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The five big uncertainties that will hold up progress on Greater Cambridge Local Plan until late 2025





A delay is now expected on progressing the Greater Cambridge Local Plan – the crucial planning blueprint that will determine where development takes place up to 2041.

It means decisions over where thousands of new homes can be built in Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire will be mired in uncertainty.

CI May 20023 Camb City Councillors, Councillor Katie Thornburrow, Petersfield, Labour, Executive Councillor for Planning and Infrastructure. Picture: Keith Heppell
CI May 20023 Camb City Councillors, Councillor Katie Thornburrow, Petersfield, Labour, Executive Councillor for Planning and Infrastructure. Picture: Keith Heppell

It is now expected that a new 30-month process to approve the Local Plan will not begin until autumn or winter 2025 - the time when it had been anticipated that the document would be with the government for approval.

A myriad of complications has beset the process, not least concerns over water supplies in the region, along with the government’s declaration that it wants to supercharge the growth of Cambridge by proposing “northwards” of 150,000 new homes in the area.

That is well above the 51,700 new homes that the early versions of the new Local Plan anticipated being built between 2020 and 2041.

Cllr Katie Thornburrow, executive councillor for planning, building control and infrastructure at Cambridge City Council, said: “There are so many moving parts, some of which are outside our control. The reality is that we need all of the pieces to come together at the right time so that we can ensure the plan is fit-for-purpose.

“With the scale of development that has been identified as needed by our local planners – let alone the amount of development suggested by government – it’s vital we get this balance right. The environment and water supply must be protected, alongside addressing the need for new homes and supporting employment.”

Councillors will now be asked to examine a new timetable for the Local Plan in the coming weeks, although at this stage it remains vague.

The councils have been working together for the first time on a joint Local Plan, as the Greater Cambridge Shared Planning Service, since 2019, with public consultations held in 2020 and late 2021, before they agreed a ‘development strategy update’ in early 2023.

The latest version identifies a need for a further 14,500 homes in Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire between 2020 and 2041, in addition to the 37,200 homes already provided for by the 2018 Local Plans. The councils say they must also plan a ‘buffer’ of 10 per cent, which would take the total up to around 57,000 new homes. The numbers are designed to reflect forecast of 66,000 new jobs in the area.

Some of the developments proposed in the emerging Greater Cambridge Local Plan 2020-2041
Some of the developments proposed in the emerging Greater Cambridge Local Plan 2020-2041

Sites such as Waterbeach New Town, Northstowe and Eddington are already earmarked for major housing growth, while major new developments are proposed at North East Cambridge, subject to a decision on Anglian Water moving its waste water treatment works, and at what is currently Cambridge Airport, which Marshall plans to vacate by the end of the decade, enabling the creation of a new Cambridge East development.

Five key uncertainties have hit the plans:

- Water supply: the councils warned in January 2023 that the lack of a sustainable water supply could delay existing plans for housebuilding if not addressed by the government. The government has now established a Cambridge Water Scarcity Group and allocated funding, but the work is in the early stages;

- Transport: after the Greater Cambridge Partnership shelved its congestion charge plans amid public opposition, local authorities in the region now need to work together on a Greater Cambridge Transport Strategy;

- Waste water treatment plant: A decision on Anglian Water’s Development Consent Order process to seek to move the sewage works from North East Cambridge to Honey Hill is not expected until the end of 2024. If approved, it would unlock land for the new North East Cambridge development, with thousands of new homes;

- National planning reforms: these are expected in autumn 2024 and while the plan is to speed up plan making, there is uncertainty over what changes may be needed to update the plan and what impact this could have on the timetable; and

- Cambridge 2024: Housing secretary Michael Gove’s bombshell announcement that he wanted more than 150,000 new homes for Cambridge, in an unspecified area, has thrown planners a huge curveball, and the councils are still waiting to understand what it will mean.

Without an up to date Local Plan, there will be concern that developers may win approval for developments that are not strategically planned.

However, it is not yet clear how much the final plan will be delayed.

A Greater Cambridge Planning Service spokesperson told the Cambridge Independent: “While the next stages of the plan making process will be later than originally planned, there will be a fixed term examination at the end which is intended to see significant time savings. Therefore, the overall delay when compared to our published programme may be limited.”

South Cambridgeshire Councillor Tumi Hawkins at Tithe Barn in Landbeach. Picture: Keith Heppell
South Cambridgeshire Councillor Tumi Hawkins at Tithe Barn in Landbeach. Picture: Keith Heppell

Cllr Dr. Tumi Hawkins, South Cambridgeshire District Council’s lead cabinet member for planning, said: “We have long said that water supply is a deal-breaker when it comes to the future of development in and around South Cambridgeshire. With that in mind, we welcome the recent government remarks around addressing the area’s water scarcity challenges – but these crucial issues are not yet fully resolved. Clearly before we can outline how we think Greater Cambridge could change in the years ahead, we simply must understand how these challenges will be met.

“Our aim is to make proper, coherent plans for our children and grandchildren’s benefit – but right now there are important unanswered questions, on vital topics, for us to be able to do that. Balanced alongside this – we are also of course aware of the consequences of not meeting local housing needs. This includes potential increases in housing costs and commuting, adding to our impact upon climate change.

“We already have a pipeline of new homes and employment sites across Greater Cambridge through the 2018 Local Plans. But we really do need clarity on key issues – such as water supply – before we can confidently outline what could follow.”

The Liberal Democrat cabinet at South Cambridgeshire District Council will discuss the updated timetable on 12 March, while Labour-run Cambridge City Council’s planning and transport scrutiny committee will discuss it on 19 March, before a timetable update is published.



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