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Environment Agency objects to new Cambridge Cancer Research Hospital over water

An objection has been raised by the Environment Agency to Cambridge’s new cancer research hospital because of the scarcity of water in the region.

Councillors are set to decide on 17 April whether to approve plans for the proposed Cambridge Cancer Research Hospital.

A CGI of the proposed Cambridge Cancer Research Hospital (CCRH)
A CGI of the proposed Cambridge Cancer Research Hospital (CCRH)

The first of its kind in the East of England, it is due to bring clinical and research expertise together in a new world-class facility on Cambridge Biomedical Campus.

But despite government reassurances that it is taking action over the water supply issues facing the region, the Environment Agency has maintained its objection to the application, which will go before a joint development control committee of city and district councillors.

The agency said that while it welcomes the government’s proposed measures to solve the water challenge over the longer term and the plans to address it in the short term, its position on the application “has not changed”.

It comes just a month after the government set out its vision for a ‘water credits’ system to unblock housing and commercial space in Greater Cambridge.

“The Environment Agency requires further evidence before it may reconsider its objection to the development proposed at Cambridge Cancer Research Centre based on the water credits system,” it says in a report to councillors.

“The necessary evidence includes evidence of a fully functioning water credit market that has effectively offset demand from the growth that is proposed.

“It is understood that the evidence linked to the setting up of the water credits system will be provided over the coming months. The Environment Agency will then require sufficient time to assess the plans and evidence fully in order to provide evidence-based advice to the appropriate decision makers.

“However, this is unlikely to include evidence of the effectiveness of the scheme in reducing demands post-implementation of retrofitting within this timeframe.”

Council officers say the proposed development will bring “significant social, economic, and environmental benefits” and have recommended it for approval despite the objection from the Environment Agency.

They say the applicants have “appropriately addressed the issue of water demand and sought to minimise the environmental impacts of their scheme”.

Even if councillors agree and approve the plans, the Environment Agency’s objection could yet have wider implications.

It has already blocked the construction of more than 9,000 homes and 300,000 square feet of lab space due to water issues, including schemes at Bourn Airfield, Darwin Green and the Beehive Centre.

It has advised that some water bodies in the Cambridge area are at risk of deterioration, and that any new development that takes place must not increase abstraction and risk deterioration to water bodies in Greater Cambridge.

Water supplies here – one of the driest regions in the country – are over-reliant on abstraction from the aquifer, which is causing precious chalk streams to dry up. Anglian Water has plans for a pipeline to bring water in from wetter regions in the north, and will create two new reservoirs, serving at least 750,000 homes, but these are not expected to be completed until the mid to late 2030s.

Last month, the government unveiled plans to test a new water trading market in the area, which will enable developers to offset their water usage through the purchase and sale of water credits to ensure they have a neutral impact. The £9million scheme will require the establishment of a new market framework and operator, which would match buyers and sellers of water credits. The government has also primed the pilot scheme with £4.5m for retrofitting commercial and public buildings with water-saving devices.

But if the Environment Agency remains unconvinced at this stage, it could prolong the delays to major house-building schemes.

The new hospital, meanwhile, has received widespread support from politicians, the government and the community. It will bring NHS staff from Addenbrooke’s and leading scientists from the University of Cambridge and its Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre under one roof in a new seven-storey 27,100 square metre building. With expertise in early detection and personalised medicine, it is expected the hospital will have global benefits.

It is being developed via a partnership between Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (CUH), the University of Cambridge, Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre and life science partners.

Cambridge Cancer Research Hospital is set to be the first hospital built, out of a total of seven in the East of England by 2030, as part of the government’s New Hospital Programme.

The government’s Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said it has agreed a joint statement with the Environment Agency, Defra and Greater Cambridge planning authorities, signalling an intention to work together to solve the water issue.

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