33,500 new homes are due to be built in Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire over the next twelve years. That is going to have a huge negative impact locally and on the planet unless there is a revolution in the planning and design of new developments.
Cambridge City and South Cambridgeshire District Councils recently consulted on a draft housing strategy. It is full of warm words like, “Everyone has access to a suitable home, and residents are able to live as healthily, safely, and independently as possible.” But does the document contain new measures to ensure these objectives will be met? Not really. Essentially it boils down to “Work with the private sector to deliver them.” Guess who’s in the driving seat in that relationship?
Smarter Cambridge Transport’s response to the Housing Strategy consultation focuses on areas that need policy reform, locally or nationally to improve the transparency of the planning process; increase the contribution that land owners make to public infrastructure and amenities; and more detailed minimum standards for transport infrastructure, from cycleways to loading bays, road crossings to bus shelters, electric charging points to delivery lock boxes, and lighting to natural surveillance.
Roads and pathways are the circulatory system of every development, facilitating or obstructing the free movement of people. Designs should evolve from a map of direct walking and cycling routes to be provided to local amenities and bus stops. These must be ready to use from the first day residents move in.
Post construction, a long-term, fully-funded plan (probably including subscriptions to a residents’ management company) is needed to cover maintenance of landscaping, infrastructure and amenities, and to subsidise high quality public transport provision.
Planning policy is one of the biggest levers available to make sustainable living not just possible at a stretch, but normal. Time is running out though: we have until about 2030 to de-carbonise how we live and work (that’s when the UK’s carbon budget runs out). Let us hope politicians share this sense of urgency and support radical but practical changes along the lines we have suggested. You can read our recommendations here.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 6 February 2019.