Councillors ‘disappointed’ by proposals for 425-home development near Cambridge North which planning inspector will determine
Councillors have expressed their disappointment in plans for a 425-home development in the north of Cambridge - but the decision over whether it gets built will rest with a planning inspector.
The proposals to redevelop the land north of Cambridge North Station would “create a giant wall of development” on the edge of the city according to the charity Cambridge Past, Present and Future.
And councillors at Cambridge City Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council agree they should be rejected, but the applicant has lodged an appeal after no decision was made on them within the 16-week statutory determination deadline or after an agreed extension period.
The plans were submitted by Brookgate Land Ltd on behalf of The Chesterton Partnership - also including Network Rail and DB Cargo - and propose 425 homes and five new commercial buildings, offering offices and laboratory space, on land off Milton Avenue.
Some 155 of the homes are suggested for open market sale, with 270 designated as build-to-rent homes.
The new development is intended to be “almost car-fee” with 22 disabled car parking and visitor spaces. Additional basement parking was proposed for the commercial buildings.
At a joint development control committee last Wednesday (March 22), Alison Wright, a representative of the applicant, said the proposals offered “high quality architecture”, as well as open spaces and would be an “excellent place to live, work, and visit”.
She said the land was “one of the most sustainable locations in the region”, and highlighted the government policy to promote “making best use of previously developed land”.
Ms Wright added that the development would also “make a major contribution” towards the need for laboratory space in the city and surrounding areas.
Concerns had been raised by the charity Cambridge Past, Present and Future over the visual impact of the proposed development, as the Cambridge Independent has reported.
The group said the development site itself would be a “new edge of the city” and said it needed to be developed to the “highest standard” and “contribute to the special character of Cambridge”.
The charity said that the height of the proposed buildings would “create a giant wall of development”, and would “loom over the meadows next to the River Cam and be seen by anyone enjoying the river”.
Concerns about the development were shared by planning officers, who recommended that the council’s should take a position that the application should be refused.
In a report, officers said: “The eastern edge of the site is particularly sensitive due to its long views over the River Cam across the green belt towards the city.
“It is considered that the proposals, due to their height and massing, create an abrupt, hard edge that fails to enhance or preserve the character of the area and is not sympathetic to or in keeping with the site’s context in the wider landscape including the setting of the city.”
Officers also highlighted that no outdoor play areas were proposed in the plans, and said the open space that was included was “not considered coherent and high quality”.
They added that while there was a need for lab space, this was expected to be largely met through existing plans.
Stephen Kelly, the councils’ joint director of planning and economic development, said it was “regrettable” the developer had chosen to appeal.
He said this meant there was “not really an avenue of resolving issues outstanding”, but said it was up to the applicant how they handled the process. Mr Kelly said the appeal was scheduled for the summer.
Councillors unanimously agreed the application should be refused.
Cllr Dr Tumi Hawkins (Lib Dem, Caldeocte) said: “I must admit I am quite disappointed with the application in the way this has been brought forward. What is before us does not actually seem to attempt to conform to the longer term plan that we have for that area.”
She was concerned that a number of the blocks proposed would look like “one long block of a building” from the River Cam.
Cllr Sam Carling (Lab, West Chesterton) acknowledged the need for lab space but was concerned the developer was “overstating” the benefits of the proposals.
He said: “The overarching thing here is the lack of logic in the application, various things that do not make sense and do not seem thought through. For example, cyclists have to cross a road and manoeuvre through parked cars to get to the cycle parking.”
Cllr Katie Thornburrow (Lab, Petersfield) said: “This is a major point of arrival in the city. It is the entrance of what is going to be an incredibly important area for the city, for Greater Cambridge, for all those involved in Cambridge.
“When people get off the train at Cambridge North I want them to be seeing an amazing space, amazing architecture, an award-winning space, that sets the standards for everything else coming.
“I really hope the applicants will rethink what they have submitted and provide a scheme that will win the awards we want them to win, and be the most amazing place to live, work.
“At the moment we really are not there, I hope they review and reconsider, and work closely with officers to provide what there is potential for on this site.”
A spokesperson for Brookgate told the Cambridge Independent it had engaged in “five years of extensive consultation and pre-application meetings with the local authority”.
The spokesperson said:: “We are naturally disappointed that our extensive dialogue with South Cambridgeshire District Council and Cambridge City Council over many years has not resulted in our June 2022 planning application being determined in a timely fashion by the local planning authority.
“The government has an aspiration to make the UK a ‘science and technology superpower’ and integral to achieving this is the development of the right buildings for the sector – along with supporting infrastructure such as inclusive places to live.
“The Cambridge North site is an important part of the development strategy for the emerging Greater Cambridge Local Plan but currently sits as untapped resource brownfield land. The development being put forward by our highly experienced team will deliver a high-quality, mixed-use neighbourhood ensuring environmental, economic and social sustainability throughout.
“We have seen no other option than to appeal against non-determination and will continue to work with local stakeholders to seek a positive outcome.”
The spokesperson dispute that the plans would create a wall of development, pointing out that the buildings range in height from 13.4m to 22.1m and that three buildings on the eastern edge would all be of lower scale than the hotel and office “already built on this national strategically important site”.