Why councillors approved new police station for green belt in Milton to replace Parkside in Cambridge
Councillors who approved plans today for a new police station in Milton were tasked with deciding if there were “very special circumstances” to justify develoment in the green belt that would outweigh the harm caused.
The members of South Cambridgeshire District Council’s planning committe voted on Wednesday (March 10) by six to four in favour of the move.
It means Cambridgeshire South Police Station will be built on farmland adjacent to the Milton Park & Ride, replacing Parkside in Cambridge city centre as the southern hub for the force.
It is planned to be operational by 2023.
The approval is subject to the decision being referred to the secretary of state for local government, Robert Jenrick, owing to the scale of the proposed development in the green belt.
Cambridgeshire police use a “two-centre policing model,” with two main stations acting as hubs and providing custody suites, one in the south of the county, currently Parkside, and one in Peterborough.
While the new station will replace Parkside, the force has committed to retaining a police station in the city as well.
Council planners recommended councillors to approve the application, arguing it would provide “significant public benefit”, and said that the police carried out an extensive search for appropriate sites, and that the location adjacent to the Park & Ride was found to be the least harmful to the green belt.
But Cambridge Past Present and Future, a charity which focuses on preserving the area’s heritage and green spaces, objected to the application, describing it as “inappropriate” in the green belt.
The charity’s chief executive, James Littlewood, said: “Not being able to afford somewhere outside of the green belt does not qualify as an exceptional circumstance.”
Council planners argued it would not set a precedent for further development in the surrounding area, but Mr Littlewood rejected that and pointed out the lower quality landscape of the Park & Ride and recycling centre had been used to justify the location.
“We all know that development attracts more development – to argue otherwise is to deny the evidence,” he said.
Milton Parish Council also objected to the application, citing similar concerns over the green belt, and raising concerns the station could lead to a rise in crime in the area.
Cambridgeshire Constabulary argued Parkside does not meet current standards, has insufficient custody space – leading to officers using time and resources to ferry people to the custody suites in Peterborough – and said it has “no option” but to construct a new and larger police station.
The force considered 22 sites, of which three were suitably sized and available for development. All three were in the green belt, but the Milton Park & Ride site was deemed to be the one that would cause the least harm.
Supt James Sutherland, the area commander for the south of the county, told the committee: “Our proposals respond to the changing nature of crime and policing in Cambridgeshire alongside local population and economic growth. Our current operation does not allow us to fully respond to today’s needs.”
He described the relocation for the southern hub as “essential”.
The superintendent said he was not aware of any evidence that would suggest the police station would increase the area’s crime rate, but rather that it could have the opposite effect.
The accessibility of the site was raised as a concern both before and during the meeting.
The superintendent detailed the legal and ethical obligations the force has towards those who are detained, which he said do not stop when a person is released from custody. And he reassured councillors that the police undertake “extremely detailed” assessments prior to releasing anyone, including assessing how they will get home, and what their risk is to the wider public.
Council planner Lewis Tomlinson said the application “is assessed on its own merits and does not set a precedent for further development”.
Six councillors voted that the application had met the test of “very special circumstances” and that the benefits outweigh the harm of development in the green belt, while four councillors found that not to be the case.
Cllr Richard Williams (Con, Whittlesford), who voted against approving the application, said the test was an “extremely high bar”, which he was unconvinced had been met.
Cllr Tumi Hawkins (Lib Dem, Caldecote), who voted to approve, said the site was the “least worst” of the three options considered by the police, noted the current police station was “inadequate” for the force’s future needs, and said new facilities were needed “so they can continue to protect us”.
In a statement issued after the meeting, Supt Sutherland said: “After a considerable planning and consultation process, we’re delighted to say that planning permission has now been granted.
“We are extremely excited about the new development and the opportunities it will provide us, including adequate cell provision, which will inevitably reduce travel and time costs allowing our officers to spend more time on patrol.
“We are grateful to everyone who has supported us with this project and we look forward to moving on to the construction phase of the project which we anticipate will start in December with a view to being operational in the summer of 2023.”
The Parkside police station site is due to be sold off.