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Plans for 291 flats, aparthotel and swimming pool at former NIAB site in Cambridge are deferred



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A decision on plans for 291 flats, a 202-bed aparthotel, swimming pool, gym and microbrewery

in Cambridge has been deferred because councillors were unhappy with the amount of affordable housing proposed.

How the redeveloped site of the former National Institute of Agricultural Botany in Cambridge would look. Image: Vertex Living
How the redeveloped site of the former National Institute of Agricultural Botany in Cambridge would look. Image: Vertex Living

The application for the former National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) site in Huntingdon Road was put forward by Vertex Living.

Under the plans, NIAB’s converted former headquarters building would be retained, but all the other buildings would be demolished to make way for the new development.

The 291 flats are envisaged as ‘build to rent’ homes, and Vertex proposed 37 would be ‘affordable’, meaning these would be available to rent at below the market rate.

Co-working space would also be built, alongside the aparthotel, gym and microbrewery, with members of the public having access to these facilities too.

How the redeveloped site of the former National Institute of Agricultural Botany in Cambridge would look. Image: Vertex Living
How the redeveloped site of the former National Institute of Agricultural Botany in Cambridge would look. Image: Vertex Living

Councillors were told the development would increase biodiversity on site by more than 10 per cent, with the “majority of protected pleached lime trees retained” - although 10 would be cut down. A significant number of new trees would also be planted.

Rain-water gardens, green roofs and swales are proposed through the development, which would aim to limit water usage to 110 litres per person per day.

But Cambridge city and South Cambridgeshire district councillors on the joint development control committee pointed out that the proportion of affordable flats was just 13 per cent - below the standard 20 per cent usually sought..

Council officers, who had sought legal advice on the matter prior to the meeting, explained that this was due to permitted development rights, which allow for offices to be converted into homes without a full planning application.

How the redeveloped site of the former National Institute of Agricultural Botany in Cambridge would look. Image: Vertex Living
How the redeveloped site of the former National Institute of Agricultural Botany in Cambridge would look. Image: Vertex Living

The former headquarters building has already been converted into 68 flats through permitted development, and the developer has further approval to convert the other office space into 102 flats.

Officers explained that the developer had indicated that if the current planning application was approved, then it would not look to use the prior approval for 102 flats.

However, because there is the fall-back possibility that 102 flats could be created on the site with no affordable housing, then a lower affordable housing requirement for the development had been calculated.

Cllr Dave Baigent suggested that the application should be deferred to ask the developer to increase the number of affordable flats to 58 - which is 20 per cent of the total.

He said: “That’s not only what we want because we are pernickety and awkward people, but because it is the right thing to do.”

Deferring to ask for more affordable housing would make it clear to future developers with similar proposals what the committee expected in terms of affordable housing, he argued.

The majority of councillors voted in favour of deferral.

How the redeveloped site of the former National Institute of Agricultural Botany in Cambridge would look. Image: Vertex Living
How the redeveloped site of the former National Institute of Agricultural Botany in Cambridge would look. Image: Vertex Living

The meeting had also heard that there were two options - A and B - for access arrangements along Howes Place. The council officer’s report suggested A was the better design solution, as it provided pedestrian and cycle access points from Howes Place. But many petitioners had voiced approval for option B, arguing it minimises the impact on heritage of Howes Place and improves highways safety, while providing sustainable transport requirements..

NHS officials noted that £174,800 would be required from the developers if the application proceeds to fund improvements in capacity at Huntingdon Road surgery or Girton.

A date has not yet been set for when the application will come back before the committee.

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