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Queens’ College plan for student accommodation beside Paradise nature reserve in Cambridge recommended for approval despite outcry





A plan to build student accommodation next to a nature reserve in Cambridge is recommended for approval today (Wednesday) in spite of a petition against it signed by more than 2,000 people and almost 200 letters of objection.

The proposal, which will come before Cambridge City Council’s planning committee is for Queens’ College to build four student accommodation blocks containing 60 rooms next to the boundary of Paradise Nature Reserve.

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

But fears have been raised that the proposed blocks could impact on bat populations in the nature reserve due to light pollution from the buildings, while some groups are concerned that the development will impact on the look of the conservation area and that noise and dust from the building site could affect the neighbouring Newnham Croft School, among other worries.

Objections have been sent to the council by ramblers, the Federation of Cambridge Residents’ Associations, Living Streets, Cambridge, Past, Present and Future, the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE), Friends of the Earth, Friends of the Cam and the Wildlife Trust as well as the Friends of Paradise Nature Reserve group.

There were also letters from the local primary, Newnham Croft School, South Newnham Neighbourhood Forum and from ward councillors.

Newnham Croft community representatives with a petition against the proposals. Picture: Keith Heppell
Newnham Croft community representatives with a petition against the proposals. Picture: Keith Heppell

The Friends of Paradise group commissioned a report that found eight bat species living in the trees along the boundary of the reserve, where it meets the Queens’ College site, including the endangered barbastelle bat.

The report, by Bioscan, said there had not been “an adequate assessment of the current status of the species population, or the species’ use of the site and other adjacent habitats, or the impact of the proposed development on legally-protected species, national and Cambridgeshire specific bat species and their habitats”.

The proposed Queens' College accommodation. Image: Queens’ College
The proposed Queens' College accommodation. Image: Queens’ College

The Friends said: “The council does have policies to protect species and their habitats in a conservation area, and this application does not meet these policies.”

However, council planning officers have concluded that the number of rare bats flying along the boundary of the reserve is low.

They say: “It is considered that the barbastelle activity is likely to represent a single or very low number of barbastelle bats commuting past the site, whilst using the River Cam corridor. The applicant’s bat survey report details barbastelle activity when the existing nursery lights were on, suggesting that the individual/s are tolerating existing lighting within the site and wider urban habitats.”

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

They added that “any potential harm to bats will be minimised and mitigated through the control of light lux levels” and temporary noise disturbance during construction will be “minimised and mitigated”.

But the Friends point out that rare bats will be seen in low numbers and that the number and type of bat surveys have been inadequate.

In another letter to officers, a group of parents at Newnham Croft School objected to the planning proposal in “the strongest possible terms due to the health risk it poses to children”, raising the possibility of air pollution caused by particulate matter during building works.

Planning officers considered that the risk to people was “not significant” if correct mitigation was put in place.

Meanwhile, the conservation group Cambridge Past, Present and Future complained: “The development of three-storey high buildings in close proximity to the local nature reserve will have an adverse impact on the character and amenity of the reserve.”

Council officers, however, stated: “It is not considered that any harm to the character and appearance of the conservation area nor the setting of the building of local interest would result from the proposed development.”

And while the proposed development measures 12 metres high from the boardwalk in the nature reserve, they considered that “the overall scale of the development is considered acceptable”.

Officers have advised committee members to approve the proposal but the decision will rest with councillors.



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