The debate about growth around Cambridge is still far from settled.
The government wants growth because it yields more tax revenues to pay for pensions, healthcare and all the other public services without raising tax rates. Why Cambridge? Because jobs here are, roughly speaking, more profitable than elsewhere in the country. In part that is because of the concentration of talent and new ideas within the university, research and start-up ecosystem.
It is not easy to replicate. The University of Cambridge’s status as one of the world’s leading research centres has been centuries in the making. The research, science and business parks have been half a century in the making.
So, the government strategy is to double the size of the business ecosystem around Cambridge. But that is putting stresses on the natural ecosystem, and climate change is amplifying those.
One response is to say, “No more growth.” But local politicians have already committed us to 35% growth. Vast sums of money are being invested in disconnected and poorly planned transport schemes: new railway stations, East West Rail, road upgrades, busways, Park & Rides and cycleways. Further vast sums will be needed to invest in water supply and treatment, electricity supply and storage, and social infrastructure.
It is now abundantly clear that politicians accepted the growth agenda without a clear vision of where it would take us, without securing adequate funding for all the infrastructure, and without explaining the implications of all this to residents.
They are now proposing to accept 65% growth, in the hopes it will attract additional government money. If we are to choose that path, we need a much clearer vision than is conveyed in the new Local Plan proposals, and it must be underpinned by infrastructure that is demonstrably compatible with decarbonising and “doubling nature” in a meaningful way.
For transport, that means planning further extensions to the rail network, giving serious consideration to creating a tram network, and building a major transport hub at the Girton Interchange, travel hubs in every large village, and hundreds of miles of new cycleways linking everywhere.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 13 October 2021.