Smarter Cambridge Transport

8,000 new homes and 20,000 new jobs in a small corner of Cambridge?

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.[1]

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.[2] Yet the intention is to provide 20,000 new jobs: where will the other 9,500 workers live?[3]

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).

[1] From Lessons from Higher Density Development.

[2] 69.5% of Cambridge residents are aged 16–64, and 83% of those are economically active.

[3] 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.

Edward Leigh

Edward Leigh is the leader of Smarter Cambridge Transport, chair and independent co-opted member of the Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel, chair of the South Petersfield Residents Association, business owner, consultant, and occasional blogger about making the world and Cambridge a better place to live.


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  • The population density is high, but lower than other high density neighbourhoods like Madrid Centro or San Francisco Chinatown, which are over 280 people per hectare.

    Info here:

    The question remains if such a high density development should go there though.

    Do you think they are getting away with having less green space, by ‘stealing’ Milton Country Park, seeing as it is going to be right next to this new development?

    • It is true there are higher density neighbourhoods in metropolises like Paris, Madrid and New York (Manhattan). But these neighbourhoods also have access to high-density public transport networks operating 24 hours a day, which meet the needs of almost all work, social, educational, retail, cultural and leisure trips. That is a hugely important difference when comparing the sustainability of high-density living and working in a small city like Cambridge.

      The Action Plan does assume that Milton Country Park will provide most of the shortfall in open and recreational space for North East Cambridge residents. However, the park is already very well used and could not cope with the demand from another 18,500 residents on its doorstep.

      • Agreed which is one reason I personally would be alarmed to find the sewage works relocating to Site 3 (between Horningsea and Fen Ditton). This would potentially end Wicken Fen’s 100 Year Vision which hopes to create a diverse landscape for wildlife and people stretching from Wicken Fen to the edge of Cambridge. Milton Country Park will be overloaded with people seeking to engage with nature. The land at Honey Hill (Site 3) needs to be protected as it will provide an essential recreational overspill for people at the NECAAP, Marleigh and Waterbeach developments.

  • This development looks to be a ghetto for the future. There is little mention of whether it will be rental property or saleable. Whether or not there is likely to be a large percentage of social housing etc.
    Aesthetically Cambridge is fast losing any kind of charm and the surrounding countryside increasingly at risk.
    Do we want this relatively small city to be a metropolis?

    • indeed. these “houses” or “apartments” seem to be no bigger than the sheds of suburban shanty towns we see around many cities in developing nations.

      I think you’re right, in future economic changed times these will become a ghetto or shanty town.

  • we’re in a new normal, where people will be working from home a lot more.

    people working from home need more space, not less. I pity the people who bought a tiny little flat in inner london, with a huge mortgage because it was all they could afford but at least saved on commuting. These people would have relied on living in a city to extend their living environment into their neighbourhood, and relied on their employer to provide a decent work environment.

    there are people who are working from home which means working from a small kitchen table or even having to sit in bed because their accommodation is so small!

    why does the city then allow property developers to jam people into ever more tiny huts? at what point do farm animals have a right to more space than humans?

  • I would like to know where all the secondary age school children are going to be educated. And where are all these bodies going to be buried/cremated when the time comes!!