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Call for new Cambridge Great Park to protect green spaces

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A retired architect has launched a campaign to create a new great park around Cambridge to protect green belt land.

Taking in the Gog Magog hills, the banks of the River Cam and Midsummer Common, the park would encircle the city and it is hoped could be enjoyed by generations to come.

Neil Ruffles, the man behind the idea, first mooted his plan 25 years ago but now hopes to win backing for the park from landowners.

He says: “My worry for Cambridge is that over the last 25 years so many areas of green belt have been lost to development.

Architect Neil Ruffle with his 'Park Plan'. Picture: Keith Heppell. (28346425)
Architect Neil Ruffle with his 'Park Plan'. Picture: Keith Heppell. (28346425)

“As a world-renowned university city, Cambridge needs a ‘Regional Park’, or something with equivalent status, as a community-driven sustainable partnership, that would incorporate environmental issues, the community, the economy and education. One good example of a park like this is the Lea Valley Regional Park.

“Cambridge needs this because land is finite and it has been continuously nibbled away in the last 25 years. But if you can change the perception of a larger space of that kind of significance, to something such as a park, it will change the agenda for both villages and the city in the way they perceive things and respect a different analysis of what is currently green belt.

“This important park project is primarily aimed at protecting this finite area of land and respecting the landowners’ and farmers’ heritage, and the importance of agriculture.”

Neil, who was a founding partner in the Cambridge architectural firm BCR Infinity, first came up with this idea 25 years ago, but was too busy with work to take it forward.

Now retired, he has had architectural drawings made of the potential park area and plans to speak with the local authorities to see if the idea could become a reality.

He says: “This is a way of linking up all along the River Cam and the Backs of the colleges, across Midsummer Common and out to Coe Fen and the Trumpington Meadows and straight over the Gog Magog hills.

“We have called it the Cambridge Great Park and it would provide much better connectivity for people of Cambridge to get out in the fresh air, cycling or walking. A year ago I picked it up again and I thought so much development had happened it must be worth another try.

“I passionately believe in this for Cambridge as all my life has been here. I want to give something back to Cambridge with an idea I think is of huge merit.”

Architect Neil Ruffle with his 'Park Plan' ( centre ) with colleagues from left Adam Griffiths and Chris jones. Picture: Keith Heppell. (28346436)
Architect Neil Ruffle with his 'Park Plan' ( centre ) with colleagues from left Adam Griffiths and Chris jones. Picture: Keith Heppell. (28346436)

The park would initially incorporate around 2,000 hectares, and connect with the city centre at Lammas Land near Brooklands Avenue. It would then follow a route along Vicar’s Brook, linking various existing open spaces until beyond Addenbrooke’s, and connect with the surrounding villages of Trumpington, Shelford, Stapleford, Sawston, Babraham, Fulbourn and Cherry Hinton.

Under Mr Ruffle’s plan, the park would eventually link other existing and important smaller surrounding public open spaces in and around Cambridge to the park. Eventually the park might extend beyond the A11 and connect to the villages of Balsham, Linton and the Abingtons.

Mr Ruffles adds that the creation of this park may also assist the local authorities’ requirement for biodiversity on all major projects.

He says: “This requirement means that development, from housing to infrastructure, will need to provide a level of biodiversity mitigation – possibly through an ‘ecosystems services approach’ – than would be lost through any development proposal.

“ Many of these schemes do not have excess land or the powers to acquire additional land to undertake this important mitigation work, making the target hard to achieve. “

Stefan Haselwimmer, of the Cambridgeshire Climate Emergency group, said: “We welcome any local initiative that reduces CO2 emissions and improves biodiversity, providing local communities take the lead in the decision-making process.

“When communities are empowered to create positive change – as opposed to having solutions imposed upon them – everyone benefits in creating a better, fairer future.”

The Cambridge Independent is campaigning for 10,000 trees to be planted in Cambridgeshire this year. Let us know if you can help by emailing newsdesk@iliffemedia.co.uk.

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