Local councils should digitise and make easily available recent past and historic local plans

Why? To inform residents and the public of what was proposed previously, and compare what was in the plans versus what we actually got.

Earlier in the Cambridgeshire Collection I looked at some of local plan documents from previous eras the 1970s-1990s. I made a short video so as to encourage people to visit the Collection and see for themselves.

Above – interested in seeing the past reports? Give the Cambridgeshire Collection staff a call and arrange a viewing.

I was also looking through the online catalogue of the Cambridgeshire Collection on all things local plans, when I noticed this.

I thought it sounded familiar because earlier in 2021 I wrote a blogpost about the proposals at Six Mile Bottom.

You can see from the submission map alone below that the site is massive.

Above – the purple shaded area the red balloon icon is in between the A14 and the A11 labels – the Six Mile Bottom junction of the A11

You can view the documents via this link – click on the supporting evidence tab.

In the first iteration of the Draft Greater Cambridge Local Plan 2030-41, the Six Mile Bottom site has been omitted. The planners have rejected the offer/proposal at Six Mile Bottom. Instead, (and you can find the screenshot below in Appendix A here on p22), the planners and councillors have chosen a small number of medium-large developments for housing growth so as to protect many of the villages. In this case making use of former air bases such as Bourn, Waterbeach and at Northstowe.

Note just because somewhere is a former air base does not automatically make it suitable for redevelopment. Many were established in the run up to or during World War II where more pressing priorities inevitably resulted in construction.

“Why does this particular case study matter?”

Because what was initially proposed in 2001 won’t be the same as what is currently on offer. And if this offer is refused by planners and is approved by planning inspectors and signed off by the Minister, then the developers will have to wait until the next local planning period to have another go. In the time between, technologies, social norms and values, and legislative requirements – in particular on sustainability and energy efficiency will have changed. Complying with these will have become more expensive without the intervention of new technologies and techniques (such as robots that can build brick walls) to reduce construction costs.

So for me there is a strong public interest in having previous proposals being public and easily accessible so that the public can compare what was proposed in the past (and get an understanding of why approval was not granted) so that when it comes to cross examining resubmissions, they can see what improvements if any have been made. Given the at least decade-long gap between each planning period, I would expect to see significant improvements and alterations each time. For example for post-2040 developments, I would be surprised if there wasn’t a complete shift away from houses with driveways for large motor vehicles. I’d expect for example space allocated for pool cars, and charging infrastructure that does not clash with pedestrians or cyclists/active travellers.

“What do past reports show?”

Essentially the things that I summarised in the video.

“Can you be more specific?”

Let’s start with the 1973 report on open spaces by Cambridge City Council. Again, you can ask for the full report in the Cambridgeshire Collection.

This report is significant for me because as well as the maps indicating where existing publicly accessible green spaces and parks are, they also raise the issue of private, under-utilised green spaces – in particular college playing fields.

Above – on the left you have the public open spaces – large, medium, and small, and on the right you have the college and private playing fields. There is also a separate one for school playing fields.

“Why did previous generations fail the children of Arbury and King’s Hedges?”

On paper they’ll say they did not.

The report identifies a lack of parkland in Arbury.

…and then identifies the need for an Arbury Town Park.

“Which they didn’t get”

Which they did – and local ward councillors will tell you so. The problem is that the park is too small for the number of people and homes now built, and that location-wise it is too far away from much of the ward, which does not have any close access to large open spaces because of the Darwin Green developments.

Above – from G-Maps. Arbury Town Park is where the red balloon icon is. Given that much of the green space in the left of the map has already been allocated for housing, there is little left for the rest of the ward west of Carlton Way. The green patch where the label Castle is denoting Castle Ward, is a college playing field.

“What about the 1990s?”

The more I learn about what the politicians and people in power were doing in that decade the more depressed I get. Because I end up feeling angry about how our generation was just robbed and denied of what could have been so many wonderful things. That also reflects why I was so appalled when I discovered the learning materials for the Cambridge Futures project from 1998. (I covered this here).

On transport

Above – the Buchanan study – this is in the Cambridgeshire Collection, it’s worth reading, and actually Mayor Nik Johnson would be well advised to get this document digitised and shared widely as part of his consultation on the Cambs & Peterboro’ Local Transport & Connectivity Plan.

The reason being is that the study covers a whole host of different options – including things like congestion charging, cycle networks, and light rail.

It has got maps, tables, and budgets – and also discusses benefits and barriers.

And finally…1996

There’s little to add to the 1996 interim draft local plan that I mentioned in the video other than to note they also cover the lack of open spaces for residents as shown in the map below.

Above – Areas deficient in public open space, 1996

You can almost see the evolution in technology as far as the cartography is concerned! Again you can find the 1996 Cambridge Local Plan in the Cambridgeshire Collectionyou can find the entry in their online catalogue beforehand if you’re visiting.

The reason why this is important for me is that all of these maps enable the general public – which now has a raised awareness of the value of such open spaces following lockdown, to question their elected councillors (and the town planners) about how future developments are going to ensure enough land is set aside for parks, nature reserves, playing fields, and rewilding generally. It’s much harder to do this without the historical evidence bases to back them up – in particular highlighting previous shortcomings and failures (which can then be an incentive to do better next time around).

Food for thought?

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:

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