Archaeologists digging trenches at Bourn Airfield ahead of planning application for 3,500 homes
Experts on unexploded bombs oversee study due to military history of site
Archaeologists have begun their study of Bourn Airfield ahead of a planning application for a new village.
They have been digging more than 225 trenches this month under the watchful eye of experts on unexploded bombs, due to the military history of the site.
Their work comes as South Cambridgeshire District Council awaits the imminent verdict from a planning inspector on its local plan, which earmarks the airfield “for the development of a new settlement of up to 3,500 new homes”.
Opposed by members of StopBAD (Bourn Airfield Development), who say the site is too cramped for this many homes and has insufficient transport links and employment opportunities, the proposals from developer Countryside also include two new primary schools, a new secondary school, nursery provision, sports facilities, healthcare provision, shops, restaurants and a hotel.
Countryside confirmed that the archaeological work is being carried out by Oxford Archaeology East, which runs its business from the airfield.
Andrew Taylor, director and head of planning at Countryside, said: “We are undertaking this extensive archaeological research to inform our planning application and ensure that our masterplan for the site has due consideration to the archaeological heritage of the land.
“This research forms part of a substantial number of environmental studies that have been undertaken to inform our design approach. We want to ensure that the Bourn Airfield development not only minimises environmental impacts but makes a positive contribution to social, environmental and heritage issues.”
The 270-hectare site between Cambourne and Highfields Caldecote was the subject of a public exhibition in March, attended by more than 350 people.
The land was in agricultural use from the late medieval period until the Second World War, when the Ministry of Defence created an extensive complex to house RAF Bomber Command from 1940-48.
While most of the taxiways, pill boxes, hangars, barracks, air-raid shelters and ancillary buildings were demolished afterwards, when the land was largely returned to farming, the three runways remain on site, and are used for large bank holiday markets.
The Rural Flying Corps – a small flying club from which qualified pilots can rent aircraft – is also based on the site, along with some businesses.
Preliminary studies identified a high potential for archaeological interest on the site. If evidence is found during the trenching works, a full excavation may be required or the remains may be preserved in situ.
Countryside says it has experience of handling such work, after remains from the Bronze, Iron and Roman Ages were identified in the early stages of investigation at its site at north-west Bury St Edmunds, which unearthed artefacts dating back more than 4,000 years and shed new light on prehistoric activity in the area. The Roman enclosure identified was preserved in situ and designated as open space within that scheme.
Meanwhile, South Cambridgeshire District Council expects the local plan inspector to deliver a verdict within days.
The local plan is long overdue adoption – and is the key guide to developing the homes the district is required to build.
A council spokesman said: “We had been hoping to have had the inspector’s decision by the end of July, and we’re past that date now, but our planning team are expecting it in the very near future.
“It’s a crucial document for the council, and it’s been a very long process to finalise it, and as soon as we have it we will share it.”
If the inspector confirms the allocation of Bourn Airfield for a new village, a planning application will follow and the council will instruct consultants ARUP to draw up a supplementary planning document (SPD) detailing how the development should be brought forward.
The local plan, which also earmarks land at Waterbeach for a new town to be developed by Urban & Civic, could be adopted by the council next month.
But the Liberal Democrats, who now control the council, are in a challenging position.
They won control of the council from the Conservatives at the May elections, and concern over the local plan drawn up by the Tories is thought to have been a factor in helping them win.
In 2014, the Liberal Democrats objected to the plan but now they are in control, it may prove impossible to reverse out of it.
Liberal Democrat leader Bridget Smith has put affordable housing at the top of the party’s priority list for the district.
She said: “We are waiting to see what is in the inspector’s report before making a decision on what is in the best interests of the whole of South Cambridgeshire.
“We know from past experience that the inspector takes a dim view of attempts to pre-empt her views, so we can’t say any more at this stage.
“The Liberal Democrats did raise concerns about the impact and sustainability of the site, and we shall continue to work to make sure that any developments are as sustainable as possible, and that negative impacts are fully mitigated.”
Liberal Democrat Cllr Tumi Hawkins was voted in to represent the newly-enlarged Caldecote ward and is a committed opponent to the Bourn Airfield scheme.
A chartered engineer, and former property developer, she has suggested the development represents “Cambourne East by stealth” and will effectively join up with Highfields Caldecote, the newer development to the north of Caldecote. She has expressed concern over the density of the development.
The Bourn Airfield proposals
Developer Countryside has yet to submit a planning application, pending the inspector’s verdict on the district’s local plan. But it is proposing:
■ 3,500 homes
■ Two new primary schools
■ One new secondary school
■ New sports facilities
■ Nursery provision
■ Community space
■ A new healthcare centre
■ Local shops and restaurants
■ A mix of new homes and jobs
■ A rapid transit bus route to Cambridge city centre and Cambourne
■ Local bus service connecting all parts of the development
■ Cycle and pedestrian links to Cambridge, Cambourne and the surrounding villages
■ A linear park following one of the existing runways to create a visual connection to the historic airfield
■ High-quality open space
■ A hotel
■ The potential for a mix of housing tenures including affordable housing, private rental and retirement housing.