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Cambridge Sport Lakes plan is ‘exactly what our city needs’

Mick Woolhouse, director and secretary of charity, Cambridge Sport Lakes Trust on one of the lakes at Milton Country Park. Picture: Keith Heppell
Mick Woolhouse, director and secretary of charity, Cambridge Sport Lakes Trust on one of the lakes at Milton Country Park. Picture: Keith Heppell

An extraordinary £25million, 300-acre country park and sports facility, complete with rowing, triathlon and canoeing facilities – and even a velodrome – is earmarked for land north of Cambridge.

Cambridge Sport Lakes - Cambridge Sport Lakes Trust
Cambridge Sport Lakes - Cambridge Sport Lakes Trust

Running, cycling and open water swimming are more popular than ever at Milton Country Park, on Cambridge’s northern border, so a new 3.2km lake and multi-sport complex are what the city has been “crying out for”.

That’s according to Mick Woolhouse, CEO of Cambridge Sport Lakes Trust, the charity that a decade ago was chosen to run Milton Country Park for 99 years.

It would cost around £25million, and provide rowing, triathlon, BMX, cycling, canoeing, long-distance swimming, equestrian and fishing facilities on a complex that stretches between Milton and Waterbeach.

“The amazing thing is this started life as a sporting project, for rowing, triathlon and canoeing,” Mick said.

“Now it’s a 300-acre country park and a multi-sport facility, with lots of opportunities for public access.

“There has always been a green transport aspect to the project, to connect Waterbeach to the Cambridge northern fringe by bike and on foot.

“It will be used by Cambridge University and the university has been very supportive of the plans, but it is definitely a town and gown facility. It’ll be open to everyone.”

CSLT says the lakes are designed to attract a “wide range of paying customers”, which would ensure a sustainable business plan and make sure the fees remain “accessible to all”. It also has ambitions to introduce special events and competitions which its says will “add to the varied and vibrant atmosphere” and bring “thousands of spectators” and visitors to the park each year. Any trading surplus would be invested in educational projects.

Outline planning permission for the lake was granted in 2013, but residents can now contribute to a public consultation considering plans for a sports centre, boathouse, finish line towers, transport infrastructure and, most importantly for some residents, drainage arrangements, which runs until March 30.

Concerns of the ‘unknown effects’ of building such a large lake have been raised, but Mick says there is potential to ensure the lakes improve drainage and the mitigation of flooding along the River Cam in its vicinity.

“Planning permission for the lake was granted in 2013, with certain matters agreed in outline and subject to this current reserved matters application,” he explained.

“The sport lakes will improve the drainage in the area. The Flood Risk Assessment work that has been completed as part of the process so far confirms this principle. This work was carried out by consulting engineers, against a scope of work agreed with the Environment Agency and is not part of this current reserved matters process.”

There are hopes that this side of planning will be wrapped up at the end of May. If this happens, Mick says construction could start within two years.

An extension to Waterbeach means there could be up to 10,000 more homes built to the north of the village.

There are also plans for hundreds more homes in land north of Cherry Hinton, and big development planned in the area surrounding Cambridge North station, currently a water treatment site.

Mick said: “The development pressure on this part of the district is huge, and where are all these thousands of people going to find the space for recreation? As much as it is an amazing city, Cambridge is crying out for a facility like this.

“When we took over Milton Country Park it was at risk of closure. If you look at it now we have over 50,000 people running here every year, 30,000 people cycling and 3,000 people open water swimming.

“The model is there. We’ve proven the demand is there, that this works and the sport lakes is really about scaling up the opportunities for all.”

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