Beehive Centre Redevelopment – first webinar highlighting making space for girls

If you’ve not seen the display boards from the developers and their media partners, please see my earlier blogpost here where I’ve photographed and uploaded them for you. (And if you found them useful, please consider a small donation to help sustain my reporting and research)

It was only covered at the very end, but is an issue that I think needs much more prominence when we look at urban design.

“Parks, play equipment and public spaces for older children and teenagers are currently designed for the default male. Provision is almost entirely in terms of skate parks, BMX tracks, football pitches and MUGAs, which are used almost entirely by boys.

“Providing for girls is more than an ideal, it’s a legal requirement under the Equality Act 2010. The current state of affairs does not comply with the law.”

Make Space for Girls campaign
“What does better look like?”

For a start, many of the examples the website shows are from abroad. Which speaks volumes about diversity within town planning and urban design sectors. And with commissioning organisations too. Which is why the ideas in these examples make for interesting viewing and reading.

Above: “Performance in the Park: back to Rösens Rodda Matta, Malmo, where the girls designed a stage, which has been great for performances (formal/informal) and used by the community for fitness classes etc; the tree log stools provide social space and double up as stepping stones.”

In Glasgow, Hayburn Play Park has a number of interesting examples that you can zoom into here.

Another example – this one from Belgium, covers both hot sunny days and unexpected rainfall.

Above – also from

My focus in the grand scheme of things is getting the administrative, democratic, and political structures & processes right to enable more people to get involved and do the creative actions needed to build the next generation of park facilities.

So if you know of anyone who might be interested, your first ports of call again are your local councillors. If there is a pre-existing youth group or school that you could get involved, so much the better.

A couple of things to remember:

  • This does not mean covering every single bit of green open space with space-age play equipment spray-painted in day-glo. Open green space for team games, as well as the shelter that mature trees provide are just as important.
  • There’s a fine balance between making facilities look and feel welcoming vs making them resilient to vandalism. While basketball nets made out of Royal Navy Standard steel chains may have more resilience to sharp knives than thin nylon netting, how do you design things in a way that does not resemble a prison yard from a US TV show?
  • I was thinking about safety, and ‘designing out crime’ examples used during my civil service days. Before pulling myself up and noting that taking on the perpetrators who make people feel unsafe has to be a high priority alongside urban design – something that has to incorporate wider civic society rather than being left just to the police and the woefully under-funded criminal justice system.

Finally, involving young people in this work – in particular mindful of the under-representation of young women in local democracy – needs to show that their involvement can pay dividends. I.e. that their input will show that their ideas can be turned into reality. Otherwise the process can risk being alienating, making it even harder in future years to get them re-engaged in local democracy and civic society when they are adults. And who can blame them?

The needs of residents on low incomes

This was raised repeatedly: What will happen to ASDA?

Now, the environmentalist and trade unionist of old in me has never been a fan of the firm’s holding company in the US. But that’s not the issue here. The issue is people on low incomes having access to good quality low cost food and essentials. I cover more of this later, but one of the options floated by the developers – who also own the Cambridge Retail Park on the other side of Coldham’s lane, next to Newmarket Road, is to move ASDA and some of the other shops there so that in the medium term those shoppers don’t lose out.

Cambridge’s housing crisis is outside of the scope of the Beehive redevelopment as far as the developers are concerned.

I raised this both at the face-to-face consultation, and at the webinar today. The 2018 Greater Cambridge Local Plan designates the entire site as an employment space, therefore they have no interest in building any houses on it.

The Making Space for People Supplementary Planning Document Baseline Report from June 2019 makes clear that the Beehive Centre and the Cambridge Retail Park on the other side of Coldham’s Lane (incorrectly labelled on the map – they’ve highlighted Land South of Coldham’s Lane proposals by the airport in error), are two of the main employment areas in Cambridge.

Above – from p40 of the SPD Baseline June 2019

So that means their main interest will be the up to 5,000 new workers in the science and tech field looking to be moved in by future employers. The figure came up again separately to when Cllr Dr Dave Baigent (Labour – Romsey) mentioned it in this tweet below.

RAILPEN propose a radical change. Asda & the like will move next door & the Beehive will become a technology park with circa 6,000 new jobs by 2025.
Car parks will be replaced by greening, cycle spaces in abundance, big & small tech buildings will mix with cafes & corner shops.

Originally tweeted by Dave Baigent (@dave4labour) on June 17, 2022.

Cllr Dr Baigent also attended the first face-to-face consultation, as a local councillor for Romsey Ward which is on the other side of the railway line, so is directly affected.

“If they won’t build the houses for the thousands of scientists who will inevitably have to move to the area, where will they live?”

That’s a point many people have put very strongly to the developers – and they have had initial discussions with transport officers at Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority. The next meeting of the CPCA’s Transport Committee is on 13 July 2022.

You may wish to table a public question regarding the early conversations between the developers and the CPCA for you to read out on the day, or (as is the case with me) have it read out on your behalf if you cannot get to the venue.

Details of how to table a public question to the Combined Authority Board or any of its committees can be found at – and note the guidance in the link. One question per meeting, and it cannot be a repeat of a Q from the previous 12 months. So make it sharp, make it count. At this stage, questions might include:

“What assessment have transport officers made of…[and then pick your chosen issue related to the development]?”

Given the interest of residents in South Cambridgeshire and East Cambridgeshire district councils, there is also a role for councillors and council officers there to make representations to the developers about how the development will impact their communities – in particular those that have stated how dependent they are on the lower-priced shops all in one place vs those in their own communities. Unless or until either 1) low priced food and essentials are available to people in rural areas within a short distance of their homes, & 2) the incomes of people already on or below levels where they are inevitably dependent on food banks, then getting rid of the supermarkets will come up against significant opposition.

My take? The proposed development cannot go ahead and expect to be sustainable without a light rail link to surrounding towns/villages, and additional water supplies pumped in from outside.

As things stand, there is little political will for a light rail within the existing timeframe of the Greater Cambridge Partnership (which completes in 2030). On water, the earliest that the proposed Fens Reservoirs will be ready is 2035. The developers say they want to submit planning applications in 2024, start construction in 2027, and have completed their works by 2029.

I had an early look at the Fens Reservoir outline proposals in Sept 2021 here.

Above: You can see the outline timescales (best and normal case scenarios on p10 of this Anglian Water document here)

Councillors and Members of Parliament must ensure that the developers begin conversations with the water companies before the autumn.

Because at present the message from the developers is that they are relying on a ‘BREEAM Excellent’ design rating to minimise water use. Which reminds me – it would be good for a competent not-for-profit organisation to produce a beginners guide to BREEAM standards for local residents so that they can ask informed questions at consultation stage rather than simply taking the reassurances from developers and their consultants for granted. In the meantime, have a look at the water strategy for Waterbeach Newtown – which is 26 pages long.

Personally I don’t think their assurances will be sufficient – and it’s something that people with more specialist knowledge than I have that will need to scrutinise this – in particular the net difference between current consumption of the Beehive Centre activities, vs the predicted future uses. (This is where it gets technical – you’re looking at getting data for water consumption from multiple organisations which might not be easy to get, vs the modelling and assumptions that will inevitably done by expensive, specialist consultants).

This also should include things like flash flood resilience measures in intense rail fall, to drought-resilient measures that can ensure piped water or stored water from rainwater harvesting can be utilised as and when needed. What’s the point on having a science lab if the taps run dry?

Transport – light rail, buses, cycles and e-scooters

In one sense the new developments at Waterbeach Newtown, Northstowe, and Cambridge Airport might be able to absorb a considerable number of people who will end up working on the proposed site – assuming it’s built. But again, so much depends on the sequencing of construction and the adequate supply of new water resources.

At the same time, ministers have dragged their feet on the mass retro-fitting of existing buildings in things like rainwater harvesting to solar panels on car parks and on the roofs and walls of large warehouses. Science and technology buildings will inevitably consume both electricity and water. How resilient will they be in a more unstable climate?

The Chisholm Trail might also enable people from other parts of Cambridge to access the new development but when I look at Phase 2, I wonder if there is a chance that a parallel cycle path on the other side of the railway line could also be built.

Above – The Chisholm Trail with the large darker grey areas on top of the railway line being The Beehive Centre (left) and the Cambridge Retail Park (right).

The Cambridge Connect Light Rail Solution

Have a look at the Cambridge Connect Light Rail website here. It has been through numerous iterations and is the brainchild of Dr Colin Harris. I first made the case for this for the Greater Cambridge Partnership back in 2016 but was outmanoeuvred by a previous generation of officers and councillors who decided to plump for busways rather than getting together to make the case to ministers for that little bit of extra funding that might have linked up Cambridge to Haverhill and Cambourne. (That’s my personal opinion – I cannot prove it beyond reasonable doubt – although I wrote about what I found buried and where back in 2017).

If you are really interested in a light rail for Cambridge with a short tunnel underneath the city, please consider joining either Rail Future East Anglia, and/or the Light Rail Transport Association – the latter of which has been going for ***ages*** – and produced a wonderful long term transport plan for public transport in urban areas: Towards Ideal Transport from 1944 – you can read it here (I found a copy and digitised it). The present day magazines of Tramways & Urban Transit come with LRTA membership, ***or*** you can buy magazines separately from the Magazine Supermarket here.

Above – look at those wonderful trams we could have had!

I should add that a handful of donors provided small donations earlier this year that enabled me to collect enough to purchase a handful of historical documents that now shines a different light on both local and national transport history – this document being one of them. So thank you for helping make this accessible to wider audiences!

Walking and cycling

If you have concerns about active travel – walking/pedestrianisation, cycling, and scootering (push and e-bikes) but struggle to keep up with all things that are happening, feel free to join Living Streets Cambridge (Formerly The Pedestrians’ Association, formed before WWII), or CamCycle – formerly the Cambridge Cycling Campaign. You also get magazines with membership. (*Declares interest as a member of CamCycle).

Above – in an era of declining local newspaper coverage, local campaigning magazines are an important method of staying up to date. Especially if, like me you like to do longer reads on paper rather than on screen.

There are still a significant number of issues to discuss that I’ve not covered here. The three that were the most important to me were housing, transport access, and environmental sustainability (covering water and large green spaces)

The scale of the development means I foresee a loose coalition of groups getting together to scrutinise and help shape the development – possibly with a local ward councillor or three having roles bringing all interested and affected parties together. Furthermore I’d recommend having a ward councillor from outside Cambridge being involved – one who has a critical mass of constituents who are regular shoppers on the site. Cambridge’s municipal boundaries have not changed since 1935. But our commuting and working patterns have – along with our leisure patterns. The data tells us this. If people are living their lives outside of administrative boxes drawn up before WWII, it’s about time the administrators caught up.

Food for thought?

Thank you once again to those of you who are continuing to support me and add to my digitised collection of scanned old things that are helping lots of us re-learn quickly a host of lessons that our predecessors learnt the hard way. You can browse through over 170 books, pamphlets, and documents nearly all of which date back over half a century here. Because if we can learn how we got to where we are today, we can have a greater understanding and influence of where we want to get to tomorrow. Together.

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