Bourne Airfield – a new development up before planners in South Cambridgeshire

This one us up before the local council’s planning committee on 19 Feb 2021 (so am writing this the day before). You can read Ben Hatton’s assessment in the Cambridge Independent here. This development links five settlements together about ten miles to the west of Cambridge. You can read about what has been promised here.

Above – from http://www.bournairfield.co.uk/

The application is being debated and voted on by the Planning Committee of South Cambridgeshire District Council on 19 Feb 2021 – the meeting papers are here, and the main application documents are here. The first document in the extended list is the one that has most of the information – but it’s a very heavy read. It has taken years to get to this point – which is the application for outline planning permission.

“Outline Planning Application (with all matters reserved except for access), for a new mixed use village comprising residential development of approximately 3500 dwellings; mixed uses comprising employment, retail, leisure, residential institutions; education, community facilities, open space including parks, ecological areas and woodlands, landscaping; engineering for foul and sustainable drainage systems; footpaths, cycle ways, public transport infrastructure; associated access and infrastructure. This application is subject to an Environmental Impact Assessment. “

South Cambridgeshire District Council – Bourn Airfield Application for Outline Planning Permission

What the above is not, is a detailed consideration of individual buildings within that development. These will be broken down into smaller developments/applications. What this application will do is to set out generally what class of building is planned for which part of the site – a former WWII-era airfield.

What the developers need to provide as part of the development – Section 106 / Community Infrastructure Levy

The Government recently published a research study on how funds collected are being used. You can read it here (August 2020). The list of requirements that planning officers have negotiated and recommended to be part of this application are listed in the Bourn Airfield Draft Committee Report (The first document). I’ve listed them below, with the exception of transport as there are so many that link to other schemes and providers:

Affordable and other housing
a) 40% of all accommodation on site to be affordable
b) A proportion of the market housing plots should be made available for self-builders – up to 5%


Education
a) 1 x 6FE secondary school
b) 2 x 3 FE primary schools with potential expansion to 4FE
c) Contribution towards special needs school at Northstowe
d) Community access agreement required


Sport and Recreation
a) 2 x Sports pavilions / changing rooms
b) Strategic open spaces with sports pitches
c) Play areas
d) Contribution towards new leisure centre at Cambourne
e) Strategic and other open space maintenance and management plan


Community
a) 2 x Multi-purpose Community Centres and indoor sports
b) Burial ground
c) Allotments
d) [CambsCC] Social Services Children Families and Adults service
e) Community Development Worker and Community Chest
f) Archaeological finds display
g) Faith space


Health
a) Health Care Facility


Waste
a) Household waste receptacles
b) Refuse Collection Vehicles
c) Contribution to Household Waste Recycling Centre

Other
a) Governance arrangements
b) S106 monitoring
c) Jobs brokerage”

/Ends

“Which things stand out?”

“…plots should be made available for self-builders – up to 5%” – for me this figure is far too small and will only encourage a monoculture of identikit designs and styles. This was something that former local MP Heidi Allen spoke out about, and called on large development plots to be broken up so that small firms of local builders could build small developments of up to six homes per development to sell on the housing market.

Schools – 2x primary, 1 x secondary.

The definition of “FE” or “Forms of Entry” is one I sourced from St Alban’s City Council here, via the Access to Information request site https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/ . “School provision is often described in terms of ‘Forms of entry’. 1 Form of Entry (FE) equals 30 places per year group. Primary schools typically have 7 year groups from reception through to year 6; therefore a 1FE school has 30 x 7 = 210 pupils. Many primary schools also have a nursery class, typically with 30 places which operates morning and afternoon sessions.”

My main concern in principle is that the children have enough space – in particular open green space. I think there’s an exercise to be done similar to The School We’d Like by The Guardian in 2001 and 2011. What are the priorities of this generation of children and young people? How can adults learn the lessons of what went wrong with previous housing developments in Cambridge that left little open space for children at state schools in the city?

Contributions to facilities outside the development

“Contribution towards new leisure centre at Cambourne” and “Contribution towards special needs school at Northstowe” are both worth looking at. The Northstowe contribution for me indicates that Cambridgeshire County Council has a moral duty to ensure that those children eligible for the school in Northstowe have suitable transport arrangements – whether that’s public transport or bespoke.

Above – from G-Maps, you can see the big “A” at the bottom left, the Northstowe site at the top with all the bubbles, with Cambridge at the bottom-right. The road route to/from Northstowe is just over 10 miles, but is not the easiest given the major arterial roads into Cambridge that need to be crossed.

For the leisure centre in Cambourne, I hope this includes a large swimming pool. This is planned as part of a separate development in Cambourne itself, but the last we heard from that in local news was in 2018 in the Cambridge Independent. The parish plan for Cambourne Parish Council here indicates the pool should be ready from the mid-2020s. People living in South Cambridgeshire may want to email their local councillors for a status update via https://www.writetothem.com/.

Archaeological finds display, and ‘Faith space

As opposed to “Reason space”? Conceptually I find this proposal utterly depressing because what it implies architecturally and design-wise is something that has to be as inoffensive to as many people as possible so as to be as bland and featureless as possible. We already have a case study for what this is like at Clay Farm, Trumpington, which not only do I find to be architecturally uninspiring, but as a community centre to be far too small to meet the aspirations of the new community.

“Are there alternatives to an anonymous ‘faith space’?”

I think there are – but they are ever so radical and would never get past the legal and heritage barriers.

“Such as?”

Do what the Victorian Cambridge folk did with the old St Andrew’s Catholic Church: Remove it brick-by-brick and rebuild it somewhere else. And that was a church built by Pugin. The reason for that was the construction of the mini-cathedral by Yolande Marie Lynn Stephens, who invested her fortune inherited from her husband (despite the best efforts of his relatives) in a host of different projects, one of them being the big church by Parker’s Piece. Unfortunately a couple of the buildings that might have been suitable – such as the old Victoria Road Congregational Chapel, have been long since demolished.

Above – the old Wesleyan Methodist Chapel on Hills Road – demolished in the early 1970s. Would have made a nice centrepiece for some of the new towns if taken down and rebuilt in one of the rapidly-growing surrounding towns. Castle Street Methodist Church is built in a similar style.

That’s not to say this wasn’t an identikit style in itself – it was. You can find similar chapels dotted all over the place. It’s just that there’s a little more to it than the minimalist generic ‘community centres’ that go up today, too many of which are architecturally anonymous and uninspiring, reflecting a financial incentive to expend as little money as possible while adhering to any legal requirements required by the planning permission and building regulations.

“Is there a better way?”

Allocate a specific site for a purpose along with a ringfenced contribution from developers, then invite the residents to decide for themselves what sort of building should be built there? Ultimately it’s not for someone like me to micromanage either the process or the choice. It’s a complicated issue – it involves politics and religion!

At the same time, and mindful of the loneliness and mental health epidemics that pre-date the Corona Virus outbreak (and also made worse by it), This from the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment for Cambridgeshire new developments in 2015.

Lessons from Cambourne

“One of the findings from the learning from Cambourne report is to provide and incorporate community buildings early in the stages of the development. One of the downfalls in a new community is not having community halls/meeting places built early on ie Community halls, pubs, youth clubs, sport provisions. There also needs to be provision for younger children such as play areas, skate parks etc. It was noted that the small skate park built was not particularly well lit, which discouraged children from using it.

“Loneliness and mental health problems were issues coming out of Cambourne partly due to the initial lack of community buildings. It is important to recognise that that people moving into communities may be moving away from their traditional support systems ie family and established communities with provisions to meet people and friends.”

New Housing Developments and the Built Environment JSNA 2015 – CambsCC

Which then indicates that whatever is built, is built in a manner that future generations can adjust it to their changing needs and aspirations.

Local history – from archaeological finds to more recent developments

In the grand scheme of things Bourn Airfield was not the most significant of wartime air fields surrounding Cambridge, but it was significant enough for the nazis to launch air raids on the site – then RAF Bourn, during WWII, even though there were only four raids, all minor in nature. Furthermore, if a race-hate nazi in a plane starts shooting machine-gun bullets at you, you’re going to know about it. Two de Havilland Mosquito fighter-bomber aircraft found this out the hard way when they were damaged in air raids in 1944. With the number of wartime airfields in the area, one could argue there’s a reasonable case for Bourn to host something more significant than a display board/cabinet of local finds.

The case for building facilities that serve beyond the growing settlements

By the time the main large developments are complete, the total population of the settlements will be over 20,000 people.

Above – from G-Maps, the three Cambournes, Bourn, and Caldecote. 3,500 homes are planned for Bourn Airfield. The population of the Cambournes is already around 10,000 – with an average of 2.8 people per new home added. Combined with the 1,800 at Caldecote and applying the 2.8 average to Bourn, you get above that 20,000 figure – the ballpark figure for where community services are self-sustaining, avoiding the trap of becoming a dormitory town.

Walking and cycling links – a huge opportunity to design out car travel for local journeys.

The new Living Streets Cambridge Group (formerly the Pedestrian Association) along with the Cambridge Cycling Campaign between then have roles to play in working with residents to generate ideas for local footpaths and cyclepaths that can link up not just the settlements but also the major community facilities.

East West Rail -a stop at Cambourne

That’s one of the proposals under consideration. The link between Sandy and Cambridge in the most recent publication from East West Rail has indicated that a route via Cambourne is their preferred route. Whether the approach to Cambridge is from the north or south remains to be seen, though Cambridge Approaches and the CamBedRailRoad support a northern approach.

With that in mind, and going by analysing audience data from The Junction in Cambridge, there’s a strong financial case for building a new arts centre – in particular a new theatre, within a short walk from a new railway station. The analysis I saw at an event several years ago showed the great distances people were prepared to travel to see shows at The Junction – some coming from the far outside the county. The more detailed analysis from The Arts Council on Theatre in England also has some interesting stats.

“Could a railway station and theatre/arts centre be the site of a new civic square for the settlements and villages?

I’m on public record as saying South Cambridgeshire Hall is one of the worst pieces of civic and municipal architecture I’ve ever seen, set within some of the worst urban design I’ve ever experienced. It doesn’t have to stay like that for the local council.

Above – Out on the edge – South Cambridgeshire District Council’s HQ far from the heart of the community it is supposed to represent and be accessible to.

The civic alternative available is to create a new civic square where the best features of Victorian municipal architecture form the basis of a new civic centre that also functions as a new headquarters for local government as well as being an arts venue. On the other side of the civic square you have your railway station and transport interchange. Then as soon as people step out of the railway station onto the civic square, the first thing they see is this wonderful town hall / arts centre building. It also means that *no one* will get lost trying to find the arts centre if arriving by rail for the first time. It’ll be right in front of them on the other side of the square – which will then become a place where people want to be.

The challenge is whether modern architectural cultures can respond to that challenge to design something that is genuinely inspiring, and not an identikit piece that could be built anywhere at minimum cost. The challenge is all the more greater given the post-Lockdown age that we are moving in, one where our values and aspirations have inevitably changed as a result of the collective trauma we are still experiencing. And it’s not just the architects. Or the planning professionals. Or the elected councillors. Or even the people who currently live in/around Cambourne. It’s all of us in/around Cambridge as well. As we come out of Lockdown, can we become better communities compared with what and where we were when the first Lockdown was implemented? That also means the City of Cambridge and its institutions, town and gown, looking out for the surrounding towns and villages too.

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