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Queens’ College wins fight to build student blocks next to Paradise Nature Reserve

Campaigners who tried to prevent poplar trees being chopped down and student blocks being built against the boundary of a local nature reserve say they are ‘devastated’ after the Planning Inspectorate gave the plan the go ahead.

Queens’ College has been given permission today (Wednesday, November 15) to build four student blocks at its Owlstone Croft property next to Paradise Nature Reserve in Newnham following a planning appeal against a Cambridge City Council decision.

View of proposed development at Owlstone Croft from Paradise Nature Reserve
View of proposed development at Owlstone Croft from Paradise Nature Reserve

And this permission includes felling a line of poplar and ash trees known to be a bat corridor.

Pam Gattrell, Chair of the Friends of Paradise Nature Reserve, said: “We are completely devastated. It’s a sad day for Paradise Nature Reserve and for the community and the city, knowing that irrevocable damage will now be done to this unique natural asset. We are just shocked.”

The development will involve the demolition of a nursery on the Owlstone Croft site as well as partial demolition, refurbishment and extension of other existing college buildings and the erection of four accommodation blocks containing 60 rooms for postgraduate students. There will also be associated landscaping, car and cycle parking, refuse and other storage and a new electricity substation within outbuildings.

City councillors had cited the “excessive height, scale and massing” of the building next to the reserve, concerns about the project’s impact on the bat population and the adverse effects on the wetland habitat when they initially refused permission for the development.

Paradise Nature Reserve - chair of friends Pamela Gatrell . Picture: Keith Heppell
Paradise Nature Reserve - chair of friends Pamela Gatrell . Picture: Keith Heppell

But following a planning inquiry in September, the Planning Inspectorate has decided the height of the blocks is not harmful, and “would not result in a stark and overbearing elevation” next to the reserve.

Regarding the three poplar trees and two ash trees on the site along the edge of the nature reserve, which runs along the River Cam, the planning inspector said: “Whilst the removal of the trees would adversely affect the small strip of (Protected Open Space) within the appeal site, when viewed against the backdrop of the wider (Protected Open Space) encompassing the (nature reserve), there would be no overall visual change in the character of the wider (Protected Open Space).”

Therefore, he decided that felling the five trees would not alter ” the overall character” of the Protected Open Space and could go ahead.

As a result of the decision, Queen’s College can now go ahead with the felling of the five trees.

The Planning Inspector also found that as long a lighting restrictions were in place “the proposal would not result in harm to ecology and biodiversity having regard to the Paradise Local Nature Reserve.”

Paradise Nature Reserve. Picture: Keith Heppell
Paradise Nature Reserve. Picture: Keith Heppell

Pam Gattrell, chair of the Friends, said: “We are telling people to go to Paradise now while the poplar trees are still there. Go now while it’s still quiet and tranquil and dark at night. Because it won’t be there for much longer. I have called people to let them know about the decision and they have said, Oh, I’m going to go and walk there now because I can’t bear the thought of those trees going. I know that felling the trees is the first thing that will happen. So please, go and see the trees in their autumn glory while you still can.”

A spokesperson fro Queens’ College said: “Queens’ College welcomes the outcome of the planning appeal for the Owlstone Croft in Newnham, Cambridge – an important step in our ongoing efforts to enhance educational facilities and living spaces for students.

“We now look forward to continuing to collaborate with the City Council, the Newnham community, the Primary School, and local groups in implementing this exciting project. We remain committed to delivering sustainable community-focused homes for our Postgraduates, consistent with providing significant biodiversity benefits and preserving the ecological value of the surrounding area.

The detailed information about the plans, may be found on our website (www.owlstonecroft.co.uk).”

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