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Cambridge ‘will be destroyed by supersizing plans’, says University of Oxford professor



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“You will destroy the reason why people like to live in Cambridge” - that’s the verdict of an ecologist coming to warn about the impact of over development in the city at an event called “Supersize Cambridge”.

The talk, happening on Thursday (October 7), has been set up by environmental campaigners to highlight the effect of plans for major housing growth in Cambridgeshire on resources, transport, the green belt and nature.

A map of the OxCam Arc. Image: MHCLG
A map of the OxCam Arc. Image: MHCLG

Its aim is to stop the government’s target of building one million new homes by 2050 in the OxCam Arc area of five counties - Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire.

David Rogers, professor of ecology at the University of Oxford, represents the Stop The Arc Campaign and is the lead speaker at the Supersize Cambridge event.

He says: “Cambridge city will expand beyond recognizable limits; you'll destroy the reason why people like to live in Cambridge. I’m a biologist by training and it is a terrible feature that all species ultimately make the habitat worse for themselves in time and in many cases they make it so bad they go extinct.

“There’s no question we are going to destroy Cambridge. My worry is that your children, your grandchildren, will at some stage look you in the eye and say look you knew it was happening in 2021, you could see it was going to happen. What did you do about it? Many people will say nothing. This is the tragedy.”

He is campaigning against the OxCam Arc in part because, he explains, most of the million houses built will not ease local housing pressure. Instead they will be bought by investors who may not even rent them out, people moving into the area for new jobs created by the arc, or by people commuting to London.

Housebuilding rates could rise dramatically in Cambridgeshire over the coming years
Housebuilding rates could rise dramatically in Cambridgeshire over the coming years

In the 2018 5th Studio National Infrastructure Commission document on future planning options for the Arc, the prediction was for Cambridgeshire housing stocks to increase by 81 per cent. These extraordinary figures can be compared with the Office of National Statistics’ prediction of only a 16 per cent increase in the total number of UK households over the same period to 2050.

David says: “When people say we’ve got to build all these houses for our children, for our grandchildren, only about a quarter of all planned one million houses are actually for them, three quarters are for other purposes. In the OxCam Arc a quarter is earmarked for London commuters. So the arc is going to partly be a dormitory for London because London isn't building enough houses.”

In a statement, his campaign group Stop The Arc adds: “Adding (around) two million people to those already living in the area will put a strain on all existing infrastructure - schools, GP surgeries, hospitals, water and electricity supplies, sewage and waste disposal services - and will threaten existing ecosystem services and wildlife areas.”

To combat housing pressure in Cambridge, where many people can’t afford to buy or rent a home, councils should build social housing instead of allowing commercial developers to build houses that will simply be bought by investors, he argues. Consideration should also be given to insisting that any new homes can only be bought by people who use them as their primary residence - not foreign investors.

Anglian Water wants to build a new pipeline. Pictures: Tim George
Anglian Water wants to build a new pipeline. Pictures: Tim George

At the talk he will also discuss the lack of water in the region and how instead of looking to pump supplies into Cambridge through a new pipeline, planners should invest in jobs and homes in water-rich areas such as the north and the Midlands.

“Pumping water into the region or building huge new reservoirs is an engineering solution. But the only reason you have to do this is because you are building too many new houses in the area for the natural resources to cope with. And while you may be able to solve water shortages through engineering, the problem of all the extra sewage a million homes will create is not being addressed. Where will the sewage go?

Anglian Water’s pipeline plan for the region
Anglian Water’s pipeline plan for the region

“Cambridge is as dry as some of the driest areas of Kenya. All this water demand without limit is quite frankly ridiculous.”

And he claims there is a strong argument that the extra houses in the OxCam Arc area are not needed at all.

David says: “If you invest in the arc and you build a million houses, where will the people come from to live in them? We’ve got a high employment rate across the arc. There’s very little unemployment, so if you create 1.1 million more jobs, which is the object of the exercise, where do you get the workers from? Gone are the days when we will get from international immigration. So you're going to try to suck workers out of the north where they desperately need jobs, and bring them into the OxCam Arc where house prices are astronomically high and nobody can afford.

“We could instead invest in jobs in the north where they are needed. This reduces stress on resources in the South East and helps to level up the north.”

A map showing the major development sites identified in the first proposals of the new Greater Cambridge Local Plan, which will guide development to 2041. Map: Greater Cambridge Shared Planning Service
A map showing the major development sites identified in the first proposals of the new Greater Cambridge Local Plan, which will guide development to 2041. Map: Greater Cambridge Shared Planning Service

His comments come ahead of the launch of consultation on the Greater Cambridge Local Plan first proposals, from Cambridge City Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council, which propose that nearly 49,000 new homes will be built in the region by 2041.

The councils have argued this level of development will help the region meet its housing needs, caused by jobs growth, tackle affordability issues and keep commuting distances down.

The Supersize Cambridge online event is on Thursday (October 7) at 6pm. Register at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/supersize-cambridge-tickets-174996317697.

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