Meadows Centre community hub and council flats approved
Plans to build a new community hub and 78 council flats in Cambridge have been approved.
The development will be built along the St Catherine’s Road and Arbury Road sides of the St Albans Road Recreation Ground, and replace the Meadows Community Centre.
However many residents have complained about the loss of green space caused by the scheme and around 1,000 people signed a petition against it, arguing the rec should be preserved as an open and undeveloped space.
Resident Sonia Spinks, who helped organise the petition against the development, told the meeting she did not object in principle to redevelopment of the buildings but said: “It will result in the loss of public open space in a ward with the lowest open space provision”.
The application was submitted by the Cambridge Investment Partnership, which is made up of Cambridge City Council and housebuilder Hill. The partnership is delivering the council’s current programme of 500 council homes agreed under the county’s devolution deal.
The scheme was split into two planning applications as it crosses council boundary areas. The two applications were both decided together on August 4 at the Joint Development Control Committee, made up of Cambridge City Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council.
Following a public consultation the plan was changed to reduce the amount of open space it would replace from 15 per cent to 6.4 per cent per cent, and the gaps between the residential blocks were increased to make the open space more visible, but some residents maintained it is still too much.
The planning officer for the scheme, Ganesh Gnanamoorthy, said the “biggest issue” raised by residents’ representations was the loss of open space.
Another resident, James Littlewood, said: “If this application was submitted by a private developer it would be refused.”
South Cambridgeshire councillor for the area, Martin Cahn, said he too recognised the need for affordable housing, but said: “I put it to you, that were it not for the provision of government money and the pressure to provide a readily developable site, this site is not a site that would have been put forward for development of social housing or any housing for that matter. The developers have tried hard to minimise the damage, but cannot get away from this intrinsic problem.”
He also questioned if it would be approved if it were to be built in a “more affluent” area of the city.
He said there are “a number of reasons” to object, including the scale and location. He said residents consider it “over development” and objected to the clustering of social housing.
Under the county’s devolution deal the city council received £70million from the government to deliver 500 affordable homes by 2022.
The agent for the applicant, David Digby, said: “This is an opportunity to deliver highly sustainable new council homes, to improve the community and recreational facilities for local residents, and to address the climate crisis through considered biodiversity enhancements.”
He said “the significant improvements proposed more than compensate for the loss” of what he described as “incidental areas”.
Cambridge city councillor for the area, Kevin Price, welcomed the development, and said it would provide homes for those most in need.
He said there has been “much misinformation being spread about open space in the north of the city”. He said it was “nonsense” to say this is the only open space in the area, which he said is “blessed with an impressive amount of green open space”.
He said the changes will improve the open space available.
The city council’s executive councillor for housing, Richard Johnson, said the community hub would be “state-of-the-art”.
He said the two councils have around 4,000 people on their housing register, that additional affordable housing is “urgently required,” and that this scheme will be a “key anchor” for the council’s 500 affordable homes programme.
He added: “Biodiversity is extremely important for us, and we believe that it will be improved by 65 per cent on the current open space at St Albans Rec.”
Mr Gnanamoorthy said planning officers consider that the improvement to the outdoor facilities is of “sufficient benefit to outweigh the loss” of the open space, which he described as the necessary policy test.
He said the policies on preventing clustering of affordable housing is intended for mixed tenure schemes which include properties for the open market, where he said without such a policy developers tend to cluster the social housing, and the policy is not applicable to schemes such as this with 100 per cent affordable housing.
Concerns were also raised that the development will not meet the highest possible environmental standards.
Mr Gnanamoorthy outlined a number of the proposals’ environmental credentials, including it being fully electric and without gas.
“It’s a little unjust to say the scheme is just doing the minimal,” he said, adding it goes “significantly further” than the minimum standards.
“It’s a pretty heavily sustainable set of buildings,” he said.
Addressing the scheme as a whole he said officers have “worked really hard” on it.
Councillors voted 11 for with one abstention – South Cambridgeshire councillor Steve Hunt.
The development will include three residential blocks of varying heights – one part three and part four storeys, one four storeys and the other six storeys – and a community centre spanning two and three storeys.
The new community hub will have a cafe, toilets, changing rooms, a number of spaces for activities and events and meetings, and a nursery area.
Added to the rec will be a new skate park, multi-use floodlit games area, additional play areas, tree planting and landscaping.
All 78 homes will be council-owned social rent flats, and some of the homes will be available to residents of both councils in need of social housing.
The current community centre is owned and managed by Cambridge City Council.
The application is part of a wider plan to consolidate the council’s community facilities and build more affordable homes in the area, which follows a 2016 review of the city’s community centres strategy.
The city council is planning to relocate the nearby Buchan Street community centre into the new community hub. The Buchan Street community centre is subject to another planning application from the Cambridge Investment Partnership, scheduled to be determined on Wednesday (August 5), which will see the community centre, shop and cafe there demolished, to make way for 28 affordable homes, a new shop and “community cafe,” with open space and new play equipment and landscaping.