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The challenge of finding space in our packed city

Office space is at a premium in Cambridge
Office space is at a premium in Cambridge

Space of almost every kind in Cambridge is at a premium.

Sarah Coates, of Penningtons Manches
Sarah Coates, of Penningtons Manches

The rental value of office space is the highest in any UK city outside London.

Within the science sector, laboratory space is at a 16-year low and the median price of residential property has increased by 47 per cent between 2010 and 2016.

This has resulted in developers exploring alternative spaces to develop. A number of key areas towards the outskirts of the city (for instance, Trumpington) were earmarked for expansion within Cambridge City Council’s 2006 plan, with the potential for further expansion into the surrounding green belt land.

The use of green belt land for development has often been debated. In March 2015 the former Prime Minister David Cameron claimed that “development on Green Belt was at its lowest rate since modern records began 25 years ago”. However, in 2009-10, 2,258 homes were approved and in 2014-15 this had risen to 11,977 homes.

Cambridge has seen a number of large expansion projects approved in recent years, an example of which is the Biomedical Campus expansion which was approved by South Cambridgeshire District Council in November 2016.

This has been particularly controversial due to the close proximity to a protected Nine Wells nature reserve. The council closely ruled in favour of the expansion which will provide 10 per cent more space for the biomedical laboratory and felt the development would not be to the detriment of the nearby nature reserve.

An article in The Guardian in late 2016 sparked a debate between plans to build on greenfield versus the approval of brownfield sites which are miles out of Cambridge.

Last year the council approved up to 15 new developments on brownfield sites, showing that they are considering all options and not sticking to one solution to solve the lack of space in Cambridge.

In other areas of the country the lack of space is also a contentious issue. Early last year Coventry Council published its local plan for development, which included a large area of green belt land to the north of Coventry being developed with 25,000 homes planned for the site. The plans would result in 10 per cent of the 3,000 hectares of green belt land losing their protected status and becoming prime development land. These plans show that Cambridge is not alone in the need for more development.

The many pressures for various uses of land mean that the council must undergo a very careful balancing exercise to ensure that one use (eg technology space or residential) isn’t overdeveloped compared to others, like industrial or retail for example.

• For help with property-related matters, contact Sarah Coates of Penningtons Manches on 01223 465428 or email sarah.coates@penningtons.co.uk.

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