Six Mile Bottom Newtown east of Cambridge

Some of you may have seen the headlines proposing a new Westley Green on that is to be East of Cambridge. If you get me.

9.7) “New settlements have the benefit of starting from scratch. They allow the core areas to be suitably sized to meet the future anticipated needs and ensure that transport infrastructure is sufficient.”

From Six Mile Bottom Issues & Options Appraisal 2020 by Bidwells.

The above statement in the document linked above got me thinking as to what extent previous bespoke new towns around Cambridge had delivered a transport infrastructure that is sufficient. When I look at Bar Hill from the 1960s, and Cambourne in the 2000s, I question that statement.

It may be fine in principle, but the reality so far has been that both new settlements have failed to be sized suitably to meet the future needs, and have failed to ensure the transport infrastructure was sufficient. Even worse, no prominent evaluation has been done in a manner that future planners, developers, and policy makers have been able to learn the lessons of what went wrong in the past. These things only seem to gather dust in places where only people like me are sad enough to go looking for them. Hence the Lessons Learnt document on New Towns from my old workplace, the old Department for Communities and Local Government published in 2006. But it is an important document – the executive summary explaining:

“The research identified over 2000 articles, books, and other published sources
specifically referring to the New Towns. From this around 200 sources have been
reviewed to see what answers they might provide to a series of questions supplied
by the ODPM under eight main themes:

  • Delivery
  • Finance
  • Creating Communities
  • Governance
  • Economic Achievement and Competitiveness
  • Physical Environment and Design
  • Long-term Sustainability
  • End user experience”

Given the amount of money the developers and interested parties stand to make from this development, one of the things they might consider is funding some lessons learnt research on the local developments that precede this one. They also need to provide substantial proposals in response to this question that is not going to to away: *Where will all of the water come from?*

‘A garden town on the Cambridgeshire Border’

The first I knew of the proposals was from John Elworthy of the Ely Standard

You can read Mr Elworthy’s article here.

8.500 homes is a significant number for a place effectively starting from scratch. But it is not being built in the middle of nowhere – rather it is planned for the intersection of two major regional roads.

Above – the map at the end of the Bidwells Issues and Options Appraisal 2020.

What you have is where the A14 and the A11 merge and bypass to the north west, one of the homes of the equine industry, Newmarket, before the roads split again.

Above – Cambridge and Newmarket on G-Maps.

With Cambourne west of Cambridge, Waterbeach to the north, and both Bar Hill and Northstowe north-west, you could say it was about time that the land east of the city got something.

“Has there been any opposition yet?”

Scepticism inevitably on social media local news pages, mainly on the green credentials and on the scale. Similar scepticism on size and the loss of agricultural farm land were also raised in response to this post by Wendy Blythe of the Federation of Cambridge Residents’ Associations.

Given the water crisis, given the climate crisis, given what we’ve all been through with lockdown, and ultimately because of the long term issues with previous developments that still remain unresolved (such as sustainable mass transport to/from Cambourne-Cambridge), you can hardly blame people from responding to the news of new housing developments with more than just a little bit of scepticism. And this is all happening at the same time the next series of public hearings at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry are taking place. And in the evidence sessions already, very serious questions are being asked about the entire construction industry. And rightly so given that 72 people paid with their lives in that inferno that was utterly avoidable.

This is not to say that the developers are planning on building an estate full of substandard homes. They are not. It’s to say that the public knows that the construction industry has serious issues to resolve because two days ago the Housing Secretary in a widely publicised statement to the House of Commons committed £5billion to building safety – a figure that critics insisted was not enough – ‘Too little, too late’ is the title of this extended BBC News report. This is being done because the industry could not come to an agreement on who should fund the remedial work that post-Grenfell building inspections had uncovered.

“Who is in favour of it?”

Anyone who thinks house prices or rents are too high in and around Cambridge? The developers were also quoted in Suffolk News as saying the existing Cambridge – Newmarket – Bury St Edmunds railway line provides an opportunity to link up with any proposed Cambridge Metro system. You can see the old Six Mile Bottom railway station on the map of the pre-Beeching rail network. Warning – once you start looking at the old map you will be looking at it for a very long time – it’s addictive!

Above – a snapshot of the old rail lines and present lines from the New Adlestrop Railway Atlas

Alternatively you can pass time by looking at this digitised map of Cambridge from 1901-03 by the National Library of Scotland.

Above – Six Mile Bottom and small railway station from the turn of the 19th/20thC. From the National Library of Scotland.

My take?

With most things on housing developments I’ve almost gone past the point of caring. I just don’t have the mental headspace to deal with it. I can see it going ahead unless the economy and society utterly implode and collapse for whatever reason, because the economic, financial, and national party political interests so strongly incentivise building in and around the city where possible permission is available, that they almost require such developments to go ahead.

That plus the wide open spaces of the area around the major pieces of transport infrastructure – road and rail, make it easier for planners and developers to say that the area is noisy and polluted anyway, so may as well build homes on there and use some of the money generated from property sales to improve the road and rail lines so as to reduce the noise generated through improved urban design and things like noise barriers.

But the unanswered question for all of these new developments remains:

“Where is the water going to come from?”

Because the new housing developments will not be ‘zero water’ so to speak. So that means either a new supply has to be piped in from somewhere far away, and that some major retrofitting and leak repairing has to take place in the built environment already in place. And that won’t come cheaply. Furthermore, you can imagine residential home owners resenting having to pay for the improvements that might require them to pay up if they see it as only enabling more homes to be built elsewhere that someone else financially profits from.

If the development does go ahead in the end, one of the first organisations that should be looking to buy up some development rights should be Addenbrooke’s Hospital & Royal Papworth, for accommodation for their staff. This assumes that the development has a direct light rail/metro link to the Cambridge Biomedical Campus that enables people to get to/from the stations within 15 minutes – thus having a short commute. But this also assumes that both the station at the Addenbrooke’s end, and the medium/higher density accommodation needed to maximise the benefit for as many staff as possible, is built within a very short walk from the station at the other end. And looking at Cambourne where the mass transit was never built in the first place *despite* repeated rhetoric about building the infrastructure before the homes, there’s no guarantee that such a development would incorporate this given how successive governments don’t like being prescriptive about things like this.

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