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Councillors reject First Base plans for Cambridge’s first major car-free development of 100 homes at Devonshire Gardens



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Cambridge’s first major ‘car-free’ development of 100 homes has been rejected at the planning stage by councillors, despite earning some community support.

Members of the city council’s planning committee found a “lot of things to welcome” in First Base’s proposals for Devonshire Gardens, on the site of the Travis Perkins depot.

How the Devonshire Gardens development would look. Image: First Base
How the Devonshire Gardens development would look. Image: First Base

But they were concerned by the scale of the development, its “massing” and impact on the surrounding area, so turned down the plans.

The scheme would have demolished the depot and replaced it with two office buildings, three buildings with 100 flats, a creche and a new park.

The development was proposed as a ‘build to rent’ scheme, meaning it would be built and managed in the long term by a single developer, with both the homes and commercial units only available for rent.

No car parking spaces were planned, apart from disabled spaces, with 177 cycle spaces proposed for homes, and 427 cycle spaces for the commercial blocks.

How the Devonshire Gardens development would look. Image: First Base
How the Devonshire Gardens development would look. Image: First Base

A number of groups supported the proposals, including Indie Cambridge, which supports independent businesses in the city.

A representative told the meeting that the organisation is “regularly” contacted by developers, but said they generally want to use independent businesses as “window dressing” rather than offering “real opportunities for local businesses”.

She said the applicants in this case were one of the first to engage in a “meaningful way”, offering “real opportunities” to help independent businesses grow.

A representative of the applicant told councillors that over the last 18 months First Base had engaged with more than 3,000 people in the area, as well as businesses and other organisations.

How the Devonshire Gardens development would look. Image: First Base
How the Devonshire Gardens development would look. Image: First Base

He said that the “overwhelming” response had been that people wanted the development to include usable open spaces, more plants and trees, “bringing nature back to the city”.

He said the application provides more open space than some other recently approved applications in the city, and added that it is the “first major scheme” in the city proposing to be ‘car free’, with the exception of disabled spaces.

Highlighting the different organisations that had written in support of the application, he said: “This is not a controversial scheme. No other recent planning application in Cambridge has received so much support.”

But some neighbours to the site did object to the plans, and at the meeting one objector raised a number of concerns they had.

One objector argued that the open space on offer would not be enough to support the number of people living and working in the development.

Travis Perkins site in Devonshire Road, Cambridge. Picture: Matthew Power Photography
Travis Perkins site in Devonshire Road, Cambridge. Picture: Matthew Power Photography

He raised concerns that the cycle parking proposed was insufficient and that there should be one space per resident.

He questioned whether the plans would result in “overdevelopment” of the site and asked whether the commercial element of the plans should be scaled back, saying the city has a “shortage of housing”.

City council planning officers had recommended for the application to be refused.

Councillors voiced support for the general aim to create a ‘car free’ development, but raised concerns on the delivery of the scheme.

Cllr Katie Porrer (Lib Dem, Market) said: “I think there are a lot of things to welcome in this scheme - the community space, the creche, the open space, which is open access to the public, car free is excellent, and the roof terraces. All those are positive things. It could be an extremely positive development.

“However, for me, I am minded to agree with the officer’s reasons in terms of massing.”

Cllr Porrer agreed that more cycle spaces were needed.

How the Devonshire Gardens development would look. Image: First Base
How the Devonshire Gardens development would look. Image: First Base

Cllr Katie Thornburrow (Lab, Petersfield) added: “I think this application does have huge merits. It’s particularly interesting the level of support. That does show there really is a need for some of the things proposed.”

However, she raised concerns over the single aspect design of the flats, and said that while she thought the ‘car free’ aim was “fantastic” she also had concerns about the amount of cycle parking provided.

After a lengthy discussion, the committee councillors voted to refuse the application for the reasons set out by planning officers.

They had said that due to the size of the buildings, the development would result in an “unduly imposing form”, in a site that “would not justify buildings of such scale”. Because of this the development would “dominate” the views of surrounding elevated positions and “detract” from the character and appearance of the area.

The second reason given was that “the landscape design of spaces within the development, with high levels of soft landscaping, broad spreading trees and mounds, would not be appropriate for the scale of the space, and the intensity of its proposed use”.

Planning officers had also warned that “the quality of some of the proposed residential units is unduly poor, due to number of single aspect units, long double loaded corridors with no natural light or ventilation, excessive numbers of units per core / floor, low levels of sunlight to some units”.

Of the 100 proposed flats, seven would have been one-bedroom studio apartments, 49 were planned to be one-bedroom ‘two person’ flats, 26 were planned to be two-bedroom ‘three person flats, 17 were planned to be two-bedroom ‘four person flats’, and one was planned to be a three-bedroom ‘five person’ flat.

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