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Councillors hear updated proposals for Greater Cambridge Local Plan provoke ‘anxiety’

Residents will be anxious for the future after hearing how up to 57,000 new homes could be built in Greater Cambridge by 2041, a councillor has said.

Cllr Heather Williams, the Conservative opposition leader on South Cambridgeshire District Council Picture: Keith Heppell
Cllr Heather Williams, the Conservative opposition leader on South Cambridgeshire District Council Picture: Keith Heppell

Cllr Heather Williams, the Conservative opposition leader on South Cambridgeshire District Council, was speaking as the updated proposals for the Local Plan were discussed by the authority’s overview and scrutiny committee last week.

The meeting heard that neighbouring authorities have rejected the suggestion that they could help meet Greater Cambridge’s housing and job needs despite concerns the area could “implode” under infrastructure and water pressures.

It follows the announcement earlier this month that under a revised housing blueprint put forward by Cambridge City Council and South Cambridgeshire District Councils – working together as the Greater Cambridge Shared Planning Service – 57,000 new properties will be needed in the two council areas to meet demand caused by rapid job growth.

Cllr Williams (Con, The Mordens) said there “will be anxiety” about the housing figure.

“We need to give some assurance that not all of these houses are going to come to South Cambridgeshire – equally, that not all will go to the city,” she said.

“I don’t think it’s enough to provide a blanket number for the whole area. We need to give people assurance because they will be fretful enough, given the numbers that we’re talking about.”

The Liberal Democrat leader of the district council leader, Cllr Bridget Smith (Lib Dem, Gamlingay), responded: “I can categorically say that if there has to be additional housing, some of it certainly will be in Cambridge city.

“If you look at the results of the first call for sites, and where the proposed allocations are there, you will see that quite a bit of it is in the city and necessarily considerably denser than there was here in South Cambridgeshire, that’s for sure.”

Cllr Williams also asked whether the authority was speaking with neighbouring district councils “in respect of our demands”.

An updated report about the development strategy of the emerging Greater Cambridge Local Plan from the joint director of planning for Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire was published on January 4.

A vision of Waterbeach New Town Picture: LDA Design/RLW
A vision of Waterbeach New Town Picture: LDA Design/RLW

It stressed how Greater Cambridge is one of the most important research and innovation employment locations in the UK and is growing fast as new jobs are created.

The report points to an expected need for more homes and jobs than previously envisaged, but states the environment and water supply must be protected alongside a need for new homes, which includes addressing the shortage of affordable homes.

The latest economic forecasts point to a likely increase of around 66,000 jobs across the Greater Cambridge area by 2041.

This results in a housing total of 57,000 made up of 51,723 homes rounded up, plus a 10 per cent ‘buffer’ that the councils say they must plan for, and now represents 19,802 more homes than accounted for under current Local Plans, or 8,106 more than envisaged in the first proposals for the new plan.

Sites such as Waterbeach New Town, Northstow and Eddington are earmarked for housing, while major new developments are proposed at North East Cambridge and at what is currently Cambridge Airport, which Marshall plans to vacate by the end of the decade, enabling the creation of a new Cambridge East development.

With an eye on its potential new East West Rail station, Cambourne is also earmarked for further development, in addition to the West Cambourne site already under way.

Cllr Williams raised concerns about how the council will meet the demands placed on it, and whether neighbouring authorities could help.

“We have mentioned in some of the documentation [and] some of the briefings about the ability to share responsibility with other district councils in respect of our demand, the amount of jobs,” she said. “There is a finite amount of resources with water and everything else, and there will come a time if we don’t try and spread that growth that we will implode. Tensions will get so high and we will just stop.”

Cllr Smith said “very regretfully” the duty to co-operate was one of the things the government was consulting on as part of its changes to the planning framework.

Leader of the district council leader, Cllr Bridget Smith Picture: Keith Heppell
Leader of the district council leader, Cllr Bridget Smith Picture: Keith Heppell

Cllr Smith explained that “ditching” the duty to co-operate would be an “absolute tragedy” and confirmed she regularly met with the leaders of neighbour authorities to “see what the opportunities are”.

“We are certainly – between the city, parts of East Cambridgeshire, us and Huntingdonshire – all part of the same functional economic area and it’s really important that we work together when we’re conducting our Local Plans because we can’t be constrained just by geographical borders,” Cllr Smith said.

Stephen Kelly, joint director of planning and economic development at Greater Cambridge Shared Planning Service, said conversations had taken place with neighbouring authorities during work on the first proposals about plans to release Green Belt land.

As part of those conversations, authorities were asked if they would be prepared to take the housing into their areas.

“We are bound by a large number of authorities,” he told the meeting. “I don’t recall that any of the authorities offered to take housing from South Cambridgeshire and Cambridge, and increase their own housing supply requirements as a consequence of that.”

Mr Kelly, who writes for the Cambridge Independent this week, right, did confirm that conversations were being held in respect of Haverhill and Royston and their importance to South Cambridgeshire.

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