The proposed Cambridge Biomedical Campus & Science Park North expansions will require developers to contribute substantially to new infrastructure – including water supply

You may have seen the recent announcements in the media – including this by Alya Zayed on the proposal to double the size of the Cambridge Biomedical Campus at Addenbrooke’s.

But before I get going, I remind readers and those behind the developments of the existing water crisis, and what Cambridge City Council & South Cambridgeshire’s joint planning service – the Greater Cambridge Planning Service has already stated: that it cannot come from the already over-stretched Cambridge Aquifer.

“There is no environmental capacity for additional development in the new Local Plan [2030 ono] to be supplied by with water by increased abstraction from the Chalk Aquifer. Even the current level of abstraction is widely believed to be unsustainable”.p17 here.

This is something I’ve asked the water companies to pick up on.

Linking the employment sites with new housing developments

You can see the official websites below:

The website of the Science Park North has this diagram of links to housing developments makes for interesting viewing:

Above – The proposed Science Park North and links to new homes.

As things stand with the present transport infrastructure, the towns of Cambourne, Haverhill and Wisbech are not linked to either. There is also no easy link for cyclists to get from Cambridge East to the Science Park – although the Chisholm Trail should make for a straight forward cycle route when complete.

Why the developers should incorporate Cambridge Connect Light Rail into their plans…

… and start funding the essential background studies that the New Mayor of Cambridge has said is beyond the timescale of his mayoralty – as well as legal powers and budget.

The proposals are getting to the stage where it now needs a serious injection of funding to commission the all-important feasibility studies.

You can see the latest iteration of the Cambridge Connect proposals below:

Above the latest iteration of the Cambridge Connect Light Rail plan for Cambridge and District. Wisbech Rail is far enough down the track so to speak that it is likely to open by the end of this decade. (I’d like it to be sooner, but hey).

My take is that even with the new water supplies piped in from outside, neither schemes are feasible without a new light rail network that goes under the city centre. As well as managing the tourist traffic that will inevitably return – though maybe not in the up-to-10million visitors per year, which was unsustainable anyway, there needs to be enough flexibility for enough of the workforce to live outside of the city with close access to the countryside and commute in, as well as providing those that want to live close to their place of work the opportunity to do so as well.

At the same time, it should provide an opportunity for firms interested in investing near Cambridge but perhaps unable to afford the high rents, to locate in places that could do with the investment – such as Wisbech and Haverhill. Such a network would give firms the chance to have a small office/presence in Cambridge, with their main economic activity taking place in one of the towns linked by rail or light rail.

Getting the transport infrastructure right.

Peter Wakefield of Rail Future (Join here!) gets it spot on with the station that should have been built decades ago.

When it comes to getting the sequencing of infrastructure badly wrong, Cambridgeshire has form – whether Cambourne or the ongoing legal wrangle with the guided busway. Smarter Cambridge Transport had a look at the latter and how it worked out vs what was proposed.

Transport strategy cannot be simply about getting people to and from work places.

Otherwise you end up with stuff like this:

…with apologists pointing to the economic growth while everyone else states that this only benefits the investors and not the people that live there.

Back in 2017 I blogged about how leisure, arts, and heritage needed to be incorporated into future transport plans. Back then I gave the examples of the Cambridge Museum of Technology and of Cambridge United Football Club as institutions whose fortunes could be transformed by improved transport infrastructure.

The following year I noted that the Economic Plan for Cambridgeshire missed leisure and climate change in their interim report. The authors took the hint and included both in their final report. Note this was published in Sept 2018 – which pre-dates the Extinction Rebellion protests, the election of Two Green Councillors to Cambridge City Council (the party polling 20% on average across the city), and obviously the pandemic.

Avoiding the risk of Cambridgeshire towns becoming dormitory towns for big hi-tech employment campuses.

Is the concept of large mono-functional city zones now obsolete? For example the 1980s-style out-of-town shopping centres? I remember the old Roaring Meg in Stevenage, which to 10-year-old me was the coolest place in the world because they had ice-skating rinks, swimming pools and bowling alleys on or near it. We’d get driven there by my late aunt and uncle who lived in a large house in one of the villages outside where buses feared to tread. So when we got to stay with them as we did every summer from the early 1980s to the mid-1990s, we got driven everywhere. Today, the sports facilities are all but gone – demolished to make way for more stores. (Read ‘profits’). Now full of identikit brands. A bit like Cambridge Leisure Park.

The poor management and over-leveraging of so many high street brands, combined with the growing calls for substantial responses to the climate emergency has created a perfect storm for out-of-town retail parks. Unable to compete with internet shopping, with stores highly leveraged which imploded in the face of the pandemic, and with growing calls for more sustainable transport – especially walking and cycling, the concept of the 15 minute city now threatens to destroy the business model and make it obsolete. Will we see the same with large tech parks?

Or will the developers create something where residents and leisure facilities – substantial lifestyle attractions that go far beyond the gyms and small halls we see far too often, are an integral part of the proposals?

I remain to be convinced that both proposals can come up with something that is not just environmentally sustainable, but also socially sustainable. It’s up to them to convince the people of Cambridge & beyond to prove otherwise.

“Does Local Government in Cambridge have the capacity to manage these sorts of planning applications?”

Obviously not – or I would not have asked the question. We saw how Cambridge City Council got absolutely rinsed by the Cambridge Station Development – and several of the ones around the station as well. The ongoing shortage of town planners at the city council is well known. Conservative ministers have repeatedly refused to remove the prohibitions on local councils from paying their staff more, and raising that revenue via increased fees to developers. Local councils simply cannot compete with private sector salaries.

“Cambridgeshire County Council cannot serve North Cambs and Cambridge City at the same time – it must go.”

I stand by the above headline that I wrote back in 2017 in this post. Nationally – in England anyway, we need a massive overhaul of local government: structures, powers, funding, systems, controls, the lot. It has been completely fragmented by successive ministers and governments that the entire sector is dysfunctional despite the best efforts of the councillors & officers that work within it. You only have to see the range of attempts by various people and institutions to work around the problem (for example with citizens’ assemblies, participatory budgeting, through to completely ignoring councils and going to ministers directly whether through means legitimate or underhand.

Earlier Dr Jo Bibby of The Health Foundation produced a thread on all of the various ideas that had come about on the theme of inclusive economies.

To which I responded:

Which matches what Dolly Theis has discovered about The Government’s own attitude to their own policy reports.

So I can’t see the present cohort of ministers or this current Parliament making the necessary changes because not only is this a very low-calibre Parliament, whose policy capacity has been shredded first by austerity, second by Brexit, and third by the response to the pandemic.

That leaves civic society with a huge amount of work to do in support of local councils to ensure that the proposals are properly scrutinised, and that the institutions responsible are prepared to act in good faith to deal with problems that not only won’t go away, but will inevitably increase in magnitude in the face of rising populations and the climate emergency.

If you are interested in the longer term future of Cambridge, and on what happens at the local democracy meetings where decisions are made, feel free to:

%d bloggers like this: