Why Thakeham’s plans for 25,000 homes in South Cambridgeshire will still be considered for the Local Plan
Thakeham’s proposals for a new 25,000-homes community in the South Cambridgeshire countryside will be considered by planners, despite missing the deadline for inclusion in the latest phase of Local Plan process by months.
Residents and politicians were left stunned on Monday when the development company unveiled its vision for the UK’s first ‘zero-carbon community’ on an undefined area of land around Barrington, Bassingbourn-cum-Kneesworth, Foxton, Meldreth, Orwell, Shepreth, Whaddon and Wimpole.
Politicians were quick to condemn the plans for a new town and connecting villages, and a campaign group to fight the concept has already been established.
The scale of the plans - five times the current size of Cambourne, to put it in context - was undoubtedly the biggest shock.
But there was also surprise, and dismay, that the West Sussex-based group had delivered the proposal now, long after ‘call for sites’ to be considered for inclusion in the next Local Plan had closed.
South Cambridgeshire District Council and Cambridge City Council called on landowners and developers to pitch their development proposals for the region in 2019, and then again during a consultation known as the First Conversation in January and February 2020. You can search for all the sites submitted using our online interactive tools.
Thakeham gave no indication at that stage that it was proposing to put forward its radical plans and yet their proposals - once submitted - will still be considered as a late entry.
The Cambridge Independent understands the lateness of the submission in the process will not count as the chances of the proposals progressing.
Cllr Katie Thornburrow, executive member for planning and open spaces at Cambridge City Council, explained: “We are disappointed that this proposal was not submitted at the same time as all the other significant sites currently being considered. We can understand that people, particularly those living close to the site, may be concerned that it may not receive proper scrutiny. I can assure all in the community who are interested that this is most definitely not the case.
“Assuming Thakeham submit further information to us, their proposal will go through exactly the same process as all other sites submitted after the end of the formal call for sites. Officers would add it to the list of late submitted sites and it would be assessed in due course, against the same stringent criteria as all other sites.”
The councils - working together as the Greater Cambridge Shared Planning Service - are currently appraising more than 650 proposals that were put forward during the call for sites, ahead of a formal consultation on those that meet the councils’ criteria, such as environmental tests, in summer or autumn next year.
Most of these proposals, which include several for new towns in the countryside, as the Cambridge Independent has reported, will not be needed to meet the region’s housing needs.
During the creation of South Cambridgeshire’s last Local Plan, for example, about 400 sites were put forward and only 10 per cent were actually chosen to be developed.
With thousands of new homes already in the pipeline at Cambourne West, Bourn Airfield and Northstowe, plus the new town of Waterbeach on its way, a significant proportion of the region’s housing need to 2040 is already known.
However, there remains some uncertainty over how many homes will be built.
Announcing their initial findings last month, the councils said: “Under the standard method set by national government, the minimum number of new homes that would need to be built in the area is around 1,900 per year. This is about 180 more homes per year than we currently have in our development pipeline.
“However, taking into account forecasts for jobs growth in the area, there may be a case for planning for between 2,200-3,000 homes per year, to help reduce pressure on house prices and commuting into the area. This would mean finding sites for up to 1,250 extra homes per year.”
Sites are being assessed for inclusion in the 2021 consultation on the Local Plan against the councils’ vision, with their impact on the local landscape and townscape, neighbouring land uses, water supply, transport and roads, taken into account. Sites must “set a high bar for environmental standards”.
Cllr Dr Tumi Hawkins, South Cambridgeshire District Council’s lead cabinet member for planning, said: “We know that any proposals for a large development like this can be concerning for residents.
“However, I want to emphasise that this suggested site will be treated just like any other site put forward. But for that to happen, we need Thakeham to do more than announce an aspiration. If they want us to consider their specific proposals through the Local Plan process it would be helpful for them to provide all the site information we need.
“This will be published on our website and we will use it to carry out all the necessary assessments. None of the site assessments are complete yet, and many sites will not make it past the first hurdle.
“There will be lots of time for residents to comment on the sites we propose as part of the overall approach to the plan, when we undertake consultation on the preferred options next summer. There will also be full public consultation on the draft plan, and the pre-submission plan. We are working harder than ever to involve our local communities in the creation of our next Local Plan and we will ensure this remains the case.”
Asked why entries submitted past the call for sites deadline are still considered, even though more than enough development land has been identified, a South Cambridgeshire District Council spokesperson said: “Through the plan-making process, we are exploring the options available, including those suggested to us through the call for sites. We will then identify the strategy and sites to go forwards for consultation as part of our preferred options stage next year.
“We hold a call for sites as it is helpful to have potential sites submitted early in the process. We assess sites that are put forward during the early stages of plan making, and as we are still at that stage, we have been accepting late submitted sites. If new sites are registered we publish the information on our website.”
Thakeham told the Cambridge Independent it had not been ready to submit during the call for sites process.
A spokesperson said: “We are at an early stage of forming our vision. South West Cambridgeshire represents an exciting opportunity to develop a carbon neutral development to facilitate Cambridgeshire’s future growth.
“Thakeham is committed to ensuring that the evolution of its proposals for South West Cambridgeshire will be in consultation with all tiers of government, including the Greater Cambridge Partnership, national Government and the local community.”
CEO Rob Boughton said the company’s vision was to “to create the UK’s first truly sustainable new community” - a “zero-carbon place with green transport links, where school and work are readily accessible and community facilities are owned by the local residents”.
But Cllr Aidan Van de Weyer, a South Cambridgeshire district councillor and Liberal Democrat candidate for the role of Combined Authority mayor, said: “Villages like Barrington, where I live, Shepreth, Melbourn, Meldreth, Whaddon, Bassingbourn, Wimpole, Orwell and Foxton will simply cease to exist in any meaningful way as they are overlaid by 25,000 homes and the necessary infrastructure that goes with them.”
South Cambridgeshire’s Conservative MP Anthony Browne has condemned Thakeham’s plans as “unwanted and unsustainable” and said they would destroy villages’ way of life.