Beehive redevelopment plans contain no useable green space despite appeals from residents and councillors

Disappointing set of refined proposals from RailPEN’s consultants – which feel at odds with what local railway workers who pay into the pension fund may want.

If you want to read yourself search 22/05250/SCOP on the planning portal or look at the new set of docs here.

I said I’d come back to this at the end of my previous blogpost, which comes off the back of news that RailPEN acquired The Flying Pig Pub site following the successful appeal to a Planning Inspector by the applicant against planning permission refusal by Cambridge City Council. You can read the appeal story in the Cambridge Independent. Selling on a site that has planning permission attached to it is valued more by the market than one without planning permission. If an applicant buys a site without planning permission, then gains planning permission for the site, they can make a tidy profit if they sell it on. Successive ministers have refused to tax that ‘planning uplift’ despite appeals from the former Mayor of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough, James Palmer to bring it in to pay for new infrastructure in and around Cambridge. The idea is that land owners who benefit from increased land values resulting from new public transport infrastructure such as light rail stops on a new line, should pay a tax on any planning gains they make from the sale of that land. Which I agree with.

Bidwells commissioned by RailPEN to provide the scoping report for an Environmental Impact Assessment

As mentioned in my previous post, of their contents page I have put in bold the things that stood out.

Table of Contents
1.0 Introduction 1
2.0 Site Context 3
3.0 Proposed Development 5
4.0 EIA Methodology and Scope 7
5.0 Air Quality 18
6.0 Flood Risk and Drainage 23
7.0 Heritage 26
8.0 Ground Conditions and Contamination 30
9.0 Townscape and Visual 35
10.0 Noise and Vibration 37
11.0 Socioeconomics 43
12.0 Transport 49
13.0 Cumulative Impacts 54
14.0 Proposed Structure of the ES 60

Zooming into the technical drawings to get a feel for building height.

From the second scoping report, I looked at some of the easily-missed detail. This from Page 20. This was picked up by Cllr Dr Hannah Copley (Greens – Abbey).

On building heights, AOD stands for Above Ordnance Datum – which indicates the building height in relation to the mean sea level. What this means for Cambridge is that building heights will need to account for what the AOD is ‘at ground level’ on the building site. According to documents from Cambridge’s 2006 Local Plan, that is anywhere between 5m and 15m above sea level.

“The built environment of the City occupies a level area of land generally between 5 and 15 m AOD (Above Ordnance Datum).”

Guidance on policy for proposed tall buildings in Cambridge, p18

Above – the detail of the proposed towers next to the Cambridge-Ely railway line by Coldham’s Lane bridge: Note the homes on the other side of the line at Hampden Gardens and Winstanley Court off Cromwell Road, Romsey.

Even if you assumed that part of Cambridge had an AOD of 15m, the tallest buildings on the site that have an AOD of just under 50m will still be over 30m in height from the ground level.

Proposed buildings next to Victorian and Edwardian homes in Petersfield

It will be interesting to see how local residents react to the proposed buildings on York Street and Sleaford Street – some of you may wish to get involved with the Petersfield Area Community Trust to stay in touch with future announcements.

Much will depend on how similar/different in height the new buildings will be.

Above – the present state from York Street and Sleaford Street.

As is often the case with Cambridge, what’s already there could be improved substantially. All too often the developments that take place seldom seem to maximise the potential for the residents, with the actual improvements being modest at best – while making fortunes for the organisations not based here to extract from the city to far away.

Previous developments as precedents.

I expect the developers will be looking towards other large scale developments as a precedent for more tall buildings. Take the Cambridge Biomedical Campus:

“The existing hospital buildings and those presently under construction vary in height, but are mostly 3-5 storeys. The highest building on the site is 16 storeys in height. Buildings within the new development are expected to be similar in height. Building heights will be no higher than 36m above ground level”

EIB Para 2.3 p6
“That’s great – what does the latest local plan say?”

Let’s have a look.

Above – p193 / p186 (depending on which page count you are using) of the local plan

It states that ‘any proposal for a structure that breaks the existing skyline and/or is
significantly taller than the surrounding built form will be considered against the following criteria that include:

  • location, setting and context
  • impact on the historic environment
  • scale, massing and architectural quality
  • amenity and microclimate
  • public realm

The detail that stands out in the explainers for each one include:

“scale, massing and architectural quality – applicants should demonstrate through the use of scaled drawings, sections, accurate visual representations and models how the proposals will deliver a high quality addition to the Cambridge skyline and clearly demonstrate that there is no adverse impact”

Policy 60 – c


public realm – applicants should show how the space around tall buildings will be detailed, including how a human scale is created at street level.

Policy 60 – e

The problem is that even though approved local plans are supposed to be water-tight, time and again we see planning refusals for applications that breach local plan requirements being over-turned time-and-again by planning inspectors – the latest being a few weeks ago at Fulbourn – for yet another science park.

Ministers are now consulting about a new additional policy on ‘beautiful buildings’ – or rather, banning ugliness.

You can see the consultation here.

…you have three months left! (Click here and scroll down for response details)

“What can we do in the meantime?”

Ask about the social and civic infrastructure deficitI wrote about it here. Drop an email to your councillors ( – this is something for people across Cambridge City Council and the surrounding and nearby council areas. This includes South Cambs, East Cambs, Huntingdonshire, and even North Hertfordshire (Royston), Uttlesford (Saffron Walden) and West Suffolk (Newmarket & Haverhill). Because all of these new science park developments will result in an influx of people into all of these districts because Cambridge’s labour market does not have the capacity to meet the demand for those levels of very highly skilled labour needed to work at the proposed science parks. And in absence of an industrial strategy from the incompentocracy in Westminster and Whitehall, expect the science park boom to continue.

Pressure groups and campaign groups

With a general election now scheduled within the next two years, political parties will already be preparing their manifestos.

The three parties represented on Cambridge City Council are:

Some of you may want to get in touch with one or more of those parties to find out what their national proposals are for overhauling the planning system.

Some of you may also be interested in the Political Compass site – which scored UK political parties at the 2019 general election across a matrix rather than a left-right spectrum. (It also has a test you can take to find which party their model thinks your views are most closely aligned with).

For those of you pondering an independent route, the Flatpack Democracy website may be of interest. See also Cambridge City Council’s guide to becoming a candidate – mindful we have local elections coming up in just over four months time!

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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