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Why the Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group move is cause for celebration

Opinion | By Cllr Nichola Harrison

Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group (11124138)
Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group (11124138)

Marshall’s plan to remove its aerospace and defence business from Cambridge is enormous news for the city. Of course, the loss will be keenly felt by many people with connections to the company and its long aviation history, but there is much to celebrate.

For one thing, Marshall is clearly doing what’s best for them. They have, after all, been working towards a move for 20 years and would have gone already if they had found a suitable relocation site.

Cambridge Airport’s proximity to the urban area places environmental limits on its growth potential for aviation, so an ambitious company like Marshall was bound to look for pastures new. For what it’s worth, I guess their future lies not at Duxford or Wyton, but at the fast-growing aerospace hub at Cranfield. There Marshall can tap into the research community and share with others the high cost of operating a runway.

Cambridge too should be profoundly glad of the enormous opportunity that now arises. 'Cambridge East' – the airport site together with other land in the development pipeline - is big enough to create not just a new urban quarter like the successful developments at Trumpington and Eddington or the proposed development in the sewage works zone, but a second centre for Cambridge. It can provide a new focal point for the city and the wider sub-region, complementary and connected to the existing urban area, but with its own clear sense of purpose.

Cambridge Airport (11124175)
Cambridge Airport (11124175)

Development on this scale will help meet local growth needs over a long period. More than that, it has the potential to improve the city as a whole, for example by relieving visitor and commercial pressure on the historic city centre and the congestion associated with these. It can prompt improvements in the poorly-utilised Newmarket Road gateway, for example through the relocation of the retail warehouses (and perhaps the football ground). It can also reduce the development pressures on South Cambridgeshire's villages and countryside as well.

Certainly, this mustn’t be any old residential development with a supermarket and business park attached: it must have a beating heart. This might come from major cultural facilities such as a music venue, arts centre or showcase for Cambridge science, or from a new or expanding academic institution. Without doubt there must be an excellent transport system and green spaces and all the services that communities need, and the whole thing must be built to futuristic environmental standards. And – take note, Marshall - it must not escape the 40% affordable housing target as the nearby Wing development did.

Wing development plan by Marshall and Hill: the two combined firms are building 450 new homes off the Newmarket Road near Cambridge Airport. (11124226)
Wing development plan by Marshall and Hill: the two combined firms are building 450 new homes off the Newmarket Road near Cambridge Airport. (11124226)

But before getting into the detail, we need to think big. Years ago, experts advised the City Council that planning for Cambridge East would require a rethink of the vision and strategy for the overall city. I think that’s right, and the public must be closely involved in the exercise. It will not be good enough to dust down old planning documents as if nothing had changed. Fortunately, there is time to get this right.

Nichola Harrison is the Liberal Democrat county councillor for Market ward Cambridge. She was the city council’s executive councillor for planning policy from 2000 to 2005 and led the council’s plans for urban extensions at Trumpington, Eddington and the Cambridge Airport site.

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