Anthony Browne MP condemns 49,000-home Greater Cambridge Local Plan proposals as ‘nightmare’ for South Cambridgeshire
South Cambridgeshire MP Anthony Browne has criticised the proposals for nearly 49,000 new homes in the Greater Cambridge region as a “betrayal of residents”.
He argued it would lead to the countryside being concreted over and claimed the “housebuilding bonanza” went well beyond what was required for the area by the government.
The Conservative MP took aim in particular at Liberal Democrat-led South Cambridgeshire District Council, accusing it of “declaring war on our way of life” with the proposals, which it drew up in partnership with Cambridge City Council.
Sites for the new homes were published by the councils, as the Cambridge Independent has reported, in their first proposals for the Greater Cambridge Local Plan, the blueprint that will guide development in Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire to 2041.
These will go before councillors for discussion ahead of a public consultation due to start in November.
The councils say the plans are the “greenest” they have produced, and concentrate development in more sustainable areas to reduce commuting and aid the drive to zero carbon, with efforts to protect and enhance the environment and biodiversity included.
Nineteen new developments - including thousands of homes at North East Cambridge and at Cambridge East, on the site currently occupied by Cambridge Airport - were selected by planners from 690 put forward by developers and landowners, and another couple of hundred considered by planners.
Existing developments already in the pipeline at Northstowe, Waterbeach, Eddington, Darwin Green, Marleigh, Bourn Airfield and north of Cherry Hinton make up the bulk of the new homes, while Cambourne is earmarked for another 1.950 houses at an unspecified location, on top of the 2,590 due at Cambourne West.
But Mr Browne said the councils were looking to build thousands more homes than required by the government.
“This is the worst nightmare for residents of South Cambridgeshire, who fear losing their quality of life,” he said. “South Cambridgeshire District Council’s leaders are accelerating housebuilding to the point where they will concrete over much of the district.
“This is an active decision on their part to build thousands more houses than the national government has suggested. There is no expectation from Westminster that they launch such a housebuilding bonanza, and I have repeatedly urged South Cambridgeshire District Council to keep housebuilding low and sustainable.
“Their new methodology, which they have invented to justify their decision, is untested in any other part of the UK. They are clearly driven by a reckless determination to turn our communities from a rural area to an urban sprawl. They are putting their own self-interest above the interest of the communities of South Cambridgeshire, who have made their opposition to over-development clear. Residents have a right to feel betrayed and angry.
“By choosing the bulldozer and the concrete mixer over nature, trees and quality of life, South Cambridgeshire District Council have declared war on our way of life and our environment. It is music to the ears of the developers who have spent many hours and tens of thousands of pounds lobbying our local council leadership.”
Mr Browne said that Northstowe is due to be the largest new town built in Britain for 50 years, and South Cambridgeshire has one of the highest housebuilding rates in the country.
He warned that residents were witnessing increasing urbanisation, more pressure on local services, increased congestion and water shortages.
And he pointed to the results of his survey of 2,944 residents, which showed that 70 per cent of respondents thought housebuilding in South Cambridgeshire was already high or too high, while 88 per cent said they did not feel listened to or taken into consideration when it levels of development were considered.
Mr Browne argued that by planning for 11,596 new homes beyond those already in the current Local Plan - some of which will be provided by accelerated delivery of planned homes at Eddington, Northstowe and Waterbeach - the councils have exceeded national government targets for the area by nearly 8,000 properties.
The councils, working together as the Greater Cambridge Shared Planning Service, acknowledge that they have gone beyond the minimum number required by standard planning policy.
But they also point out that the National Planning Policy Framework says they should consider the “objectively assessed need” (OAN) for an area, and an alternative method can be used if “exceptional circumstances justify an alternative approach which also reflects current and future demographic trends and market signals”.
The councils’ study of current and forecast jobs growth in the region means they believe they would be challenged by the Planning Inspectorate if they did not make suitable plans for a higher number of homes.
This could potentially delay the adoption of the Greater Cambridge Local Plan, opening the door to speculative developments in unsustainable locations in the meantime.
The Greater Cambridge Shared Planning Service told the Cambridge Independent that asking neighbouring authorities to share the burden of housing needs to meet the jobs growth of the region would undermine the drive to net zero by increasing commuting times.
Writing on Facebook, Cllr Dr Tumi Hakwins, the Liberal Democrats’ lead member for planning on South Cambridgeshire District Council, said: “In areas with a growing economy care must be taken to ensure the right level of housing is provided, otherwise the Planning Inspectors that examine the plan will demand to see the evidence base for the plan and may find it ‘unsound’, and send it back to the drawing board if it does not meet the OAN. South Cambs already went through that under the Conservatives and we don't want that to happen again.”
And she added: “During the period between 2014 and 2018 when South Cambs Conservative administration could did not have a five-year housing land supply, 3,000-plus more planning permissions were granted by the Planning Inspectors in South Cambs. There have also been some ‘windfall permissions’ in the time being in both areas.”
The councils are planning for about 2,320 new homes a year for the next two decades - some 550 more than are currently in the pipeline.
Mr Browne argued that scenario envisages higher house-building rates being higher in the next 20 years than at any point in the last 20.
But Cllr Hawkins said: “This is an exceptionally green plan with the environment and affordability of homes at its very heart.
“By meeting the need for new homes and jobs we will be doing our utmost to ensure that people are not priced out of the area or forced into long commutes which contribute to climate change.
“Residents of South Cambridgeshire have told us how important reducing carbon emissions and enhancing the environment is, so we have prioritised locations with excellent public transport, shifting the emphasis away from unsustainable locations in rural villages. For all sites we will require the provision of 40 per cent affordable housing.
“The preferred options for the Local Plan has a good balance of locations with only four per cent of the proposed new homes in rural areas, helping to preserve the precious character of our villages. The proposal goes out to public consultation in November and we look forward to listening to you again.
“The green belt is a vital tool for protecting the unique setting of Cambridge city as well as protecting our villages from urban sprawl whilst maintaining their character and providing green corridors for bio diversity.
“It is only possible to make changes to the Green Belt if there is very strong evidence to justify it. Just four of the sites put forward for the Local Plan met these rigorous tests.
“Two are extensions to research sites of national importance: The Cambridge Biomedical Campus and Babraham. The other two are housing allocations close to excellent public transport: 20 homes in Oakington, next to the guided busway, and 100 homes in Great Shelford, near to the railway station.”
And Cllr Bridget Smith, leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, added: “This preferred option for the Local Plan is not just about development. Far from it. We are pushing as hard as we can to bring considerable environmental benefits along with it. Following our first ever Call for Green Sites, the proposals also include suggested new green spaces and wildlife projects. Additionally the plans set a high bar for building standards, including recommendations for low carbon buildings.”
In their planning documents, released on Monday, the councils warn that the water supply issue must be tackled with investment from water companies and the government in, for example, new reservoirs, to reduce the need on damaging abstraction from the chalk aquifer.
“We have also commissioned really robust evidence that shows how critical it is to reduce the amount of water taken from the groundwater aquifer,” said Cllr Smith.
“The preferred options for the Local Plan puts constraints on the amount of development if the water problem is not solved and central government has to step up and invest in advance of any further growth. There must be sufficient water to meet all demands and critically to guarantee that our valued chalk streams are able to recover and thrive.
In Cambridge, the city council’s Labour administration also argued the proposals were putting the environment at the top of the agenda.
Cllr Thornburrow, executive member for planning and transport on the city council, said: “Cambridge Labour has consistently argued for policies that put the environment first, and I believe that these proposals show how we are turning our principles into action. We have listened to people’s concerns, and these are at the core of the emerging plan. We need to think differently about what we are asking for when we ask for ‘growth’. It does not have to mean simply getting more buildings or businesses - it can mean enhancing what we do with existing buildings, helping businesses to thrive and be more profitable, and offering individuals great places to live, work and play. These proposals reflect that. Now we want to hear what residents think about the choice of sites, when public consultation starts in November.
“I’m pleased to see water provision taken more seriously but we still have not seen any significant proposals to address it from government or the water industry, and I will continue to work with fellow councillors to press this issue”.
Cllr Lewis Herbert, the Labour leader of Cambridge City Council, added: “Tackling climate change and protecting and enhancing biodiversity is central to our vision, and this emerging local plan has this at its core along with continuing to deliver 40 per cent affordable housing. Our pledge to tackle poverty, inequality and food justice will be incorporated into the emerging policies for wellbeing and social inclusion.
“Even before the Local Plan goes into effect, we’re building 540 new council affordable rent homes and offering all rough sleepers accommodation in 2021, in addition to those already helped in 2020.”
Sign up for our weekly newsletter and stay up to date with news, sport, business, culture and science in the Cambridge region