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57,000 new homes proposed for Greater Cambridge

More homes than currently exist in the whole of Cambridge could be built in the area by 2041 under a revised housing blueprint put forward by councils.

The city council and South Cambridgeshire District Council say 57,000 new properties will be needed in Greater Cambridge to meet the demand caused by rapid job growth here. Cambridge had 52,472 households at the time of the 2021 Census.

South Cambridgeshire MP Anthony Browne. Picture: Keith Heppell
South Cambridgeshire MP Anthony Browne. Picture: Keith Heppell

The Conservative MP for South Cambridgeshire, Anthony Browne, says councillors have chosen “the bulldozer over nature and quality of life” and condemned the updated housing figure as “beyond our residents’ worst nightmares”.

The Tory MP said: “Not content with more than doubling the housebuilding rate, the Lib Dems now want to build even more, even faster – with no concern for the amount of damage to the environment and quality of life. Residents have made clear their opposition to over-development, and rightly feel ignored and betrayed.

“There is absolutely no expectation or requirement from [the] national government for the Lib Dems to impose this reckless housebuilding bonanza. Moreover, these inflated plans would cause untold damage to the local waterways and chalk streams that I’ve fought to protect, increasing water abstraction and sewage outflows.

“But however much progress I, the national government, and the water industry make in protecting chalk streams, the Lib Dems unleash yet more environmental carnage.

“They are choosing to ignore my warnings in favour of a fantasy where the government can magic up an entire reservoir overnight to save them. If they genuinely care about the environment and want to prioritise this, controlling housebuilding is the only option.”

He added: “On top of this, the embattled district council is struggling to provide even basic facilities for our existing and growing communities, such as a community space or GP surgery for Northstowe.

“Imagine the havoc they will create when failing to provide for over 50,000 new houses and flats. I hate to think of the impact this will have on local families already threatened by their congestion charge proposals.

“By choosing the bulldozer and the concrete mixer over nature, trees, and quality of life, local Lib Dems are putting their own self-interest above the interest of the communities of South Cambridgeshire. The single most effective way to protect our environment, protect our residents, and stop local services from being overrun is for South Cambridgeshire District Council to reduce the house-building numbers.”

Cllr Bridget Smith, leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council Picture: Keith Heppell
Cllr Bridget Smith, leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council Picture: Keith Heppell

The Greater Cambridge Local Plan, which will guide development up to 2041, is a joint operation between the Labour-run city council and Liberal Democrat-run district council.

Labour and Lib Dem councillors say assurances are needed on how the region’s water demands will be met before they can press ahead with planning for more homes and jobs.

The Greater Cambridge Partnership is still working out the best way to improve transport in the area – and there are questions about how the area’s health and education infrastructure could cope.

Cllr Bridget Smith, the district council’s Lib Dem leader, said: “We have said from the very start of our work to develop this joint Local Plan that it cannot be growth at all costs and that the environment – particularly the water supply – must be a central consideration.”

Cllr Smith continued: “We are also, however, aware of the consequences of not meeting local needs – including potential increases in housing costs and commuting which will add to our impact upon climate change. We already have a pipeline of new homes and employment sites across Greater Cambridge through the 2018 Local Plans. But we now need assurances about our future water supply before we can even consider bringing forward any more new homes than we have already planned for.”

An updated report about the development strategy of the emerging Greater Cambridge Local Plan from the joint director of planning for Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire was published on January 4.

It stressed how Greater Cambridge is one of the most important research and innovation employment locations in the UK and is growing fast as new jobs are created.

The first proposals for the Local Plan from the Greater Cambridge Shared Planning Service envisaged 48,794 homes by 2041, as detailed here. The latest report raises this to 57,000
The first proposals for the Local Plan from the Greater Cambridge Shared Planning Service envisaged 48,794 homes by 2041, as detailed here. The latest report raises this to 57,000

The report points to an expected need for more homes and jobs than previously envisaged, but states the environment and water supply must be protected alongside a need for new homes, which includes addressing the shortage of affordable homes.

The existing Local Plans of both councils envisage around 37,198 additional homes for Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire, at sites like Waterbeach new town, Eddington, Northstowe, Cambourne West, Bourn Airfield, Darwin Green, Marleigh and land north of Cherry Hinton.

In their first draft of the new Local Plan, the Greater Cambridge Shared Planning Service that brings together the two councils took the number of new homes proposed for the 2020-2041 period to 48,794.

This increase of 9,096 new homes across 19 sites would have placed just 384 in rural villages, with the majority earmarked for North East Cambridge (3,900 homes), Cambridge East (2,850) – which is the Cambridge Airport site – and an expansion in the Cambourne area on an unspecified parcel of land (1,950).

Now, with the latest economic forecasts pointing to a likely increase of around 66,000 jobs across the Greater Cambridge area by 2041, the councils have upped the figure again.

The total of 57,000 comprises 51,723 homes rounded up, plus a 10 per cent ‘buffer’ that the councils say they must plan for, and now represents 19,802 more homes than accounted for under current Local Plans, or 8,106 more than envisaged in the first proposals for the new plan.

With Marshall due to leave Cambridge Airport and switch to Cranfield in Bedfordshire by the end of the decade, a good number of the additional homes could be accommodated there. North East Cambridge could also accommodate more homes than the councils originally envisaged by 2041, and expansion at Cambridge Biomedical Campus could lead to housing on that site too, with the councils envisaging that these can provide opportunities for ‘low-carbon living’ close to employment sites.

The report says these significant sites are the most sustainable for future development but because of their characteristics, would also not see significant new development come forward until the next decade – when, it is hoped, the water supply concerns should have been addressed by efforts to create new reservoirs and a pipeline for the region.

Water Resources East has recently published a high-level draft Water Resources Management Plan for the whole of the East of England.

This proposes additional water supply to the area, with Anglian Water planning a new reservoir in the Fens and a pipeline to transfer water from further north. Planners say these large-scale projects, alongside measures to manage current demand, would go a long way towards addressing the existing environmental concerns, but note that they will not come to fruition until much later in the Local Plan process.

Cllr Katie Thornburrow Picture: Keith Heppell
Cllr Katie Thornburrow Picture: Keith Heppell

The area’s other water company, Cambridge Water, has yet to publish its new plans for supplying the area’s water needs.

And the councils say until its draft Water Resource Management Plan is available, it is not clear whether there will be enough water to supply the new homes and jobs required to meet future needs for the area, without causing environmental harm.

But councillors are told in the report that they should consider the impact of failing to meeting all local needs, such as increased competition for new homes driving up house prices and the impact on wellbeing and climate if people travel from further afield to work in Greater Cambridge.

Labour’s Cllr Katie Thornburrow, executive councillor for planning and infrastructure at Cambridge City Council, said: “The protection of our water supplies, as well as the area’s historic chalk streams, must continue to be at the front and centre of our work to develop a new Local Plan. I am concerned about the effect upon living costs in the city of Cambridge if we do not make adequate provision, in locations that are accessible to everyone, for future homes and jobs.

“But as things stand, we cannot confidently outline how we can support further sustainable development and new homes without more concrete plans about future water supplies and an understanding of its environmental impact.

“Our proposals do try to recognise those longer-term locations for future development that take advantage of brownfield sites or help Cambridge to continue to thrive as a centre for life sciences. But this is not about growth at all costs; it is about protecting our environment and the special character of the area whilst acknowledging that we have a growing economy that is a key part of the economy on a regional, national, and international level.”

During the 2021 First Proposals consultation, as part of the work to create a joint Local Plan, the councils set out an ambitious vision for minimising carbon emissions alongside improving the quality of life for residents, with all new homes to be carbon neutral. The councils say these elements remain central to the developing Local Plan.

There were a range of new policies to meet the environmental challenges facing the area – including tackling carbon emissions and increasing biodiversity. However, the First Proposals also explicitly said that they were dependent on evidence of adequate water supplies.

Cllr Smith, who wrote to South Cambridgeshire MP Anthony Browne and South East Cambridgeshire MP Lucy Frazer on the subject, concluded: “Noting the government planning policy expectation that we should plan to meet our housing needs, right now it is not possible for us to say with certainty how many new homes we should have in the next plan.

“There is a delicate balance to be struck between ensuring that we are providing the new homes – including affordable housing – that our children and grandchildren will need, and the protection of our environment. It is however impossible to ignore the strength of the Greater Cambridge economy – which has continued to grow apace despite the pandemic – and created this need for housing and space for jobs required to support it.”

Cllr Heather Williams, leader of the Conservatives on South Cambridgeshire District Council, also laid into the Lib Dems.

Cllr Heather Williams, leader of the Tories on South Cambridgeshire District Council Picture: Keith Heppell
Cllr Heather Williams, leader of the Tories on South Cambridgeshire District Council Picture: Keith Heppell

She said: “Residents will rightly be concerned about this proposed building spree the Lib Dems are planning. Most alarming of all is that we have no idea where they will put over 8,000 of the near 57,000 houses now planned for.

“During the election just a few months ago the Lib Dems assured many residents that their villages were safe and they would only be allocating 19 sites in the next Local Plan, so how with this new target can they stick to their word, and if they can’t how can they be trusted? Many we speak to are already worried about things like access to GPs and school places, how on earth will we cope with such extra demand.

“I worry the answer we will get will be the same as when we ask where the water will come from, which we also know is running out – the Lib Dems will help make the mess and someone else will have to clear it up.

“That is just not good enough from those in charge. Yet another increase in numbers will mean more environmental destruction, the Green Belt under threat and put our local services under more and more strain.

“This not only damages our precious part of Cambridgeshire but undermines our neighbouring districts as they seek to attract jobs and investment to their areas – why would developers look anywhere else if we give them a free-for-all here?

“A resident has already asked me whether this excessive house-building plan is to do with the council needing to plug their recently announced £6million gap in the council finances, given the Lib Dems plan to make money by building houses in South Cambs for sale on the open market.

“Absolute hypocrisy is a charge that can be brought to the South Cambs Lib Dems if they proceed with this. I know that all members of our group are really concerned about this latest news and wish to be clear that local Conservatives will be true to their word and continue to fight against unsustainable and inappropriate development.”

The next Local Plan will be reviewed by a government inspector, who will decide whether it is ‘sound’, before it can be adopted by the councils. A key consideration will be the strength of the Greater Cambridge economy, and whether the number of new homes being planned matches the pace of economic development in the area. If not, there must be good planning reasons for the mismatch.

Residents who would like more information about the Greater Cambridge Local Plan development strategy update are invited to join a Zoom webinar on Wednesday, January 18 at 12pm.

Visit greatercambridgeplanning.org/localplan for details and the Zoom link. The webinar will be recorded and made available online, so those not able to attend can watch it back.

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