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Queens’ College appeals refusal of student block next to nature reserve





A planning inquiry opening this week is set to hear an appeal by Queens’ College against a decision by Cambridge City Council to refuse permission for a 60-room student block next to a nature reserve.

The college wants to build the three-storey building at its Owlstone Croft property against the border of the Paradise Nature Reserve in Newnham, but was turned down by councillors in January.

Campaigners present the petition at the Porters' Lodge against the Queens' College proposals. Picture: Keith Heppell
Campaigners present the petition at the Porters' Lodge against the Queens' College proposals. Picture: Keith Heppell

Councillors 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.

Pam Gatrell, the chair of Friends of Paradise Nature Reserve, said: “The harm done to a beautiful and biodiverse green space would be irrevocable, with the protected bats and water voles disappearing and the tranquillity lost forever due to light and noise pollution, disturbance and loss of landscape and views.”

If the decision is reversed, the project would mean the demolition of a nursery building, 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 would be associated landscaping, car and cycle parking, refuse and other storage and a new electricity substation within outbuildings.

The inquiry at the Guildhall will hear from representatives of the city council and Queens’ College, the Friends group, Newnham Croft Primary school and local residents.

The Friends have raised concerns that a line of poplar trees along the border of the reserve, where bats have been recorded, will be chopped down to ensure drainage.

A statement of case submitted by the group said they oppose the appeal because it posed an “unacceptable threat to the habitats within the Paradise Nature Reserve and the protected species also present in the reserve and, given its proximity, the appeal site.”

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

The Friends are concerned about the height and size of the building and the effect it would have on people’s enjoyment of the reserve because of the “overbearing nature of the development” and ”the loss of the open light aspect and tranquillity”. They warn lighting from the building will affect the bat population and claim a bat survey carried out for the college was incomplete

Newnham Croft School, which would be just 20 metres away from parts of the building works, has also raised objections to the student accommodation.

Representatives for the school said in a letter submitted to the inquiry said: “We object to the planning proposal on the strongest possible terms due to the health risk it poses to children as we know how hard it is in reality to mitigate against PM (small particle) pollution and this reality must be considered in deciding this application, as it is the reality of harming children’s health we are dealing with. Schoolchildren are legally bound to attend school all day every day and it is all our duty to ensure this is a safe space. For children (the most vulnerable to PM exposure) to be within such an immediate proximity subject to prolonged and persistent exposure for two years is a clear danger to health.”

Meanwhile, The Federation of Cambridge Residents’ Associations has also opposed the building, stating that the “overbearing height, massing and location of the four blocks of accommodation would result in a detrimental impact on the setting and amenity value of Paradise Nature Reserve and the Newnham Croft Conservation Area”.

How the Queens' College accommodation would look. Picture: Queens' College Cambridge
How the Queens' College accommodation would look. Picture: Queens' College Cambridge

The group adds: “It would blight and diminish this treasured public green space whose informal and ‘wild state’ makes it unique and so attractive to wildlife and visitors.

“Cambridge’s river corridor spaces, with their famously rural vibes, are world famous. They are the equivalent of the city’s family silver – the environmental commons, the Cam’s green spaces, loved and shared by all ages and by both town and gown.”

However, agents acting for Queens’ College said in a statement to the inquiry “the appeal proposal is a high quality, highly sustainable, landscape led, well-designed and well-considered scheme which is in accordance with the development plan and is entirely appropriate for its context”.

The agents add that the student accommodation has been “designed by an award-winning architectural practice” in consultation with council planning officers, who recommended it for approval.

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

Ecological surveys, including of the use of the site by bats and the impact of lighting upon them, were “carried out, expanded upon and developed in consultation with officers”, the agents said.

The point out that council officers did not suggest there would be any harm to the conservation area and say “the appeal scheme achieves biodiversity net gain across the site of more than 50 per cent”, while the building will achieve net zero carbon following construction.

The planning inquiry begins at 10am on Tuesday, September 26.



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