The draft North East Cambridge Area Action Plan sets out our planners’ vision for how land around Cowley Rd, including the water treatment plant, will be redeveloped. They want the site to accommodate over 8,000 homes, and commercial and industrial space to support 20,000 new jobs. The implied density, of around 225 people per hectare, is higher than the densest city in the developed world, Paris, and more than double the density of inner London.
Contrary to the sales pitch, it will still not solve Cambridge’s acute housing shortage. In fact, it will make it worse: 8,000 homes will accommodate around 18,500 people, of whom about 10,500 will be in employment. Yet the intention is to provide 20,000 new jobs: where will the other 9,500 workers live?
The high density comes at the expense of open space. The Local Plan requires about 42 hectares, yet the proposal provides less than a quarter of this, mostly as a linear park which will offer limited recreational possibilities. The rest will be ‘outsourced’ to other areas, such as Milton Country Park, even though that is already well-used. Sporting facilities will also be outsourced, including a new swimming pool in a location yet to be found.
The mooted wetland nature reserve in Chesterton Fen is essential. The proposed access, via a new cycle/footbridge over the railway, should be a road bridge. That would replace the problematic Fen Rd level crossing, which can then be converted to a cycle/footway underpass.
The provision of one parking space per two dwellings may be low by current standards, but assumes half the households will still own 4,000 cars between them. That is not compatible with a net-zero carbon future. Car clubs and pools allow more efficient use of far fewer vehicles. That’s what we must design for.
However this site is redeveloped, it must be a positive contribution to the city in terms of environmental and ecological impact, the amenities it provides, and the quality of life it sustains. Be sure to take a look at the plans and add your comments via the consultation (until 5 October).
 The Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire Local Plans set aside land for 33,500 new homes to be built between 2011 and 2031 to support a forecast growth in employment of 44,100 jobs over the same two decades. 15,400 jobs have already been added since 2011 (based on ONS data, but not taking into account recent, hopefully temporary, job losses due to COVID-19). A back-of-the-envelope calculation of the employment space currently under development or planned at Cambridge Biomedical Campus, North West Cambridge, West Cambridge, Wellcome Genome Campus, Babraham Institute, Granta Park, Peterhouse Technology Park, 104–112 Hills Rd, Northstowe and Waterbeach New Town implies a further growth in jobs of 34,000. Add another 20,000 at North East Cambridge, and the total comes close to 70,000 jobs. The housing requirement for that number of jobs is approximately 20,000 more than the 33,500 homes current Local Plans provide.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 2 September 2020.