What is Cambridge’s social and civic infrastructure deficit?

In 2012 Cambridge City Council & South Cambridgeshire District Council commissioned Peter Brett Associates LLP to produce an Infrastructure Delivery Study. You can read both the executive summary and the full report from the papers here from 11 Sept 2012.

“Why does this matter?”

Because it enables residents and councillors to hold planners and developers (and ultimately ministers) accountable for what has/has not been delivered over the past decade.

“This Executive Summary provides an overview on the Infrastructure Delivery Study (IDS) and sets out the overall costs and funding shortfalls from the identified infrastructure requirements to support planned provision.”

P6 of Exec Summary.

In particular, the objectives of the study were to:

  • Highlight infrastructure capacity issues and existing capacity where possible, through the review of existing information and consultation with stakeholders;
  • Identify the infrastructure impacts of additional development in generic and location specific terms for Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire;
  • Illustrate the net infrastructure impact of new development and highlight significant issues;
  • Provide information on the indicative cost of infrastructure;
  • Identify public funding mechanisms and responsibility for delivery;
  • Identify infrastructure delivery funding shortfalls. This output is considered to be the crucial element of the study, as it draws together evidence and identifies infrastructure tipping points.

The context of the above was for what became the Greater Cambridge Local Plan 2018. We are now in the fourth year of that plan which ends in 2030, and we are now around a decade past the point at which the IDS was published. A reasonable time for a look back for a progress report? Again, this matters because otherwise what’s the point of commissioning expensive consultants to produce reports and recommendations if their conclusions and findings are ignored by developers and planners?

“Who found what?”

This all stems from a post by former city councillor Tim Ward (Lib Dems – Arbury, 2000-2014).

The local party political context here is that in the mid-2000s, Cambridge Liberal Democrats utterly dominated local democracy in Cambridge – Cambridge Labour paying a very heavy price electorally for both the Iraq War and tuition fees. Everything was reversed when the Liberal Democrats went into coalition with the Conservatives in 2010, so by the time 2014 elections came around, Labour regained control of the council that the Liberal Democrats had held for over a decade.

The thread below led me to the meeting papers for both the summary and full report – the former being 17 pages and the latter being over 200 pages long. Which is why watching local government can feel like a full time job. And that’s for people who are not elected to public office. It’s even worse for councillors as they have to deal with constituents alongside existing working and family commitments. (Which are some of the reasons why I think our system of local government is broken beyond repair).

As Cllr Davies asks: “Define Critical”

“Critical Infrastructure is largely physical and enabling infrastructure, which must be delivered on time to allow proposed development to proceed in line with …5 year housing land supplies.”

9.2.6. P144 Full Report

Which makes sense. Think of Cambridge’s over-stressed water supplies. Critical infrastructure in this definition includes bringing in new water supplies for the Greater Cambridge area – whether via a new reservoir, desalination plants or piping it in from the West Country & Wales. As things stand, Greater Cambridge is already using more water than the local environment can supply. Major policy failures by Conservative Ministers over the past decade (in my opinion) have resulted in privatised water companies (one of their party’s policies in the 1980s/1990s) along with weak and under-resourced regulators have enabled water companies to be bought off by multinational owners, to ignore their responsibilities to the environment, to reduce the investment in infrastructure to the bare minimum, paying out generous dividends and bonuses, – all the while raising water bills. It’s not just the UK that is questioning privatisation of water – it’s a worldwide issue as this 2015 paper explains.

“Define necessary”

“The necessary category contains important infrastructure, which could potentially be provided later than required.”


“And desirable?”

“The desirable infrastructure category has been included, so more aspirational schemes to support sustainable development can be included within the IDS. Sustainable communities are places people want to live and in instances of funding availability desirable infrastructure schemes can help create better places to live,”


Above… or “The stuff that gets in the way of developers maximising their profits, bonuses, and returns on investments.” For me, Cambridge Station’s redevelopment – the promises of the civic amenities at the start vs what happened in reality is an example of this.

How do we avoid future scenarios like this, where the losses are socialised and the benefits are privatised? Again, for me the problem is economy-wide as the Grenfell Tower Inquiry is revealing. There are other examples across the country.

“So…what is the deficit?”

The total required to meet the cost of new infrastructure from 2010-2031 is… £234million

Above – from P144 of the full report.

…and the amount the report identified in funding in 2012 combined public funding of £16.5million with £31.9m of Private Funding.

…which left a shortfall of £185million

Note that the above is for the City of Cambridge only. It gets much bigger for South Cambridgeshire. Much, much bigger.

Above – from p137-8, the shortfall for South Cambridgeshire identified by Peter Brett & Associates in 2012 was £412million.

It does not end there – they also cover the fringe sites covering both city and district councils.

Above – the cross-boundary total estimated infrastructure costs were around £200m which, with public and private funding accounted for left just under £110m as the shortfall.

Which in 2012 gave an estimated total infrastructure funding deficit of…?

Cambridge + South Cambs + Cross-border schemes = (£186m + £412m + £110m).

About £708million.

Which is a huge sum to be short of.

Note this report was published in 2012, and inevitably had big political consequences. One of them was the Greater Cambridge City Deal signed in 2014 – you can read the deal document here. The financial highlights include:

“Over the period 2015/16 to 2019/20, Government will provide Greater Cambridge with £100m, consisting of five annual payments of £20m. This will provide Greater Cambridge with a high level of certainty to commence investment in this ambitious programme of transport infrastructure.”

City Deal 2014 p4

For me it is essential that residents in the run up to the 2022 South Cambridgeshire Local Elections ask both their Conservative and Liberal Democrat candidates to justify the spending. The Conservatives were in power up to the 2018 local elections, and the Liberal Democrats were in power afterwards. The same question can be put to Labour candidates within Cambridge City: Did the city and district get value for money for that £100m?

(For the record, I think there are some projects that will demonstrate excellent value for money – such as the Chisholm Trail for which everyone involved should take credit for. At the same time, there will be more than a few examples of sums wasted on consultants for things that should have been stopped early on by senior councillors/board members).

“Dependent on the economic impact of the local investments, Greater Cambridge will be able to access up to an additional £400m over 10-15 years.”


In May 2020 this funding was confirmed by Ministers to the City Deal Board which at the time had representatives from Labour (Cambridge City), Liberal Democrats (South Cambridgeshire), and Conservatives (Cambridgeshire County Council).

“Does the deal say anything about busways?”

“The backbone of the proposed strategy is a transport network to link areas of population and employment within the City Deal area. There will be new orbital bus routes around Cambridge and new high quality public transport links into Cambridge on key corridors, connecting with major employment centres. There will be a comprehensive network of pedestrian and cycle routes within Cambridge and the main radial routes will have high quality bus priority measures.”

Ibid p3-4 – my bold emphasis.

So there was nothing in the original document that said anything about busways – only a reminder that local children will be singing The wheels on the high quality public transport vehicle go round and roundin decades to come.

“Define infrastructure”

***Why do you have to go and make things so complicated????***

Above: Complicated. Avril Lavigne. Because public policy is not like making simple manufactured goods. There are far too many uncertainties to contend with. Such as elections. And ministerial foibles.

There is a monster spreadsheet in Appendix 4 (p160 ono) which disaggregates the big numbers. Interestingly they didn’t include anything on flood alleviation – which means that the shortfall figure is an under-estimate given how much of the city and district is at risk of flooding.

Categories include:

  • Flood alleviation
  • Education
  • Community & Social
  • Leisure
  • Waste
  • Transport & Access
  • Green Infrastructure
  • Electricity
  • Water & Drainage
  • Health
  • Open Space
  • Not Known (Libraries)
  • Emergency (blue lights)
  • Telecoms

…and the list goes into 40 landscaped pages.

Why that table needs careful study

For a start, some of the things have already been delivered/completed since the 2012 document was published. Furthermore, some of the things included in the table won’t have been included in the total costs or shortfalls – such as the stupendously expensive A14 improvements (although at least it got rid of the viaduct that ploughed through Huntingdon).

…and the final delivery cost approached nearly double this – at £44million when Cambridge North Station opened.

The upgrade of electricity infrastructure was something that stayed below the headlines but remained in the ‘critical infrastructure’ category.

It’ll probably need a category of its own if more is not generated through genuinely renewable means. I.e. not incineration or other greenwashed labels.

Recreation, leisure, and community facilities – the ‘Cinderella’ categories. Where is our fairy godmother?

I could write a separate blogpost on this (and probably will), but there is one really interesting sentence buried in this, and it involves tennis courts.

“Cambridge has 0.37 courts per 1000 against the national average of 0.29 courts per 1000 population. Despite the good supply there is some unmet demand, mainly from those without access to a car, but also from those who live at the edge of or beyond a reasonable driving distance.”

5.4.10 p91, full report

Which tells me that new tennis court provision needs to be somewhere that has a very frequent bus service and is very close to major cycle arterial routes. The consultants don’t see it that way.

“Because this unmet demand is spread throughout the area of the study, there is no one location in the area where a new hall could be justified on these grounds alone.”


I’d like to test that assumption on the scenarios of both no public/active transport links, moderate public/active transport links, and excellent public/active travel links. Furthermore, I think you could make the case for having that sports provision attached to any of the new further education facilities that Mayor Nik Johnson has indicated he will be proposing in the not-to-distant future, so that there is daytime demand from students.

There then follows more on sports halls in Cambridge.

“The Cambridge City Council Sports Strategy identifies that in 2021, only half of future growth can be absorbed by existing sports halls. Existing halls will require investment to retain desirability and contribute to meeting future demand”.

5.4.11 p91, full report

Above – that was written in 2012. It is now 2022. Progress update please councillors. i.e. did that recommended – required even, investment in existing halls actually take place? Have any new additional sports halls inside Cambridge City been built to meet the rest of the demand? (For example the University of Cambridge’s Sports Centre in West Cambridge – ages away from most non-University residents).

Swimming pools – the consultants got it wrong.

It was a different set of consultants who wrote the report for the emerging local plan and I went after them in this blogpost. In the meantime, as Cllr Davies pointed out, the 2012 report highlighted existing issues.

“If no further pools are built in the Cambridge area demand isn’t likely to outstrip capacity until 2021 However, the increased demand will lead to all pools in the area reaching and exceeding their comfortable capacity, with the result that they will feel crowded to participants. The existing pools will also age significantly and will not necessarily be in a condition to suit the needs of 2021.”

5.4.13 p92 Full report.

It is now 2022. Progress Update please councillors!

Actually, it was the above finding from Councillor Davies, along with her observation that the Cambridge University Swimming Pool (that the Dons want to delay building) that prompted me looking for alternative sites. And I think I found one. I blogged about it last night here.

Furthermore, the 2012 report states at 5.4.14:

“The Cambridge City Council Sports Strategy concludes that Cambridge City Council should pursue a programme of improvements that will maintain and develop capacity of its major indoor pools, in tandem with new pool provision in Cambridge East.”

5.4.14. Ibid

It’s worth noting the both Cambridge City & South Cambs District Councils have committed to producing a Swimming Pools Strategy separate to the N.E. Cambridge Area Action Plan See below.

Above – p180 of the NE Cambridge Area Action Plan

In my previous blogpost I identified the grey block where some garages, car showrooms, and car parks

Above – from Item 8 App1 here, the North East Cambridge Area Action Plan which will be meeting on Tues 11th January – meeting papers in the earlier link.

A new large swimming pool here – currently allocated for 75 houses, would, as I wrote in my previous blogpost, not only serve the new North East Cambridge site, but also King’s Hedges ward (one of the most economically deprived in the county), Cambridge Regional College (over 3,000 students from across the county & beyond during the day, on vocational and access courses), and the North Cambridge Academy. And that’s before we mention the Science Park on the other side of the guided busway (good links to villages west of Cambridge), and links to the Chisholm Trail (accessible to Abbey Ward & beyond) and North Cambridge Station (villages to the north). Why wait for Cambridge University to get going when the councils could potentially prioritise building the swimming pool/leisure centre here with a large population already there willing & ready to use it?

“How much will it cost?”

More than Sport England said it does in 2012.

…i.e. much more than £2.63million.

But then I don’t see this as a problem – more that We Are Cambridge – We Demand Better. Therefore we should be looking at going beyond the basics/bare essentials and instead build a place where people – in particular teenagers (historically under-provided for) would want to be. Hence why in the same blogpost I asked about the possibility of co-locating a performing arts centre on the same site similar to what The St Ivo Centre does in St Ives. Furthermore you could name either site after the late, great Mayor of Cambridge Nigel Gawthrope, who represented King’s Hedges ward on Cambridge City Council.

Above – Cllr George Pippas, the then outgoing Mayor, with the newly enrobed Mayor Nigel Gawthrope. Cambridge Guildhall, May 2018.

“Build Bridges” Said Mayor Gawthrope.

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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