Azara Blog: Cambridge University Northwest Cambridge development

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Date published: 2005/01/12

The University of Cambridge has three major future development sites, West Cambridge (south of Madingley Road), Addenbrookes (in the south of the city) and Northwest Cambridge (north of Madingley Road and south of Huntingdon Road). These are all large chunks of so-called greenbelt which are going to be developed because Cambridge is expanding (or so it is claimed) and there is not much space left to do it in.

West Cambridge has mainly been for physical-related sciences (although the Vet School is there) and Addenbrookes has mainly been for biological-related sciences (the regional hospital is also there). It is not yet clear what Northwest Cambridge will be earmarked for. It had been suggested in the past that a couple of new colleges could go there. But it seems the development cost for one college is around 100 million pounds and the university is going to have trouble raising that much money for such a cause. (Any rich Americans want to have a Cambridge college named after them? I imagine even coughing up 50 million pounds would do the trick. The last Cambridge college to be founded was named after a chap by the name of Robinson, who made his money in TV rentals.) Right now it looks like instead there will be some (non-collegiate) residential development and perhaps some research buildings.

The university sponsored an exhibition tonight to give some first thoughts about what might happen in Northwest Cambridge (with lots of verbiage about "ecology"), and to seek citizen input. Needless to say on this occasion most of the people showing up were residents local to the area being affected. The number one concern of such people is traffic. The second concern is traffic. And the third concern is traffic. Well they are also concerned about the value of their properties falling. The houses bordering the site on Huntingdon Road, Madingley Road and Storey's Way are some of the finest and most expensive in Cambridge (the first two in spite of the traffic on them), so these people are not going to stay quiet while the largely agricultural land in their back yard is concreted over. (The exhibition also attracted the usual anti-car cycling zealots who believe the whole world should revolve around them.)

This is a site whose residential development should be the kind of low-density housing seen throughout the neighbourhood. Unfortunately low-density housing is extrememly unlikely to happen on the Northwest Cambridge site. There is a conspiracy between landowners and developers, urban politicians and the urban planning elite, and certain so-called environmentalists to stuff as many people per hectare as imaginable onto any new development site. The landowners and developers support this policy because they can make loads of money. The urban politicians and urban planning elite support this policy because they hate suburbs (which, along with even more rural locations, is where most people want to live, which always drives the urban elite nuts). Some so-called environmentalists support this policy because if you treat people like battery hens there is allegedly more space left over for "green" areas, and high-density also allegedly encourages bus services, which are allegedly "green". The university allegedly has a hard time attracting top-notch talent because the housing is so expensive and rubbish in Cambridge, and building more expensive rubbish is hardly going to help.

One of the problems with transport in the area is the brain-dead way the M11, which borders the west of the site, is designed. Junction 13 (at the southwest corner of the site) stupidly has ramps only going south, not north. As a result one of only two Park and Rides serving the northwest of the city (i.e. the direction of the A14), the Madingley Road Park and Ride off of Junction 13, would normally be accessed from the A14 by driving into the city along Huntingdon Road and then out again along Madingley Road (usually using Storey's Way, which is a rat run partly because of the poor connectivity of the M11). The M11 connections to the nearby A14 (a crazy layout) and the A428 (only connected in one direction) are equally dire. This is the quality of transport planning we get in the UK. (The M11 is less than 25 years old so there is no excuse.)

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