A new vision for the Cambridge Biomedical Campus – but what of the old vision?

You can have a look at their new document here.

You can have a look at the original 2020 Vision document from the early 2000s here.

The people behind the Cambridge Biomedical Campus must fund a proper evaluation of their original document and the aims/objectives within it. After all, there is room for improvement when it comes to evaluating past developments.

Housing and transport – pass or fail?

Depends what you are measuring it against.

If you look at house prices as a proportion of local incomes, it’s a fail. If you look at the timeline of delivering new infrastructure vs the timeline of delivering new homes and new workplaces, it’s also a fail. But it is not nearly as simple as that – and furthermore, a number of key factors in the success or otherwise of the Cambridge Biomedical Campus were not in the control of those charged with delivering and building the Campus.

2004 – when the 2020 vision was last updated, was a *very* different world to the one we are living in today. You can see that in the ambition in the document looking ahead to five years time, the knowledge of increasing budgets and the dream of eliminating waiting lists. Fast forward to even just before the pandemic and after a decade of austerity, during my own hospital stays in 2017/18, I couldn’t find a single member of staff with a good thing to say about government ministers responsible for health. The people of South Cambridgeshire rewarded them by replacing Heidi Allen MP (who stood down in the face of credible threats of violence to her safety) with a Boris Johnson loyalist, who stood accused by his Liberal Democrat opponents of voting against a ‘meaningful pay rise’ in 2020.

The impact of social media has transformed how the public receives information – and misinformation. Only now has the Electoral Commission finally issued substantive guidance on transparency in digital campaigning – something it should have had in place a decade ago. We’ve had a decade of devastating austerity, followed by the the rise and fall of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour, the outbreak of the biggest pandemic since the end of the First World War, and a move by too many people towards insecure and low-paid jobs. Finally we’ve seen the beginning of significant protests on climate change, and on equalities issues that have forced governments and large institutions onto the defensive.

Did Cambridge get the community facilities it needed in the 2006 Local Plan? You can read the Cambridge Local Plan here and judge for yourselves.

Population growth and community facilities keeping pace

We’ve just had the 2021 Census, and we will shortly receive the headline results on city population sizes. Between 2001-2011 Cambridge’s population increased by 15,000. We can expect a similar increase to have been recorded between 2011-21, with a total population exceeding 130,000 – and projected to grow further towards 150,000 by 2035.

I try to remind people that such a level of growth is the equivalent of increasing Cambridge by the size of a town like Haverhill, only 14miles down the road South Eastwards. An underrated town with a lovely town hall and a swimming pool, at 27,000 it’s one one of the largest towns with no railway station – a victim of Beeching’s cuts in the 1960s. With the town due to expand by another 33% the case to re-open the line whether by heavy or light rail to me is compelling. See http://www.railhaverhill.co.uk/

Looking at the 2006 Local Plan (below the grey box here) I pulled out this table.

I’m particularly concerned about the lack of large open green spaces in too many developments in and around Cambridge – in particular for teenagers. If one Hectare is just a little smaller than the size of a football pitch, is an open space less than a third of that size large enough for a few hundred teenagers mindful of the populations that are moving to Cambridge?

Furthermore, Cambridge University still has to build its swimming pool in the north west of the city. In the meantime over the next ten years, Cambridge’s population (not including South Cambridgeshire) will have expanded by nearly 50,000 people since the Millennium. Where is the new Swimming Pool to meet that demand? This was called for in the Cambridge & South Cambridgeshire Indoor Sports Facilities Strategy for 2016.

That same document illustrates which wards are anticipated to bear the brunt of the largest population increases. They are the forecasts from 2016-31.

Above – anticipated population growth 2016-31 for Cambridge, in the Cambridge & South Cambs Indoor Leisure Strategy (published 2016).

Note the massive increase in population for Queen Edith’s and Trumpington Wards, and also the Eddington and other developments in North West Cambridge.

Above – anticipated population growth 2016-31 for South Cambridgeshire, in the Cambridge & South Cambs Indoor Leisure Strategy (published 2016).

Note in South Cambridgeshire you’ve got growth covering Cambourne, Northstowe, and overspill from new developments in Cherry Hinton and East of Abbey.

500 pages of Cambridge & South Cambridgeshire Indoor Sports Vision!

This partly explains why I’m still single – I remember the existence of random documents like this and also watch BBC Parliament as background entertainment.

“Guilty as charged M’lud.”

Anyway, it’s Appendix C in this link – the 14MB document. Any document that is over a couple of MB in the meeting papers of any meeting tends to be a sign that says ***Look here!*** (See Cambridge City Council’s meeting calendar here – click on any of the “Planning Committee” meetings – they normally contain images of proposed developments up for approval).

The CBC says to local communities: “Please work with us”

“We are running the conversation on our vision alongside the local authorities’ Local Plan process. As part of the preliminary work, CBC has identified land near the Campus that would enable it to grow sensibly in order to turn the vision into a reality, and so is in dialogue with the relevant landowners to shape proposals.  We wish to hear your views and involve the local community in forming our proposals to help shape the future of the CBC.”from the Cambridge Network here, from 22 March 2021.

The Cambridge Water Crisis – a limit on CBC’s expansion? And the risk of non-violent direct action protests if expansion makes it worse?

“Grow sensibly”? We already have a water crisis in this part of the world – how can any growth be sensible unless and until you sort out the water problem first? Note that Cambridge was the scene of repeated protests by Extinction Rebellion throughout 2019, and that the Cambridge Schools Eco Council made up of primary and secondary school children have already presented their findings on local water shortages to Cambridge City Council. So if the Cambridge Biomedical Campus is going to grow, it must have worked up a solution with Anglian Water to bring in more water from where there are more plentiful supplies, and do so using renewable energy supplies. Failing that, it will need to help subsidise a retro-fitting operation for parts of the city to enable it to use up some of the savings. But the political and administrative logistics of that look significant.

At what point does Cambridge concede that it needs an alternative centre? And if so, what should be at the heart of it?

Because one of the very few people who has examined this in detail was Prof John Parry Lewis nearly half a century ago. His report scared the living daylights out of city and county councillors that they threw it out and forgot about it along with the hefty consultancy fee they paid him in 1970s money. But his report is still relevant to us today because he told the councillors what the deal was if Cambridge was to expand beyond the 100,000 population limit that the Holford Wright report had set back in 1950 for any population growth up to the end of the 20th Century.

An Eastward Expansion? This was rejected.

Note the Northern Bypass is now the A14. The phasing of the urban development would have increased Cambridge’s population to well over 200,000, necessitating what Parry Lewis called a new sub-regional centre.

A southern expansion? This may look more familiar, and the level of proposed growth was even greater than what has been delivered, and what is proposed today.

This was rejected too – note the Western bypass is now the M11, with the proposed new sub-regional centre being very car-centric being at the junction of the M11 at Harston – which would have been swallowed up into a conurbation linking it to Sawston and Great Shelford.

How do you integrate such large developments built in such a short space of time?

Above – from p9 of their vision document

At a personal level I’m generally of the view that powers far, far stronger and more influential than I will ever be have decided that Cambridge is going to grow. The best I can do is to try and make the negative externalities of that growth as small as possible through scrutiny and challenge through official routes. I don’t have the health to be taking part in fast-moving non-violent direct action campaigns. At the same time, the historian in me is more than aware that historical change often comes about when people take to the streets, challenge authority, and disrupt things. One of my favourite local historical figures, Eglantyne Jebb who founded Save the Children was arrested and convicted of breaking regulations under the Defence of the Realm Act after WWI for leafletting in Trafalgar Square. (You had to get permission from the War Office/censors to distribute such things at the time. Interesting given the public discourses on free speech).

My point is that the children and young people were instrumental in persuading the local councils to declare climate emergencies. They rightly expect them – and the CBC to act in a manner that reflects the climate emergency that is now upon us. That has to be reflected in the building efficiencies and urban design of any new developments. That means proactively and enthusiastically inviting and engaging with local communities *at design stage* and coming back with proposals that genuinely reflect their ideas, aspirations and concerns.

The risk of becoming an exclusive rather than an inclusive place

It used to be open fields when I was a child, but in recent times the housing developments in Trumpington have gone up. Not everything has gone well – as reflected by the spate of attacks and muggings on the footpath/cycleway between Cambridge Station and Trumpington. We know Cambridge is the most unequal city in the country. What is the CBC’s role in responding to this crisis?

A video on Inequalities in Cambridge, by Varsity UK

In particular, what is its role in encouraging people who move here to get involved in civic life – including local democracy? We have local elections coming up for both city and county councils – as well as the Metro Mayor & Police & Crime Commissioners. Will the CBC be encouraging people to take part? Will be hosting local debates on important local issues?

If the CBC is to expand further, what place is there for art, drama and music? We have The Junction in Cambridge by the railway station, but will there be anything for people living close to the CBC within walking distance that isn’t the small, bland, featureless Clay Farm Community Centre? The first woman to become Mayor of Cambridge, Eva Hartree deserved *far better* than the multi-functional Eva Hartree Hall which is only big enough to hold a couple of small badminton courts.

Above – Mayor Eva Hartree (1924/25), from the Palmer Clark archive in the Cambridgeshire Collection. Colourised by Nick Harris, Commissioned by Antony Carpen.

With Long Road Sixth Form College, the Cambridge Academy for Science & Technology, and Trumpington Community College, there are going to be *thousands* of teenagers in and around the CBC. What will be provision for them? Because a detailed consultancy report for the North East Cambridgeshire Development – a massive development in its own right, has already concluded that Cambridge is failing its young people. What will CBC do to avoid making the same mistakes, resulting in yet another generation of children, teenagers, and young people being failed by another round of housing growth?

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