Thursday, 26 July 2012

Charity calls for councils to cooperate in response to City’s Issues & Options report

Planners at Cambridge City Council, and their counterparts at South Cambridgeshire and the County, need to work together to create a common strategic framework for the sub-region that would enable local plans and the forthcoming transport strategy to be prepared in an integrated way. That’s the conclusion of local charity Cambridge Past, Present & Future (CambridgePPF) in its formal response to the City Council’s Issues & Options report.

Robin Pellew (Chair of CambridgePPF) and Peter Landshoff (Chair of  CambridgePPF's Planning Committee)

Peter Landshoff, Chairman of the CambridgePPF Planning Committee, said: “The fact that our three local authorities are undertaking separate consultations, at different times, made it very difficult to make a sensible response to the Issues & Options report published by the City Council. We strongly urge that at the next stage, the three local councils produce a joint framework to provide a common vision and development policy. It is only by taking a comprehensive strategic review of the whole Cambridge sub-region that rational decisions can be made about its future.

Despite the difficulties posed by responding to disparate consultations, CambridgePPF has filed constructive comments to most of the issues set out in the City Council’s report. The charity’s response follows weeks of scrutiny by its volunteer planning committee.

Robin Pellew, Chairman of CambridgePPF, said: “We accept the urgent need to build a significant number of new houses both to sustain the economic prosperity of Cambridge and to provide more affordable housing for key workers. But rather than focusing on the separate
targets, we believe that City and South Cambs should pool their housing projections. What matters is the combined total – the bigger picture.”

“Although the City’s Issues & Options report presents a clear and balanced analysis of the issues facing Cambridge, our team found the process of compiling a response extremely frustrating. It is unrealistic to be asked to make judgements about the future of the city in isolation from its wider sub-regional context. Under the new Localism Act, the three authorities have a statutory duty to cooperate in relation to the planning of sustainable development, and we feel that this will be met only through the production of a shared
strategic framework. We have written to the leader of each local authority to urge them to get their acts together. If you take the not unusual situation of someone living in a South Cambs village, who works in the City and sits in a traffic jam twice a day, that is the responsibility of the County Council – so you can see the logic of calling for joined-up planning.”

Forced to decide which of the Council’s four housing projections would be most acceptable in the period to 2031, CambridgePPF agreed on Option Two – the city’s minimal proposal for 12,700 dwellings. This figure is based on existing housing commitments of 10,612 new homes
already agreed in the current local plan, together with a further 2,060 dwellings – the location of which have already been identified within the city.

Crucially this approach will not require any further encroachment on the green belt – which fits with the charity’s green belt policy. Having supported previous fringe developments, CambridgePPF does not support further release of green belt land at the present time –
except in very special circumstances. Such circumstances do not currently exist when there is adequate land for housing in South Cambs in locations with good public transport.

Additional key points covered by CambridgePPF’s response include:
  • CambridgePPF believes that the very different housing predictions contained in the Issues & Options report indicate that any demand forecasts will – at best – be imprecise. But this does not really matter. Since there is little prospect that the pressure for expansion will diminish, the likelihood is that all viable locations will be developed in due course. Authorities should therefore be prioritising the possible locations that can be developed progressively in response to demand, rather than choosing now how many houses need to go where over the next twenty years.
  • CambridgePPF believes that priority for the limited supply of land within the city should be given to encourage the creation and retention of jobs. Sites currently in employment use should not be converted to housing with jobs driven out of the city.
  • CambridgePPF believes that the Cambridge area needs to be kept attractive but also made more interesting, especially for people outside the universities. This will help ensure the future happiness and health of all local residents, and satisfy the needs of companies that need to recruit and retain staff in an increasingly competitive global market. Building a multi-functional community stadium to provide much-needed integrated sports facilities for the whole sub-region would be a great way to achieve this. However, the charity feels that Trumpington is the wrong location, mainly for transport reasons. Other locations should be investigated, including the North East Fringe, which will have excellent public transport links via the new Science Park Station, the guided bus and the A14.
  • Because land in the City is so precious, CambridgePPF believes there should be a survey of existing usage. Where buildings are sub-standard or space is wasted, for example on extensive surface level car parking, consideration should be given to demolition and rebuilding to a higher density. CambridgePPF has asked that such an exercise be applied urgently to the area around the proposed new Science Park station. Also, is there scope for building above the large areas of rail track?
  • It is important that any new housing plans take into account the alarming increase that is likely to occur in the number of older people. CambridgePPF believes that all new homes should include the provisions of lifetime elements that enable frail or suddenly disabled people to stay in their own homes for as long as possible.
Having submitted its response to Cambridge City Council, the CambridgePPF team is now embarking on the same process for the SCDC consultation, which runs until the end of September.

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