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Cambridge Country Park & Sports Lakes would create green lung north of the city

An aerial view of the proposed Cambridge Country Park and Sport Lakes (43323922)
An aerial view of the proposed Cambridge Country Park and Sport Lakes (43323922)

Plans to create a ‘green lung’ for the north east of the city are to be pushed forward with proposals to develop Cambridge Country Park & Sport Lakes.

The area around Milton Country Park is set to be awash with houses during the next decade, with about 8,000 new homes expected on the North East Cambridge site following the relocation of the sewage works, and up to 10,000 houses at Waterbeach new town.

It could create a concrete jungle, with limited green space to escape and exercise, and so the company behind the Cambridge Sport Lakes is presenting a solution to the Greater Cambridge Partnership to invest in much-needed leisure infrastructure.

The proposal would see a 3.7km ‘green corridor’ between the North East Cambridge development and Waterbeach, set among 300 acres.

It would feature a 3.2km rowing/canoeing course to an international standard, a network of cycle paths including the Waterbeach greenway, the proposed Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro, an international standard closed road cycle circuit and outdoor velodrome, equestrian facilities and much more.

From a habitat perspective, there would be 6,000 trees planted, 100 acres of wooded parkland and 120 acres of freshwater habitat.

“We are green infrastructure,” said Mike Muir-Smith, chairman of the Cambridge Sport Lakes Trust, which currently runs Milton Country Park.

“There are 10,000 homes being built at Waterbeach, there are about 8,000 homes and an industrial estate just on the other side of the A14 on the northern fringe. All of these places need, under planning law, a green open recreational space of a certain amount.

“Waterbeach has complied with the green plans with the water park they have up there. We know that a lot of people in Waterbeach don’t want the conurbation to creep up on them from Milton and the A14.

“We would be the buttress between these two villages and we would also provide the green open space and recreational space for this huge amount of development going on in north Cambridge, and there isn’t anywhere else for them to go at the moment.

“We have 95 acres of Milton Country Park and we will have 230 acres of the main park, of which most of that will be woods. It is a huge recreational asset, not just for sport. And, of course, there is the green transport corridor which we’re talking about with the GCP.

“All the process going on, the environmental pressure, the biodiversity, the green space, the exercise, all of these things are now hugely under pressure and we are the people who can provide the solution for all of this.”

Waterbeach new town and the Cambridge Country Park and Sports Lake proposal (43323935)
Waterbeach new town and the Cambridge Country Park and Sports Lake proposal (43323935)

The idea for the rowing lake was originally conceived in 1991.

The River Cam is home to more than 35 clubs and is the world’s largest rowing centre, with 1,000 novices being taught every year and staying for up to three years and beyond.

Mr Muir-Smith was asked to find a solution to ease the congestion on the river, with about £500,000 contributed to the project. Under the plans he drew up, a canal would be created up from the Cam onto the new rowing lake.

The plans evolved over time, but the layout has been exactly the same for the past 20 years, and it has been a matter of adapting how the space would be used.

Outline planning permission was granted in 2013, although it has since lapsed, and all the land is owned or controlled by the Cambridge Sport Lakes, apart from two sections.

“There are two bits that the county council own and they are retaining the ownership until such time as we have the money to complete the project,” said Mr Muir-Smith. “They won’t want for us to run out of money halfway, and dig up their land and find they can’t use it.”

The total cost of the project would be £75million, which would cover everything, including the archaeology study, the land acquisition from the county
council, the boathouse, tree
planting, landscaping, VAT and environmental study.

The facility would deliver multiple sports opportunities, not just rowing. A storage lake would provide the opportunity to do sailing, the miles of dedicated cycling lanes would facilitate road racing and triathlon, with the rowing or sailing lake allowing for the swimming, there would be a full blown Olympic-standard BMX track, and an open-air cycling velodrome for speed cycling.

There would be space for archery, and the material dug out to create the lake would be piled up seven or eight metres above the lake for possible mountain bike tracks.

Cambridge Country Park and Sport Lakes proposal plan (43323911)
Cambridge Country Park and Sport Lakes proposal plan (43323911)

“Just rowing is not going to make the place viable, the whole point is that you need to have enough critical mass of sports with all their incomes coming in from various sources to make the place tick,” said Mr Muir-Smith. “It needs to be a proper viable sports centre which is going to carry on forever, and that’s the way we have designed it.”

In terms of other infrastructure, there would be a stepped, earth grandstand that could accommodate pop-up canopies, there would be two manager’s houses, and a main sports centre would contain two rowing tanks, a big boathouse, crew accommodation and catering.

If there were eight separate sports at the site, there would be eight individual clubhouses in the main building.

But the overriding message would be that Cambridge Country Park & Sports Lakes would be a destination venue for the city.

“We want people to come in and see there is a choice,” said Mr Muir-Smith. “You can go on the river, you can sail, you can take your kids down to BMX, you can try archery, you do all sorts of tasters and find something that suits you and suits your family so that you can bring people in and farm them out to various different sports and pick them up at the end of it.”

From what started in the early 1990s to what the Cambridge Country Park & Sports Lakes project has become, Mr Muir-Smith feels that it is closer to being achieved now than at any point in the past.

“We realised that with all this huge development pressure going on, we are front and centre of providing the green open space and the transport corridor from Waterbeach to the city,” he said. “There is a
transport corridor on the west side, so we’re offering to be the transport corridor and the green space for all these developments that are going to go up.”

A vision of the rowing facilities at Cambridge Sports Lakes (43365625)
A vision of the rowing facilities at Cambridge Sports Lakes (43365625)

Achieving 100 per cent net gain in biodiversity

The Cambridge Country Park & Sports Lakes proposal can play a significant role in improving biodiversity in the area, writes Paul Brackley.

With large-scale housing developments planned, and a commitment from county authorities to ‘double nature’, the habitats created by the plan could help wildlife to flourish – and people to connect with nature.

Mick Woolhouse, executive director of Cambridge Sport Lakes Trust, said: “The strategic location of Cambridge Country Park and Sport Lakes gives us an ideal opportunity to protect a significant area of the River Cam corridor and its surrounds.

“This project will not only create a barrier to further development but also contribute to an ecological network of nature areas. Green infrastructure must now be prioritised when planning for economic growth in Cambridgeshire.

“While people cannot always be ‘at one’ with nature, this year has highlighted more than ever the value of green space that is publicly accessible. By more than tripling the size of Milton Country Park we can manage the space for both wildlife and people, enabling wildlife to be better protected from the impact of footfall and the associated pressures that we are currently experiencing.”

The plan envisages increases in a range of habitats:

  • Broad-leaved woodland – up 7,600 sq m
  • Aquatic margins – up 46,000 sq m
  • Semi-improved grassland, up 4,000 sq m
  • Open water habitat - up 440,000 sq m
  • Species rich hedge – up 20,750 sq m
  • Coniferous plantation – up 46,200 sq m
  • Parkland with specimen trees – up 109,000 sq m
  • Scattered scrub planting – up change 86,200 sq m
  • Specimen trees - up 285.

“The Biodiversity Impact Assessment for our previously successful application predicted a 100 per cent net biodiversity gain,” added Mick. “We’re committed to working with local ecologists and organisations to further improve this potential for biodiversity benefit and to contribute to the health and levels of the River Cam. The opportunities are once in a generation – they are exciting to think about. Greater Cambridge is ambitious in its plans for growth.

“It needs to be equally ambitious in its plans for a greener future, for the health of our natural world and our communities.”

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