A recent online discussion about a proposed new council development off Arbury Road made me think hard about the seeming clash between social equity and sustainability.
The site is the Meadows Community Centre, which Cambridge City Council is proposing to replace with a new community hub and 85 flats. The site will have 116 parking spaces, 55 of them for the flats. Parking and road access will occupy 35% of the land.
Ex-councillor Clare King and the council leader, Cllr Lewis Herbert, defend the right of future tenants of these homes to own and park a car. Council tenants often do jobs that require driving (e.g. probation officers and Macmillan Nurses) or work shifts or lates (e.g. hospitality and security staff), when public transport is not available. Even if they don’t need a car when they move in, they might need one later. Choosing or moving between council housing is not as flexible as in the private sector: you get what you’re given.
Set against these considerations is the opportunity cost of not building more homes in that land (which would benefit more people), and the wider social and environmental impacts, which include the fact that more cars in the city means more congestion, more pollution and more CO2 emissions. These concerns apply to all new developments around the city, of which some of the largest are on council-owned land, such as the Mill Road depot and the Ridgeons site on Cromwell Road.
The future we should be planning and building for is one in which walking, cycling and public transport are the most convenient and affordable options for most people most of the time, reducing car dependency and the associated negative impacts.
This isn’t about removing advantage from those whom society has already disadvantaged; it’s about giving all people sustainable transport options. The city council has an unprecedented opportunity to do that, through the £500million City Deal. Yet it seems nobody has faith in it, because we are still planning and building as if the future will be only slightly different from 30 years ago.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 30 January 2019.