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Michael Gove’s plan for 150,000 homes in Cambridge region is declared ‘foolish’

The Conservatives’ Parliamentary candidate for South Cambridgeshire believes the government’s ambition of building 150,000 homes in the Cambridge region will eventually end up much closer to the 50,000 already proposed for the next two decades.

But his Liberal Democrat opponent suggested that was “cloud cuckoo land” and said there was a “centrally-driven agenda for growth”

At the hustings at Coton are, from left, Labour’s Luke Viner, Conservative Chris Carter-Chapman, the Greens’ Oliver Fisher and Liberal Democrat Pippa Heylings. Picture: Anna Gazeley
At the hustings at Coton are, from left, Labour’s Luke Viner, Conservative Chris Carter-Chapman, the Greens’ Oliver Fisher and Liberal Democrat Pippa Heylings. Picture: Anna Gazeley

The government’s policy of planning for massive housing growth in the region came under scrutiny during a hustings event last week in Coton, organised by groups opposing the Cambourne to Cambridge (C2C) busway proposals

Candidates were asked about housing secretary Michael Gove’s announcement that he had set up a Cambridge growth company and plans a development company to deliver 150,000 homes in the region by 2050.

The Tory candidate for South Cambridgeshire, Chris Carter-Chapman, said: “We’ve seen quite an evolution of this announcement.

“It started at 250,000 [homes] I think by 2040. It was then 150,000 homes by 2050. Now in the case of Cambridge it’s 100,000 homes.”

He compared this to the emerging Greater Cambridge Local Plan, which plans around 50,000 new homes by 2040.

“I suspect by the time we get to the end of this process, it won’t actually be very far away from what sits in the Local Plan as it stands,” he said.

“All of you know that the big challenge that we face – and why I have opposed that level of house-building locally is water. Bourn Airfield development has been stopped in its tracks by a lack of water. It’s also impacting C2C [busway], which is actually a positive because it gives us more time to combat it.

“The Environment Agency have said to me they think we have possibly enough water to sustain 9,000 homes – nothing like the numbers that we’re talking about.”

He said the key to any new housebuilding plans was “truly affordable” housing for key workers.

Housing secretary Michael Gove. Picture: James Manning/PA
Housing secretary Michael Gove. Picture: James Manning/PA

Liberal Democrats’ Parliamentary candidate Pippa Heylings responded: “I just think this is cloud cuckoo land.

“If the number is dropping, there would be absolutely no need to create – just two weeks ago – the Cambridge Development Corporation and the Cambridge Growth Company and give them a few million pounds. This is to create this great urban quarter.”

And she said the proposal put in context the plans for a Cambourne to Cambridge busway.

“If we’re worried about something cutting across the land that we’ve got here, [this is] one of the most likely areas for Michael Gove’s urban quarter, which would make Coton a suburb of an urban quarter that is four times the size of Cambridge city. It actually puts it into perspective.

“The Development Corporation takes the voice out of the planning authority, away from local people into an imposed centrally-driven agenda for growth.”

“The Cambridge water scarcity group that finally was set up after we asked for it for two years, has come up with the water solutions only for the objectively identified housing need number, which is now at 55,000 because we have already met the 2041 growth projections that were set in 2018.”

The Green Party’s Parliamentary hopeful Oliver Fisher said the proposal for 150,000 homes did not make sense, even over several decades.

“It’s going to be incredibly challenging to find places for those 150,000 homes to go and it’s just going to put so much pressure on existing systems – whether that’s systems of nature but also the infrastructure that we have that is probably stretched to its limit already,” he said.

“Water scarcity is obviously a massive issue. We may kind of run out of water by 2029 based on where we are at the moment so to build 150,000 new homes does seem very foolish.”

South Cambridgeshire Labour Party chair Luke Viner, who attended for the party as Labour has not yet announced its candidate, said: “I think Michael Gove’s plan is very misguided. You see a lot of government intrusion into local areas. Actually, local people and local communities and local councils will know their areas the best. But there is a massive housing crisis.”

He advocated more council housing, as the Labour-run city council is doing.

“Cambridge City Labour are doing a very good job with council housing in the city and we’d like to see that rolled out much more across the county,” he said.

The incumbent South Cambridgeshire MP, Conservative Anthony Browne, is switching to fight the new seat of St Neots and Mid Cambridgeshire at the next General Election, following boundary changes in the constituencies.

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