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Permission granted for major redevelopment of University of Cambridge’s West Cambridge site




Planning permission has been granted for a major revdevelopment of the University of Cambridge’s West Cambridge site, which will generate 11,000 jobs over the next 20 years.

Aerial photographs of the West Cambridge site, which has plans for major development Picture: Keith Heppell
Aerial photographs of the West Cambridge site, which has plans for major development Picture: Keith Heppell

The vision for the West Cambridge Innovation District – home to the world famous Cavendish Laboratory, as well as the Whittle Laboratory and the Department of Veterinary Medicine – was approved by Cambridge City Council’s planning committee for decision on Thursday (July 29).

Professor Andy Neely, pro-vice-chancellor for enterprise and business relations at the University of Cambridge, said: “The West Cambridge Innovation District will be a vibrant new destination quarter within the city, connecting industry with academic expertise and creating a welcoming, people-focused environment, including leisure facilities, that will be enjoyed by the wider Cambridge community. The district will have a positive impact on biodiversity, and bring a wide range of new jobs at various skill levels, turning Cambridge brilliance into sustained economic growth.

“The development of West Cambridge will support the region’s economic recovery post-pandemic and nurture the entrepreneurial strengths of the Cambridge Cluster. Through architecture and landscaping, the restyled campus will foster connectivity and the kind of ‘serendipitous collisions’, or chance meetings, that spark new ideas and change the world.”

The permission was granted, subject to a section 106 agreement, despite concerns the impact on the traffic and congestion, air quality and the scale of the development, along with the impact of construction by residents neighbouring the site.

West Cambridge plans Image: University of Cambridge (49750109)
West Cambridge plans Image: University of Cambridge (49750109)

Download the full resolution map here.

Criticism was also levelled against the university for not committing to the “early delivery” of a swimming pool at the site which could be used by the public.

The plan covers an area of 69.4 hectares, and includes academic and commercial floor space, community facilities, open space, pedestrian and cycle routes, and drainage.

It sets out the long-term strategy for the “comprehensive development” of the site, off Madingley Road, which it is forecast could generate £864.8million for the local and regional economy.

The university says the application signals a new approach to university-industry collaboration, with innovation ‘designed-in’ to encourage creativity to flourish.

Aerial photographs of the West Cambridge site, which has plans for major development Picture: Keith Heppell
Aerial photographs of the West Cambridge site, which has plans for major development Picture: Keith Heppell

It says the restyled site will build on Cambridge’s innovation success and support the region’s economic recovery post-pandemic.

A wide range of jobs at various skill levels will be created as part of the site’s development, with an ambition to grow the number of employees at West Cambridge from the current 4,000 to 15,000 by 2041.

New academic and commercial spaces will provide ‘side-by-side’ collaborative working, including growth hubs and an innovation space to support the development of start-ups.

At the heart of the district will be a series of shared amenity hubs that offer flexible space for teaching and study, as well as business meetings, social and networking events, talks and art exhibitions.

West Cambridge Innovation District Image: Alan Marten/Oaker (49750457)
West Cambridge Innovation District Image: Alan Marten/Oaker (49750457)

The first of these hubs is set to open later this year, and will include a café, restaurant and retail facilities that will be accessible to the local community.

Pedestrianised plazas, central gardens, lakes and urban orchards will place healthy living and the natural world are at the heart of the development, explains the university.

The scheme will also boost sustainable travel at the site and in the west of the city, with a significant investment in pedestrian and cycle improvements.

But also proposes a maximum three-fold increase in car parking spaces from 1,519 as existing on site to 4,359 following final completion of the development. Three rounds of formal consultation have taken place in 2016, 2017 and in November 2020.

The University of Cambridge's West Cambridge plans - a view of the West Forum (West Lake) (49750092)
The University of Cambridge's West Cambridge plans - a view of the West Forum (West Lake) (49750092)

A petition was received during the 2020 consultation which said the “creation of a multi-storey car park conflicts” with the Local Plan and that its location would be “on the edge of conservation area”.

The car park would be on the junction of Madingley Road and Clerk Maxwell Road, and concerns were also raised about the impact on pollution and congestion with vehicles queuing to get into the facility as well as the impact on the recently-approved development of 35 homes on the former Cocks and Hens Tennis Club on Clerk Maxwell Road.

The petition called for the car park to be moved or removed.

The concerns have been echoed by Clerk Maxwell Road Residents’ Association, North Newnham Residents Association, Madingley Road Area Residents Association, West Cambridge Community Group and Cambridge Past Present Future (PPF).

West Cambridge plans Image: University of Cambridge (49750107)
West Cambridge plans Image: University of Cambridge (49750107)

Download the full resolution map here.

Cambridge PPF stated: “The heights, massing and density of the currently-approved and proposed development is injurious to the adjacent green belt, and to the skyline and views into Cambridge from the west.

“The development is adjacent to open countryside, designated as green belt. One of the purposes of the Cambridge green belt is to protect the historic setting of the city, including views of it. In particular the views from Red Meadow Hill and the ‘West fields’ will be significantly harmed by the proposals set out in the application.”

Newnham Croft Residents’ Association echoed the concerns raised by other associations about the parking, cycling and impact of construction traffic.

It says: “The planning application falls very short in providing a viable solution for how all these people will enter and exit both sides of the site on already heavily congested roads. This is difficult to comprehend when the university has stated that the planning application does not depend in any way on City Deal.

Aerial photographs of the West Cambridge site, which has plans for major development Picture: Keith Heppell
Aerial photographs of the West Cambridge site, which has plans for major development Picture: Keith Heppell

“The ‘travel to work plan’ submitted lacks sufficient details. A detailed realistic travel plan is required.”

University officers say they have worked closely with council officers and with local residents to address concerns and to ensure the development will have a positive impact.

Full consideration of environmental impact is integral to the development and includes future plans for a solar farm to supply university buildings on the site with low-carbon electricity.

The site will also be a testbed for developing innovative approaches to help the university achieve its ambition of becoming net zero by 2048.

Aerial photographs of the West Cambridge site, which has plans for major development Picture: Keith Heppell
Aerial photographs of the West Cambridge site, which has plans for major development Picture: Keith Heppell

The University sits at the heart of the so-called ‘Cambridge Cluster’, in which more than 5,300 knowledge-intensive firms employ more than 67,000 people and generate £18 billion in turnover. Cambridge has the highest number of patent applications per 100,000 residents in the UK.

Development at the West Cambridge site has been incremental since the 1950s, with a first masterplan for the site developed in 1966. An outline planning application for the site was granted permission in 1999 for university academic departments, research institutes, commercial research, a sports centre, shared amenities (including shops, food and drink outlets and a lecture theatre), 200 residential units, park and cycle facilities and associated infrastructure.

This latest plan was submitted in 2016, with updates to the submission supplied in 2017 and in October 2020.

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