey) told the committee that residents had “very reasonable concerns” about the developments.

She also called for “written business continuity plans” to be agreed with all the existing tenants, who have stated that they wish to remain on the development.

A condition has been applied to the application by the council, which says that a “detailed interim commercial unit reprovision strategy” should be agreed with the authority prior to the start of construction works. This will set out the temporary arrangements for existing units during the construction.

Cllr Gerri Bird (Lab, East Chesterton), executive member for housing, said the development was “very important” as there is a high number of people waiting on the council housing register.

She said: “These homes are desperately needed and it’s 100 per cent for council tenants – that’s the most important thing.”

There were concerns raised by councillors about the risk of overheating in some of the proposed single-aspect properties within the development.

The application was recommended for approval by planning officers. When it came to the vote, members of the planning committee voted seven to zero in favour of approval. There was one abstention.

The shops which were the subject of a petition. Picture: Keith Heppell
The shops which were the subject of a petition. Picture: Keith Heppell

The plans will now be referred to the Secretary of State to determine whether it is appropriate to call in the planning application.

“I’ve never seen something of this relatively minor scale being called in,” said Cllr Katie Porrer (Lib Dem, Market), deputy opposition leader.

Planning officer Aaron Coe told the committee that the assumption that the application had been flagged to the Secretary of State was due to the “impact on the local shops”. But he said this had not been confirmed.

“For a scheme of this scale to be called in is quite unusual,” he said.

A third site in the centre of East Barnwell proposed for market sale homes will be brought forward by CIP as a separate application once the existing community centre moves to its new premises. This will generate funds to support the overall project.



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