The Perse School’s plan for a new swimming pool on Long Road, Cambridge

The proposals, published today by the Greater Cambridge Planning Service raise a whole host of issues that go far beyond the impact of the development, and go to the heart of the sort of city the people who make up our city want it to become.

First of all, the proposals for a new swimming pool (6 lanes x 25m) incorporated into a new sports centre with several badminton courts

Go to which is the landing page for you to search through for any submitted planning applications for Cambridge City and South Cambridgeshire District Councils. Type in 22/00922/FUL into the search box, and the below should come up.

“22/00922/FUL | Construction of a new sports centre to include a swimming pool, sports hall, climbing wall, entrance lobby, changing village and plant and storage areas, together with associated car and cycle parking, infrastructure and landscaping. | The Perse Upper School Hills Road Cambridge Cambridgeshire CB2 8QF”

As Chris Rand highlighted in the latest Queen Edith’s News, read the document titled “Design and Access Statement” carefully.

This will *not* be a public swimming pool like Parkside Pool in the city centre. However…

…given how over-crowded Parkside already is (it runs at 98% capacity, which is way beyond the comfortable level recommended by Sport England of around 67%) there is the likelihood that such a new facility will enable existing private swimming clubs and private bookings that book out Parkside Pool for up to four evenings in seven (i.e. peak usage for those working full time) to switch to the new proposed facility which will have its own (albeit limited) car parking.

At the same time, it’s hard to ignore the growing disparity of facilities between state schools vs private schools in Cambridge.

As the former Energy Editor of The Guardian, Terry Macalister states below:

Above – Parkside Community College from G-Maps.

The group of buildings between Clarendon Street, Parkside, and the Free Press pub is where the existing Parkside Community College is. The green is Parker’s Piece – where the students do P.E. But it comes with the inevitable hazards of using city centre parks.

Now compare this on the same scale with The Perse Upper School.

Above – The Perse Upper School from G-Maps

In the grand scheme of things, it’s no contest. The independent private school has the space and resources for multiple sports pitches and rackets’ courts that no state school in Cambridge could hope to compete with. The proposed swimming pool and new sports hall is proposed for that otherwise undesignated bit of green space at the bottom-left of the image.

For those of you who’ve been in Cambridge for more than a few years, you’ll have noticed the significant expansion of the artificial pitches and buildings at The Perse Upper since the Millennium. The Design and Access Statement tells us that numbers rose from below 600 to nearly 1,300 in just over 20 years. A significant increase and one that has put inevitable strains on our local transport infrastructure. This is not the fault of the students. As it is, over half of the students studying A-levels in Cambridgeshire do so at institutions in Queen Edith’s, Cambridge. [Queen Edith’s Magazine, winter 2020].

A failure of strategic planning?

Definitely – but what is the root of that failure?

As I’ve stated on numerous occasions, the problems are with structures, systems, powers, and finances. There was no institution locally in the decades gone by that could have either prevented the private schools or the further education colleges from expanding (and instead opting to build new institutions elsewhere in the county), nor were any of them in a position to commission the much-needed additional infrastructure to serve that number of people – whether with public transport, or providing for the feeding of so many hungry teenagers in such a short window of time at lunch time.

The fragmentation of the public sector by successive governments means it is now much harder to plan for the future. The very limited existing legal powers also mean that as things stand, my idea of moving The Perse Upper School to the site of the proposed Cambridge Rowing Lake between north Cambridge and Waterbeach, and moving Hills Road out to Cambourne – served by both East West Rail and a light rail link, are non-starters.

What of Parkside Community College that Terry raised?

He’s right – and furthermore it’s a credit to staff and students that they have achieved what they have in the face of such cramped facilities. Could the school move to somewhere fairly close by in the next quarter of a century?


“Where to?”

The Beehive Centre – identified by Cambridge City Council as a new opportunity area (see below) in the emerging local plan 2030-41.

Above – from the Greater Cambridge Planning Service

From G-Maps side by side at the same scale, and mindful that Parkside has just under half the numbers of students (just over 700) that The Perse Upper currently has, the site in principle could make for a suitable secondary school site. (Land prices, any decontamination issues from the old PYE works, and making a secure barrier next to the rail line aside!)

Above – from G-Maps here for The Beehive Centre – have a play with the map in the link to get a feel for just how built up that area is.

Petersfield – one of the most built-up areas in Cambridge that pre-dates Victorian Cambridge

Ask anyone in Petersfield Ward if they’d welcome additional green space and they’d jump at it – if they didn’t ask sceptical questions about what would be demolished to make space for it. The lack of green space is a longstanding issue – just ask

How much money the council would get for the disposal of the existing Parkside site might also come into question – mindful that the height of any new buildings would be limited given the surrounding properties.

I’d like to think that the site could provide enough new open space for local residents, playing field space for students, and less-cramped, more suitable buildings and facilities still within walking or cycling distance for teenagers. Furthermore, the Centre for Computing History is then within walking distance from a school on that site. At which point the challenge is getting the children away from there!

The problem remains…

…that whatever merit or otherwise such ideas have, Cambridge and Cambridgeshire have neither the funds nor powers to make such things happen, or to solve its own chronic problems. All too often the barriers originate in Whitehall and Westminster, which still have no desire to do any more than the bare minimum in solving them.

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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