The Local Plans for Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire are based on a forecast of 44,100 jobs being created between 2011 and 2031. That largely determined the need to reserve enough land to build 33,500 new homes. It also gave rise to the £500 million City Deal to fund the Greater Cambridge Partnership to build new busways and cycleways to connect people in Cambourne and Waterbeach New Town to jobs in Cambridge, the Biomedical Campus and science and business parks further to the south.
The problem is, the local authorities are so consumed with delivering those new homes, they have failed to keep track of how many jobs they are allowing to be created. According to the Office for National Statistics, the region has already gained 15,400 new jobs since 2011. The following developments in the pipeline will create workplaces for a further 34,000 jobs: Cambridge Biomedical Campus, West and North West Cambridge, Wellcome Genome Campus, Granta Park, Peterhouse Technology Park, 104–112 Hills Rd, Huawei, Northstowe and Waterbeach New Town. Add the 20,000 planned for North East Cambridge, and you end up with over 69,000. That’s more than 50% above the forecast.
At the ratio used in the current Local Plans, that would imply a need for 52,500 new homes, or 19,000 more than are currently planned. Worse still, employment sites are being built out much more quickly than housing.
Barring a deep recession, the region’s housing crisis is going to become very much worse. More people will have to commute from outside Greater Cambridge to work here, potentially generating more road traffic and congestion, and more carbon emissions. Even if additional homes can be built on Cambridge Airport and other brownfield land, there are grave concerns about the ecological damage caused by over-abstraction of water to supply the new homes and offices already planned.
What about the impact of home-working? That will mean more people sharing desks at work, which means existing and new workplaces can support even more jobs, which will further increase demand for homes.
I don’t wish to sound alarmist but, Cambridge, we have a problem.
Postscript: For a flavour of where additional housing could be built in Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire, see the published map of sites proposed by landowners for future development. The planning authorities will, through public consultation, consider which to include in the next Local Plan for the region.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 16 September 2020.