Smarter Cambridge Transport

New ‘car-free’ development misses the mark

The planned redevelopment of the Travis Perkins site off Mill Rd in Cambridge is one to watch. The builders’ merchants will be replaced by a mix of build-to-let flats, offices, a crèche, community facilities, a small landscaped park and community gardens. It is being designed for car-free living; there will be no gas boilers; rainwater will not drain into the sewer; and the buildings will achieve high (though not the highest) sustainability ratings.

The Local Plan envisaged 43 dwellings on the site. The proposal is for 100 dwellings plus 13,000 sq.m. of space for offices and other uses. That’s enough space for 1,000 workers. This is high density.

Based on current guidance in the Local Plan (which doesn’t cover car-free developments), the proposal provides 140 cycle spaces for around 250 residents. Evidence from car-free developments in Switzerland and Germany indicates they will actually require at least one space per resident. A high proportion of those will need to fit a cargo bike or trailer – for carrying shopping and young children.

Each day there could be over a thousand people arriving and leaving on foot and cycle: residents, workers, visitors and parents taking infants to the crèche. The current design has most of those movements mixing with delivery and service vehicles at two main entrances. That won’t be safe if access is regularly blocked or obscured by multiple delivery, service or visitor vehicles.

The developer offers a false trade-off: parking spaces or trees – suggesting the (unbuilt) buildings are fixtures. Since the city suffers from a shortage of housing, it is the office space that should be scaled back to make the site more liveable and functional.

Most of the vehicle and additional cycle parking could be incorporated into the footprint of the buildings to maximise the area of open green space. That needs enlarging anyway to make the park more inviting, and to increase the separation of the buildings, reducing overlooking and overshadowing.

We encourage the developer to submit a further iteration of their designs with the ambition of creating an award-winning reference site for sustainable, car-free living.

This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 20 October 2021.

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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