The new vision being developed for the Cambridge Biomedical Campus is all about growth. It’s a microcosm of the Oxford–Cambridge Arc project, fuelled by a naïve belief that more of a good thing must also be good.
The beneficial role of the Campus, in treating sick people and researching future life-saving treatments, is undeniable. So is its contribution to local employment and tax revenues. But it also negatively impacts the city in ways that cannot be ignored: it generates a huge number of vehicle movements in and out of the south of the city; it uses vast amounts of energy and water; and it pollutes the air. The walking and cycling environment is hostile, through a mostly industrial and sterile landscape; and bus services are slow and confusing to use.
Cambridge City Council has signed up to Doughnut Economics, a fundamental tenet of which is a recognition of planetary and social boundaries over which we step at our peril. The Campus must start by setting out a pathway to shrink its environmental footprint.
It must engage much more seriously with the inadequate design proposed for Cambridge South station, to ensure it facilitates greatly improved access to the campus by rail, bus, cycle and foot. It must also realise an important element of the Campus’s earlier 2020 Vision: to create a direct central route only for walking, cycling and buses, through what is now the food hall. Combined with reconfiguration of the entrances to A&E and Outpatients, it should be possible to create an attractive green space for people to use – including in-patients, who currently have nowhere relaxing outside to go.
The next ten-year plan for the Campus must be to set its house in order, to make the existing site (including already-committed new buildings) truly sustainable; safe and convenient for walking, cycling and public transport; and a good neighbour to Queen Edith’s and Trumpington. None of that should be conditional on further expansion. An essential first step is to create a public face and authoritative voice for the whole Campus, that is answerable to the local authorities and residents.
Do share your thoughts with the Campus before the end of May.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 5 May 2021.