Petition calls for walking links when Westbrook Centre in Cambridge is redeveloped into life science campus
The redevelopment of the Westbrook Centre in Cambridge into a new life science campus provides an opportunity to create quicker and safer walking links in West Chesterton, say residents.
They have launched a new petition calling on the developer to provide pedestrian routes to Corona Road, Lilywhite Drive and Gilbert Road as part of the proposed redevelopment.
The business park, just off Milton Road, has been acquired by Reef Group, in collaboration with UBS Asset Management, under their Life Sciences Platform, Forge_KN.
They have been consulting on plans to redevelop it into a low carbon life science campus, opening up the ground floor to the local community with a cafe, meeting rooms for hire, exhibition and conference space and flexible co-working space. New landscape gardens, gathering points and play areas are envisaged under the plans and an application is due to be submitted to Cambridge City Council imminently.
In its original vision, the developers included walking links but at consultation events last month they said the Corona Road link had been dropped following “local feedback”.
But residents say this is critical for pupils attending Milton Road Primary School.
The most direct route between Victoria Road and Milton Road currently includes a dangerous section of Mitcham’s Corner but residents say a link via Corona Road would provide a safer alternative.
The school’s catchment area includes streets off Victoria Road, including Corona Road, Green’s Road and Primrose Street.
More than 175 people have signed the ‘Better walking for West Chesterton’ petition within days of it being launched by Nick Flynn, a resident of Lilywhite Drive.
He said: “Lilywhite Drive is accessed via a single point of entry which makes it difficult to access nearby schools, work, or other community facilities by foot. Walking to most destinations usually involves a long detour via Milton Road. This has posed challenges for me as I have two young children who are less able to walk long distances.
“I was therefore pleased to see in the original consultation for the Westbrook Centre redevelopment that the developer was proposing to provide new walking links to Gilbert Road, Corona Road and Lilywhite Drive.
“The link to Gilbert Road would almost halve the distance my family would need to walk to Milton Road Primary School, while also making it easier to walk to other destinations like Chesterton Sports Centre.
“Meanwhile, the links to Lilywhite Drive and Corona Road would provide a shortcut to destinations off Victoria Road, like Alexandra Gardens, that avoids a dangerous section of Mitcham’s Corner with a narrow pavement next to two lanes of fast traffic.
“However, I was frustrated to learn that the developer has dropped the Corona Road link from its plans. When a neighbour announced they wanted to start a petition to block a link to Lilywhite Drive, I knew I had to act to highlight the positive aspects of the proposals.
“We have received overwhelming support, not just on Lilywhite Drive from residents who are frustrated at the difficulty in walking to destinations that are actually very close by as the crow flies, but also from the wider community in West Chesterton, who would benefit from these links and recognise the advantages of promoting safer walking in Cambridge.
“We believe this petition sends a strong message to the developer and local councillors that residents in West Chesterton need these vital walking links to enable quicker, safer walking that avoids the dangerous Mitcham’s Corner area.
“The developer must press on with the original plan to provide links to Corona Road, as well as those to Lilywhite Drive and Gilbert Road. There should be a proportionate response to any legitimate concerns about the links, rather than an outright ban.”
Lucy Tucker, from Lilywhite Drive, added: “I have walked along Milton Road to my son’s nursery for three years and have always been concerned about traffic pollution, especially around Mitcham’s corner and the junction between Gilbert Road and Milton Road.
“According to the European Environment Agency, while air pollution affects everyone, children and adolescents are particularly vulnerable because their bodies, organs, and immune systems are still developing.
“Air pollution damages health during childhood and increases the risk of diseases later in life, yet children can do little to protect themselves or influence air quality policies, and so we need to advocate for them.
“By providing walking routes away from these busy junctions, these links will help protect the most vulnerable people in our lives. Providing local residents with better walking routes will also reduce the temptation to use polluting motor vehicles, improving air quality for everyone.”
Fellow Lilywhite Drive resident Sarah McCarthy said: “Cambridge is a growing city where the limited infrastructure struggles to accommodate the vast amount of traffic that uses our streets. With plans to further increase Cambridge’s population, promoting sustainable alternatives like walking is more important than ever.
“Following the city’s rejection of the sustainable transport zone proposals for a congestion charge, and no solution in sight for the city’s congestion woes, it seems senseless to not take advantage of a free opportunity to make it easier and safer for residents to walk around their local area.”
The residents say they understand some neighbours on Corona Road and Lilywhite Drive fear the changes would be a risk to security. But they say “criminals are less likely to commit crimes when they know they are being watched”, so walking and cycling route would provide “natural surveillance”. They suggest the developer could monitor the impact, ensure the route is well lit and consider restricting access at night.
Explaining its latest plans, Reef Group said: “We want to improve connectivity across the site to encourage the community to visit and enjoy the new public areas.
“Our access strategy is focused on improving the cycle and pedestrian experience, with the perimeter road reclaimed for publicly accessible landscape space. We will improve pedestrian access for better linkages with public transport and local amenities, alongside new cycle routes and enhanced cycle provision including a cycle hub, a new arrival plaza.
“We have listened carefully to local feedback to shape our access strategy. Consultees noted that a new access route through Corona Road or Victoria Homes could cause disruption to local residents. We have removed the option of new links through these areas to ensure residential amenity is protected.
“We have also reduced car parking provision to encourage sustainable transport and respond to local concern around traffic in the area.
“Access to the north west will be retained, with servicing vehicles using a dedicated single road to access the site.”
You can sign the petition at https://www.change.org/WestbrookWalkingLinks
Visit https://westbrookcambridge.co.uk for more on the plans.