More science park plans – this one on the site of the old Cambridge Tip on Coldham’s Lane

This follows the rejection of proposals to turn the site into a freight park – which generated huge opposition from local residents due to the pollution risks and lack of vehicle access to the site.

You can read about the opposition here. It looks like the former majority landowner, Andersons, has sold their share of the site to a specialist developer in the science and innovation sector, firms that appear to manage $Squillions of assets. You can read Mike Scialom’s article here.

“Another science lab development?”

Above – a sarcastic Iago from Aladdin in 1993.

What’s really depressing is that back in 2018 lots of us headed to the Holiday Inn on Coldham’s Lane to take part in a community consultation, where dozens of us all took part in a community consultation on what to do with the site, only to be ignored by the former site owners who came up with their abortive scheme that councillors rejected. You can read about that event here.

Around the same time, the old quarry site that was filled in with water to create the East Cambridge Lakes had an open day which hundreds of locals went along to on a cold early spring day in March.

Above – at the East Cambridge Lakes in 2018

“Do we have the infrastructure?”

Good question – as I noted in the paper version of Mike’s article in the Cambridge Independent below.

…because that is a conversation we need to have given that every other site in the city is being circled by vultures looking to snap it up and turn it into new science park land. The very poor public transport infrastructure – in particular the rail based infrastructure, makes this even worse. Unless you are a land speculator.

“Better a science lab than a freight exchange?”

Possibly, but remember the site is a former landfill site in the days before stricter regulations on what could be dumped in there were brought in. So any land remediation costs are likely to be substantial, but then such are the high land prices for commercial sites in Cambridge that these could be absorbed and still be profitable.

“What does the local plan say?”

This is the bit that matters – page 71 of the Cambridge Local Plan 2018.

Above – “The council is seeking the wider regeneration of this area”

See the maps below: it’s the parcels of land labeled “A” that are open to suitable development.

Above – page 73 of the Cambridge Local Plan – land south of Coldham’s Lane

The Local Plan states:

“Development will be supported where it:
c) takes into account existing site conditions and environmental and safety constraints of this area, including the contaminated condition of the closed landfill sites, Cambridge Airport to the north, related height and use restrictions within the Air Safety Zone and Air Safeguarding Zones, and the existing lakes;
d) is subject to a detailed feasibility report (to be submitted before any redevelopment can take place on the closed landfill sites), and the form and nature of public access to the urban country park are to be established;
e) includes the upgrading of existing public routes to support increased pedestrian and cycle access from the wider area;
f) is part of a masterplan for the entire area, which will provide the mechanism to deliver the required vision; and
g) recognises existing sites of local nature conservation importance within and surrounding the site, and where development is proposed, provides for appropriate ecological mitigation and/or enhancement measures, as compared to the 2005 Cambridge City Wildlife Survey baseline.”

“What would need to be added to facilitate transport?”

The re-dualling of the railway line which was reduced to a single line at the closure of the cement works. You can see some wonderful colour photographs by Geoff Kitchen here of what the cement works used to look like just before demolition. I’m just old enough to remember the haunting chimney and industrial sheds from my early childhood. The single railway line is something that rail campaigners (including me) need to get our skates on about so the land needed for new transport corridors is not lost. (Rail Future East Anglia, this includes you!)

“Would a Science Park also pay for an outdoor swimming area with a ‘false bottom’?”

For years the East Cambridge / Burnside lakes have been a public health hazard – swimming in flooded quarries that have no safety equipment and that have not been made safe can be death traps. Every year the police send out warnings about the dangers of swimming in quarries – that are all too often ignored. Which is one of the reasons why I’ve asked in the past whether a safe outdoor swimming area with a ‘false bottom’ could be created for one of the lakes. Inevitably this causes a conflict of use with anglers – note the summary from the Friends of Cherry Hinton Brook. The viewpoint I’m coming from is one where there isn’t enough existing safe outdoor swimming areas in/around Cambridge. The costs of patrolling to keep people out of dangerous areas is inevitably a burden on the police. The only project I can think of that might significantly reduce the trespassing – especially in hot summers, is the Cambridge Sports Lakes Trust project which includes building a long-delayed rowing lake.

Footbridges and cycle bridges over busy roads

If development does go ahead, one of the things I’d like to see are contributions from developers towards safe crossings such as over the existing railway line, which currently looks like this.

Above – “The Tins” footbridge over the railway line linking Cambridge to Newmarket and beyond.

Above – the East Cambridge Lakes on G-Maps with the David Lloyd Centre above it – and the Tins Bridge just to the left of the “D” for David.

From both a commercial perspective and also a healthy communities perspective, having a new bridge over the railway to East Coleridge and West Cherry Hinton below the railway line would make both the gym, tennis courts, and swimming pools more accessible to those communities by foot/cycle/scooter. Assuming a science park was built there, it would also make access to the site much easier for local residents working there.

“Hang on – we’ve got the housing crisis issues again”

This is linked to the proposals from the RAILPEN Pension Fund’s acquisition of the Beehive Centre and the Newmarket Road Retail Park – I blogged about the webinar they held here. The simple point is that Cambridge simply does not have the capacity to provide the skilled workforce in the numbers required for new science parks. That’s why the Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce held an event about the skills shortage in and around Cambridge yesterday that I went to while Liz Truss was preparing to resign. As I briefly mentioned to delegates, the developments of the science parks will result in further competition for their staff unless drastic action is taken on rail-based transport to link Cambridge up to surrounding towns where house prices are much lower and unemployment rates are higher. That also means investing in adult education institutions and lifelong learning – including paying people to retrain and paying them while they retrain.

“What’s there to the east of Fulbourn but fields?”

This is where Transport East has to step in and make the case for upgrading the railway line between Cambridge and Newmarket – and beyond towards Mildenhall, Thetford, Norwich and ultimately Great Yarmouth. The expansion of Cambridge as a city combined with the demand for more open green space means that there will be a conflict – one that the environment must win over unrestrained ‘free’ markets. Here’s the National Trust’s vision for extending Wicken Fen to the edge of Cambridge by Fen Ditton and the A14.

Above – the Wicken Fen vision.

Note I have not forgotten Cambridge Great Park in the South-East of Cambridge, nor have I forgotten the desperate need for a new park for north Cambridge serving Arbury and King’s Hedges.

Above – I was reminded of this at the Cambridge Land Justice meeting last weekend.

This conflicts with proposals for a Science Park North, which I think local councils should stomp on and quickly. Far better for them to persuade developers to put proposals together for some new science parks in places like Ramsey and Chatteris that can be served by light/suburban rail loops that link to Cambridge, Huntingdon, and Peterborough, ensuring that much of their day-to-day work can be out there while maintaining a much smaller ‘shop front’ presence in the cities where land and office prices are inevitably higher. That way you spread the wealth that is over-concentrated in Cambridge.

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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