Greater Cambridge Local Plan consultation provokes further political row
The political row over the Greater Cambridge Local Plan has deepened, with the Liberal Democrats and Labour hitting back at Conservative accusations that the consultation on it is “biased” and has “glaring omissions”.
A blueprint for development in Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire, the first proposals for the next Local Plan indicate where planners believe nearly 49,000 homes could be built over the next 20 years, along with commercial space, and feature policies on carbon reduction and biodiversity.
Some 37,198 of the 48,794 homes in the plan are already in the pipeline from the last Local Plan. But there are also 19 new developments envisaged, adding the remaining 11,596 homes, including at North East Cambridge, Cambridge Airport and Cambourne.
Anthony Browne, the Tory MP for South Cambridgeshire, claimed there is a “lack of easily accessible information” to help the public respond to the consultation on it, which runs until December 13 at greatercambridgeplanning.org/localplan.
“This incredibly biased consultation has little to do with finding out about residents' views but is rather about marketing the decisions the council has already made. There is a fundamental lack of interest from our district council in residents’ views on the most important issue affecting our area,” he said.
“It is only user friendly at the most superficial level, with the quick questionnaire options pitching the Local Plan proposals, and asking residents to agree with them, rather than seeking genuine feedback. Much of the significant information is not prominent, with headline figures leaving out key details and no easy function for searching the raft of additional documentation. Hiding important detail in appendices, something that South Cambs Lib Dem leaders have criticised in previous national consultations, cannot be justified.”
He has previously described the plans as a “nightmare” for residents, with housebuilding numbers that go beyond what the government requires of the region.
But Cllr Dr Tumi Hawkins (Lib Dem, Caldecote) South Cambridgeshire District Council’s lead cabinet member for planning, pointed out that the Greater Cambridge Shared Planning Service was “shortlisted twice in last year’s Planning Awards for the quality of its engagement with residents and has been recognised nationally as a leader in engagement with plan-making”.
“Given this recognition, I am saddened that Mr Browne has ‘slammed’ our incredibly hard working and talented planners,” she said. “ Our current Local Plan consultation is carefully structured to engage as many people as possible, with different ways that comments can be made to suit different parts of our community.
“Local Plans are by necessity long and complex documents because they cover a huge amount of policy areas. We know that asking most residents to read a large amount of content reduces the likelihood that they may participate and share their insights.
“As a result, we have a ‘quick questionnaire’ that focuses on some of the big questions and major sites, where we are particularly keen to understand what residents think. Alongside this each page and policy in the First Proposals can be commented on in detail through our interactive web pages. This approach builds on what we have learnt from previous consultations.
“We are completely transparent about the number of homes that are being proposed, alongside the ones already planned for in the current adopted Local Plans, as well as the importance of water supply. We continue to be very clear that water supply is a deal-breaker. Planning for the world we need requires grown-up debate and I hope residents feed into this important process.”
Cllr Katie Thornburrow (Lab, Petersfield), Cambridge City Council’s executive for planning and transport, added: “These comments are unhelpful and not supported by evidence.
“The first consultation got a really high rate of response because the survey forms were made more accessible and mobile-friendly, and the responses we got have been fundamental to shaping the First Proposals. We look forward to this process offering even more insight into what those living and working in Greater Cambridge want from the Local Plan.
“The comments made by Anthony Browne MP confuse a consultation with a referendum. Our current process is about making the plan better by gaining as much considered feedback from residents and other interested parties as possible. I really hope these remarks don’t deter people from taking part.”
Planners say the number of homes included reflects the high level of employment growth in the Cambridge region, and that providing sufficient local housing will help to prevent long commutes, aiding the drive to net zero, and making housing more affordable.
Webinars and in-person events are also being held on the proposals - you can find a full guide to the consultation here.
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