Past historical local plans were written to be read…

….while contemporary local plans are produced corporately for institutions and individuals within them to refer to.

Cllr Same Davies MBE (Ind – Queen Edith’s) makes a similar case in her recent blogpost timed for the opening of the Greater Cambridge Local Plan consultation.

Now let’s look at the foreword to the County of London Plan 1943 by Lord Latham.

I tried converting it into something worthy for Greater Cambridge in the face of both Covid19 & the Climate Emergency:

“This is a plan for Cambridge – Greater Cambridge if you will. A plan for one of the greatest university cities in the world. For a meeting place of global knowledge and ideas – and a home for many.

“Although Cambridge has much to be grateful for, its continued growth has remained controversial – as it was in the 19th Century when the population quadrupled from just under 10,000 in 1801 to over 40,000 a century later.

“Not a week goes by without a comment on the latest plans or on recently completed buildings. Past large redevelopments such as the Railway Station area, The Grafton Centre, and Lion Yard generated significant local opposition – that development was imposed on them for the financial benefit of those with little day-to-day interest in our city. This must not be allowed to happen again as we collectively face the biggest challenge in the history of humankind: The Climate Emergency.

“Our local history is scattered with examples of visionary ideas that never came to fruition. The extension of the horse tram network in the late 1800s, and proposals for its electrification in the early 1900s. Gordon Logie’s cycle network for our city, and his new municipal-university concert hall in the mid-1960s, The campaigns to save our local branch lines and even the old Varsity line – which if rescued would have saved us much expense today.

“On 01 June 1962 the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University Sir Ivor Jennings QC was quoted saying his institution has a duty to see our city improve – and committed the University to funding 50% of the costs of a new public hall for town and gown. It is precisely this mindset we need today – a shared responsibility for our future plans – and for each other.

“These plans call for an overhaul of our local systems of governance. We cannot deliver solutions to the challenges of the mid-21st Century whilst shackled by systems designed in the mid-latter 20th Century. We cannot have fragmented public services with micro-managed budgets and compulsory outsourcing by organisations each with a separate eye on their lines of reporting back to Whitehall. (I should know – I used to be one of the people that those lines reported back to during my own Whitehall days in the civil service).

“We also cannot be restricted to the mindset that the private sector is always right. The banking crisis, the building industry cladding and supply chain crisis exposed by Grenfell, the PPE corruption, and the pouring of sewage into our rivers by highly profitable privatised water companies more than tells us this.

“The charitable and not-for-profit sectors have also been tainted by negative headlines – and with some justification too. This tells us that our institutions need to overhaul their systems, structures, processes, controls, ethics and values – especially if we are to deliver the new radical plans that will enable us to meet the climate emergency head on – amongst the many other challenges the 21st Century has lined up for us.

“We will need the co-operation from organisations far beyond city and county. Whether it is new legislation from Westminster, new and sustainably-made building materials and construction techniques, new fresh water supplies and a massive increase in capacity for sewage processing, we cannot pretend that we can do this independently ourselves. Furthermore, it means we have a part to play in supporting people and places near and far as they face similar problems.

“Finally, we will need a shared faith in our collective ability to meet those future challenges. We must be resolute in our ambition that we can deliver what our future plans require. Our plans will also need to show sufficient flexibility to adapt to challenges that as yet are unforeseen.

“Where will that faith come from? It will come from inclusive processes that involve everyone contributing their ideas and experiences. Otherwise we risk making the same mistakes of the past. We still see them every day:

  • Advertising slogans that say “Be part of it” – but only if you have the money to afford it;
  • Estate agencies selling properties abroad first, and only highlighting private education and healthcare, building in societal divisions before the occupants have even made their purchases;
  • the contempt with which former communities of the town centre were dumped in new housing developments on the edge of town that were poorly served by public transport had few community facilities, and were entirely lacking in inspiring architecture that might otherwise have positively defined such new neighbourhoods.

“We know there will be great engineering and technical difficulties in delivering our future plan. But these are not insurmountable. We also know that city planning is fraught with its own difficulties. Even today we have conflicting interests, powerful private rights, a lack of vision, and a set of values now utterly out of synchronicity with the demands of the 21st Century – and of the people of our city who rightly expect more of us. This is Cambridge – we demand better!

“The finances involved won’t make this easy, and the timing makes this an urgent task. We also know that we don’t have the right institutions or institutional frameworks to deliver against this. Which is why we will need to be resolute in the face of the set backs and bad days/weeks that we will face. But face them we must. For we dare not contemplate failure. Future generations rightly would never forgive us.

“Fear of failure should not hold us back either. We should welcome transparency and accountability as core principles – and welcome constructive and well-argued criticism, responding substantively to the points made rather than ignoring them and pretending the issue will go away. History tells us that the opposite happens – such issues get bigger until they become too great to ignore, by which time it is too late. We have left it late to respond to the climate emergency and to many of the challenges Greater Cambridge faces. Let us delay no longer.

We must begin now.”

And that is sort of how I would like to see a comprehensive plan for Greater Cambridge’s future be introduced. It won’t be for the simple reason that the parameters of current Local Plans are far too limited. As Cllr Davies said, transport and housing are separate. Furthermore there is very little accounting for how new leisure facilities will be provided for – ones that meet city, county, and regional needs. If the current plans mean building endless suburbia primarily for the profit of the construction industry and their financiers, we may as well not bother. That’s not primarily the fault of the people in that industry who have to make a living like everyone else. The problem as I have written repeatedly is a Political problem. It is one that requires action at both a party political and at a public policy level. Because the poorly-constructed houses that Cambridge’s MP Daniel Zeichner spoke in Parliament about recently not only reflect badly on the firms and the industry involved, the buildings are monuments to a wider failure of politics as well. Let’s ensure Greater Cambridge’s emerging local plan – and the looming Local Transport and Connectivity Plan due later in November by Mayor Dr Nik Johnson represent markers for new, higher standards of urban planning – ones robust enough to meet 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:

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