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8,350-home North East Cambridge district will deter visitors by having no large leisure facilities

Councillors have voted to starve a new Cambridge district of large leisure facilities – so that no one is tempted to drive there.

Plans for the new 8,350-home North East Cambridge development – to be built on the current site of the sewage works – aim to avoid making the area a “destination” for visitors to reduce the number of car trips made by visitors.

The new district will have no swimming pool, bowling alley or cinema for the expected 18,000 new residents, who campaigners fear will have to squeeze into already-packed city facilities or swamp nearby Milton Country Park with visitors.

North East Cambridge development illustration. Image: Greater Cambridge Shared Planning Service
North East Cambridge development illustration. Image: Greater Cambridge Shared Planning Service

However, a proposal by Liberal Democrat city councillors to pause progress on the blueprint for development in North East Cambridge to explore options to improve space for sports pitches was rejected by majority Labour councillors at a meeting of the joint local planning advisory group of Cambridge City Council. This leaves the new development with just nine per cent of the total space for sports facilities indicated as needed by the Local Plan.

According to a city council report, the new residents are expected to travel to a not-yet-built university pool in West Cambridge if they want to swim. But the future of that pool looks unclear.

Meanwhile, leisure businesses allowed on the housing development could include takeaways and betting shops, while sports courts may be created on rooftops.

Independent Cambridge city councillor Sam Davies said: “You’re introducing another 18,000 people to an area and the assumption is that they will all go elsewhere for their cultural and leisure facilities. It seems to me unfair that the residents of this new very, very dense housing in North East Cambridge should have to travel to a non-existent – so far – site in West Cambridge for their recreational activities. And, frankly, given the way the city’s transport system operates at the moment, I’m not even sure it would be possible for them to get there without a trip into town and then back out again on the bus.

“I feel this is a very poor trade, both for the existing residents of the north of Cambridge, and the prospective residents of the site of the sewage works. Basically, in order to keep the ‘trip budget’ for the development down, they are minded not to put anything in that would encourage anybody to go there.”

Sam Davies, an independent city councillor. Picture: Keith Heppell
Sam Davies, an independent city councillor. Picture: Keith Heppell

She also voiced concern about the life for existing residents in the north of the city and the prospective residents specifically in the North East Cambridge development will be constrained and less good than it might be by the approach to limit the creation of on-site leisure and cultural amenities,” she said.

The North East Area development relies on Anglian Water’s waste water treatment works being moved to a new location in the green belt next to Horningsea village – that has outraged campaigners in Horningsea and Fen Ditton, who fear the impact of 20-metre high sewage stacks.

The old site will then be considered brownfield land that can be built on, guided by the North East Cambridge Area Action Plan – a joint initiative between South Cambridgeshire District Council and the city council.

The councils say the advantage of the move is that new homes can then be built on the edge of the city, within cycling distance of offices and close to Cambridge North station, rather than building houses further out that would require commuters to travel into Cambridge.

South Cambridgeshire District Council approved the action plan on Monday (January 10) and the joint local planning advisory group of Cambridge City Council rubber stamped the plan on Tuesday (January 11). The action plan establishes the councils’ policies and proposals for managing development, regeneration and investment in North East Cambridge over the next 20 years and beyond.

Graphics from the consultation on the North East Cambridge development
Graphics from the consultation on the North East Cambridge development

Councillors were asked to agree that the new development “will provide a balanced range of shops and services – such as cafés, restaurants, and leisure activities – that meets the daily needs of local residents, employees and visitors while not creating a ‘destination’ location for people living further afield which would increase car trips into the area”.

The report added: “It is important that North East Cambridge meets local needs but is not a ‘destination’ location for people living further afield who may travel to the area by car, in order not to exceed the ‘trip budget’ for North East Cambridge. It is therefore necessary to resist any proposal that will create a need for specific car parking provision.”

The trip budget being discussed is the amount of journeys allowable to the area if green targets are to be met.

The report proposes that “pubs and restaurants will be an acceptable use in the North East Cambridge’s centres,” as well as gambling shops and takeaways, however, it adds: “It is not intended for North East Cambridge to accommodate any large-scale cultural, entertainment or leisure facilities such as a cinema complex or a tenpin bowling facility.”

And an advisory report from last November explained that despite the clear need for “a four-lane swimming pool” to provide for the new population, according to the Sports England Facility Calculator, “it is recommended that development at North East Cambridge secures financial contributions towards off-site swimming pool provision, accessible to NEC residents, at West Cambridge where the University of Cambridge has a long-term project to deliver a new swimming pool”.

Tim Bick, leader of the Liberal Democrats on Cambridge City Council
Tim Bick, leader of the Liberal Democrats on Cambridge City Council

Space provided in the new district for organised sport - courts, pitches and greens - remains at only nine per cent of the Local Plan’s policy and planning officers confirmed that this was the last opportunity to reconsider, the Labour majority on the City Council’s Planning & Transport Scrutiny Committee voted to proceed without any rethink.

Lib Dem Leader Cllr Tim Bick said: "We have championed the principle of this major new development at North East Cambridge when others in the past have held back. The site is an excellent sustainable opportunity to satisfy serious local housing need and we have accepted from the start that North East Cambridge development would be above average density. But we feel this has now been taken to an unacceptable extreme. It is ridiculous to treat it as if it was an inner-city site when it’s on the edge of the city. There is little point in the council’s own well-considered policy standards, if they can be overridden so easily in a development where the council itself is one of the developers.

“Existing sports facilities in North Cambridge are not particularly generous and have little or no space to expand. Residents of Milton are understandably worried about the implications for Milton Country Park which already operates over capacity. As a society we have re-learned from the pandemic the physical and social value of outdoor exercise and the exhilaration of competitive sport - so we are moving in diametrically the wrong direction to provide less scope in the future.

“We badly want to see the positive contribution this development can make to our growing city as much as anyone else - but it should not be happening at any price in terms of civilised amenities for residents of the future who can’t yet speak for themselves: when they can, it’s too late.”

Graphics from the consultation on the North East Cambridge development
Graphics from the consultation on the North East Cambridge development

Community historian Antony Carpen has been campaigning for Cambridge to have another swimming pool as he says the facility at Parkside is “absolutely packed”.

Mr Carpen said: “We only got our first indoor swimming pool at Parkside in the early 1960s. When that swimming pool was opened, the city’s population was officially around 95,000, but students were not taken into account.

“Parkside serves not just the city but also South Cambridgeshire, as South Cambridgeshire doesn’t have any municipal swimming pools of its own. So, as you can imagine, when you’ve got the demand from the city, from the district surrounding it, demand from the university, which doesn’t have its own swimming pool, and then obviously the increasing demand over recent decades in particular from the language schools, it’s become very, very crowded.”

This was supposed to be resolved by the university’s plan for an eight-lane Olympic-sized pool in West Cambridge.

Mr Carpen said: “Unfortunately, last year the university told the city council that it wasn’t prioritising their amenities delivery strategy and said the university cannot commit at this time to a timetable for the delivery of the swimming pool.”

Graphics from the consultation on the North East Cambridge development
Graphics from the consultation on the North East Cambridge development

The university’s report on West Cambridge Amenities Delivery Strategy states: “The very significant capital cost, and revenue cost, implications of any swimming pool mean that the university cannot commit at this time to a timetable for the delivery of the swimming pool.”

Mr Carpen argues that there is a suitable site within the North East Cambridge proposals for a pool and added it would benefit not just future residents but also school pupils, while helping to “tackle the problem of childhood obesity”.

North East Cambridge is due to be a low carbon district so the justification for not providing large sports of leisure facilities ways to prevent people from outside the district driving there to visit.

Labour’s Cllr Katie Thornburrow, who is the city council’s executive councillor for planning policy and transport, said: “As things stand, we are expecting Cambridge University to fulfil their commitment to build a new swimming pool in West Cambridge, one that will be open to all residents and will provide an important leisure and exercise facility for the community.

“At the moment the number of residents in the area is lower than anticipated, for several reasons, and so the trigger point for building the pool hasn’t been reached. I hope it will be soon.

“Over in North East Cambridge, the Proposed Submission Area Action Plan requires contributions towards a new swimming pool but does not require it to be provided on site. It does not necessarily prevent provision on site, but one thing we do know is that Milton Road is at capacity so anything we propose needs to rely on public transport and active transport, not private cars.

“However, I would say that given the close proximity of existing pools in the city to North East Cambridge as well as new pools being delivered in West Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire to serve the new towns of Northstowe and Waterbeach, we will be looking at swimming pool provision in more detail as we continue to progress the Local Plan, which looks at infrastructure provision in an holistic way alongside our wider climate priorities.

“It’s great that we have dedicated people like Antony Carpen to remind us of commitments like this. We need to appreciate our history, and use that to help us as we plan for the future.”

Read more

8,350-home North East Cambridge plan will protect villages and be an ‘exemplar’ development, say council leader

Milton Country Park ‘will not cope’ with extra residents from new North East Cambridge district

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