Queens’ College clashes with local residents and environmentalists over proposed student flats in Cambridge

The passionate disagreement between objectors and one of Cambridge University’s oldest colleges exposed the longstanding tension between the desire of senior Dons for continued expansion in the face of both opposition from local residents and the symptoms of environmental limits to growth.

Before I start, there’s a big East of England Development Conference happening at The Guildhall on 07 Feb 2022. It’s not cheap – starting prices for tickets for what is a private event are from about £200. Which is normal in conference land. But this may be just about affordable for some community groups and campaigns to send along a delegate or three to take part and question the participants on their plans – in particular on limits to growth. Other campaign groups may choose to flyer the event at the start, during the lunch break, and at the end of the event.

Owlstone Croft – student accommodation proposals submitted by Queen’s College, Cambridge refused by Cambridge City Council’s Planning Committee.

The Cambridge Independent’s newest columnist Phil Rodgers sat through and watched the whole thing online – and confirmed that councillors on the City Council’s Planning Committee rejected the application from Queen’s College. You can read the summary from the Cambridge Independent on the proposals in the run up to the committee meeting here.

I browsed through who said what – the public and ward councillor comments alone taking the best part of two hours before they got into the substantive discussion.

Out of the contributions, there was one that caught my ear – which was Emma Munday’s contribution about how young people and younger adults were conspicuous by their absence in decision-making forums on the future of our city.

The debate on Owlstone Croft.

Council planning officers address the points made by the public speakers and councillors – along with follow-up comments and questions from councillors on the planning committee.

Wider town vs gown and villages issues

I’m not going to go into huge detail in this post – rather I’ll point to previous posts with some quick summaries for you to judge if you want to read them.

It remains to be seen what Queens’ College choose to do next. They can either:

  1. Do nothing and forget about the whole thing
  2. Come back with significantly-amended plans that address the issues raised by councillors on the planning committee that caused the original application to be rejected (which often happens)
  3. Appeal to a Government Planning Inspector and get the refusal overturned – which would poison the College’s relationship with local residents – and possibly some of its own members and alumni as well.

Because the College is a long-term institution with a long history in the town, my sense is they will come back with amended proposals. Other developers that have appealed against refusals have tended to be ones with little to gain from long term relationships with residents, or where any long term relationship with communities is outweighed by significant financial pressures from their investors who, often by their nature have no meaningful relationship with the city beyond the incentive to make money/a financial return on their investments. This is something that also comes up in this week’s Cambridge Independent – and the demand for new homes.

Above – despite Conservatives opposing things locally, the problem they have is their Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has gone with ‘Go for growth’ as one of his top five priorities. Furthermore, their party receives substantial sums from finance and property industry groups which as we have seen inevitably influences policy.

“A decade-long plan to force all new homes to be ‘zero carbon’ from 2016 was binned by the Treasury earlier this month, prompting the former Lib Dem energy secretary Ed Davey to say David Cameron “may as well hug a coal power station””

Adam Vaughan and Terry Macalister in The Guardian, “The nine green policies killed off by the Tory government” 24 July 2015

Seven years later, Michael Gove went and hugged a new coal mine for such power stations.

If local Conservatives don’t want the new homes, they need to get onto their senior ministers to come up with a radical industrial strategy, and sustainable zero carbon public transport plan, and an overhaul of how our city, county, and economic sub-region is governed – so that they disperse the over-concentration of financial firepower being thrown at Cambridge – ‘a city with a global name that is run like a large market town’. We are Cambridge. We can do better than this.

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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