“So, where on this map will our rowing lake, concert hall, and light rail stops go? And how will you stop the lights going out?”

Councillors must insist that the various projects and programmes that will decide the future of our city & county all work together. Because at the moment there is room for improvement. Water and electricity remain major constraints on developments.

I bought a map of Cambridge & District recently. Disappointingly I could not find any bookshops in Cambridge City Centre that sold a paper copy of a single sheet map of the whole of Cambridge – just the tourist centre seemed to exist.

The successive narrowing of the local planning process over the past century

Let’s take Davidge in 1934 – his ground-breaking report highlighted proposed transport improvements – such as the still-unbuilt bridge over the railway line at Foxton…

…and the proposed revision of the district councils within what was a much smaller Shire-level Cambridgeshire County Council – sometimes called Cambridge County.

The same was the case for Holford and Wright – as much a transport plan as a housing plan – the very large colour map (which I’ve digitised here) not only denoting the areas for future housing development, but also proposed transport infrastructure – such as the unbuilt road flyover that would have linked Milton Road with Newmarket Road over Stourbridge Common (and would have been a monster).

…and also the unbuilt second railway station entrance on the other side of the railway line – something that would make a significant difference to people living in East Cambridge, and reduce over-crowding at the main entrance.

The current regime of local plan-making separates town planning from transport planning

This goes against a core recommendation of the Royal Commission on Local Government 1969 (the summary of which I’ve digitised here), which strongly recommended that anything affecting the physical environment – such as town planning and transport – needed to be kept in the same tier of local government. The Commissioners also recommended that personal services such health, social services, and education, should also be kept in a tier together – and at a more localised level. Thus at present we have two district councils working together on a joint local plan. Which speaks volumes about the size and structures of our set up in and around Cambridge – noting the municipal boundaries have not changed since 1935 even though the city’s population has doubled and has neighbourhoods that already spill over into South Cambridgeshire. Their work is separate to the work by the Combined Authority on the new Local Transport and Connectivity Plan. (LTCP)

“So…when does each bit get published and go out to consultation?”

The Mayor’s statement said the LTCP will go out to consultation sometime in the autumn. Looking at the Combined Authority’s meeting schedule (I’m a real sadsack on this – it’s ten past midnight v early Sunday morning!) I expect it will be published in the first week of November as their Transport Committee has to scrutinise it in public at their meeting on 08 Nov 2021. Assuming they are satisfied and recommend it for public consultation, the Combined Authority Board will be asked for their approval at their meeting on 24 November 2021. Which means that there will be a crossover between 24 November – 13 December when *both* the first draft of the Greater Cambridge Local Plan (covering Cambridge & South Cambs) and the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough LTCP (which covers the whole county plus Peterborough) will be out to consultation.

These documents do not deal with the public utilities

The Water Regulator OfWat has just published its decision on a proposed Reservoir in Fenland – moving to the next stage where the water companies have to decide on specific locations and undertake detailed environmental assessments.

…and by the looks of them they need to step it up given the lowest score on their first stage assessments was on the Environment.

It’s worth noting that there also very serious concerns about electricity supply to the Cambridge area – as Cllr Simon Smith (Labour – Castle) said at the City Council’s Transport & Scrutiny Committee Meeting at the end of September. I’ve been aware of this issue anecdotally but it’s only recently that I’ve seen it raised in the public sphere.

You can read the above document here. The problem is distribution of electricity rather than capacity of generation – mindful of the number of offshore wind farms that have already been built, and those that are in the pipeline.

Above – the proposals from Scottish Power Renewables east of Great Yarmouth.

The future vision – linking up our villages, towns, and cities using active transport and renewables-powered public transport such as light rail

I’m still going to bang on about the case for a Greater Cambridge Light Rail – Cambridge Connect being the only project in the game at present. However, it relies on having that electricity transmission infrastructure in place – as do our proposed electric buses.

What we’re yet to do is to go beyond A-to-B commuting and look at how to design a transport network that serves activities other than travelling to work or study. For example local tourism and day trips. What would be the best type of network that might serve existing attractions such as:

The future of public sport and leisure facilities is also covered by this. They were covered in a recent report that I covered in this recent blogpost.

These won’t necessarily be A-to-B lines that you might expect from say the proposed Cambourne-Cambridge Busway. (Which in my opinion should be a light rail line that extends to Haverhill and goes underground at West Cambridge and emerges east of Addenbrookes.)

Above – exploring post-2030 options and building light rail loops that could serve multiple towns, attractions, and venues at the same time. (See my blogpost here). In this case, a route from Haverhill (having already served Linton) at the end of a light rail line that could serve Saffron Walden, and head back up serving Duxford, Sawston, some of the southern science parks and employment centres, before heading back into Addenbrooke’s and the railway station.

That also means co-ordinating it with the Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire Indoor Leisure and Sports Facilities Strategy – now urgently in need of a refresh. The same goes for the Greater Cambridge Sports Pitches Strategy for the same time period – 2015-31. How can they be incorporated into the future of transport – and the future of our health – mindful that we put more value on our outdoor open spaces than prior to when the Covid Pandemic hit. The problem at the moment is there does not seem to be a mechanism (or the funding) to enable incorporating overhauling and improving our civic & leisure infrastructure with what’s happening with housing and transport. My fear is that developers will deliberately under-provide for leisure facilities – because that is their financial incentive.

As I’ve mentioned before, in the area of large housing growth – Northstowe, Waterbeach Newtown, and Cambourne outside of the city, and Trumpington, Cambridge Airport, and North West Cambridge, we must demand firm answers from the planners and lead councillors on what the major new civic, leisure, arts, music, and sporting facilities we will have that go with them – and where on the map they will be.

And finally: Moving some of the larger schools out of South Cambridge.

If you look at the marketing materials for the private educational establishments alone, it’s clear that Brand Cambridge carries magic pixie dust that means such institutions can charge higher fees for their services, and/or get more bums on seats so to speak.

In a recent blogpost I stated that both Hills Road Sixth Form College and The Perse on Hills Road should move out of Cambridge – one to a site next to where the proposed Cambridge Sports Lake might be, and the other to Cambourne next to where the East West Railway Station is (so as to serve a large catchment). It then provides an opportunity for the Sixth Form College site to become a new Adult Education College (which it effectively is in the evenings), while the Perse site becomes a new urban country park with new accommodation built for and owned by Addenbrooke’s Hospital and community land trusts aimed at those occupations that cities need to function properly.

Having healthcare staff able to walk to work rather than travelling huge distances as too many have to do now, would do wonders for their health. The same for teachers. And let’s not forget it’s not just the qualified professions, but the technicians, assistants and the contracted-out services all too often done by underpaid and over-exploited migrant workers. Personally I’d like to see all of those services brought back in-house with everyone as public service employees.

Who made the decision to cram half the county’s 16-19 year olds into a single council ward in Cambridge?

I addressed this in a previous blogpost halfway down. Essentially no one did. Prior to the 1970s, both Hills Road and Long Road Sixth Form Colleges were gender-segregated county high schools. Olivia Newton-John’s father, Brinley, was a former headmaster of the Boys County High School for nearly a decade before it became Hills Road Sixth Form in the 1970s in a series of education reforms that overhauled the entire city. There’s a Ph.D waiting to be researched on the impact of that transformation.

In the 1990s John Major’s Government had a policy that continued with austerity – resulting in an incentive for further education establishments that wanted extra funding to offer additional spaces. Which is why the colleges have far more students today than in the early 1990s: It’s a result of the rapid expansion in numbers in the 1990s. But no one person or organisation was responsible at a strategic level to ask whether this was such a good idea given the declining public transport network.

The problem now is Michael Gove’s academy policies – continued by his successors, make it much harder for local councils to do any strategic planning on where schools and colleges should be located, and what courses should be offered. A symptom of over-centralisation – also reflected by the law requiring any new adult education colleges requiring ministerial approval for their establishment.

Further reading

The House of Commons Committee on Housing, Communities & Local Government published its report on devolution in England. You can read it here.

It’s not on the scale of the 1969 Report whose potential impact on Cambridge I discussed here. Yet it’s hard to escape the conclusion that The Committee has recognised that England is long overdue an overhaul of local government on the scale of the 1966-69 Royal Commission.

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: