Cambridge 2000 memos
Some comments on the draft Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Structure Plan, which will determine how Cambridge will be allowed to develop through 2016.
First here are some general comments.
The draft document "Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Structure Plan" is badly impacted by the continual and meaningless use of the word "sustainable". The document really takes this as a code word such that anything to do with cars is not "sustainable" and anything to do with public transport is "sustainable". Nobody would want to discourage the government from providing decent public transport (if it is affordable, which the document completely avoids as an issue). However the idea that this is, or should be, the only way forward is pie in the sky. Cars are by far and away the best means for many journeys and as given, this document is trying to turn reality on its head. If public transport is so great then provide it and see if people will use it. The document implies again and again that people should practically be forced to use public transport. This is insidious, impractical and contemptuous of most workers in Cambridgeshire.
In the document the main focus for development in Cambridge City relies on the closure of Cambridge Airport. Marshall Aerospace is the city's largest private-sector employer and the closure implies the loss from Cambridge of hundreds of high-skill jobs. These add much-needed diversity to the Cambridge private-sector economy away from the hot-today-cold-tomorrow world of biotech and IT/telecommunications. Many employees of Marshall's will either lose their jobs or be forced to move or travel much further to work (by car of course). The structure plan bizarrely implies that building on the fully utilised airport land, with the massive disruption caused and the huge economic cost, is far more "sustainable" than building on the vastly under-utilised agricultural land right next door. Cambridge should encourage Marshall's to stay. It is a combination of arrogance and stupidity to encourage them to go.
Specific comments and objections about the numbered policies follow. (Obviously these comments also have bearing on the paragraphs corresponding to the policies.)
Policy P1/1: This states that "in all cases development should be located where good public transport accessibility exists or can be provided". The word "public" should be removed.
Policies P1/3 and P5/3: Policy P1/3 states that new developments must have "compact forms of development through the promotion of higher densities" and Policy P5/3 makes specific recommendations about what "higher density" means (roughly speaking, up to double what we have today). This is a big mistake. Cambridge should be a garden city, not a cramped, ugly, concrete and brick jungle. There have been no quality residential developments in the city since the 1930s, which is pathetic. Does this city have any vision or are we just another medium-sized British town of no consequence? This high-density approach will lead to awful housing, which the city will live to regret. We should have more developments of a smaller size and density rather than fewer developments of the battery hen variety. Most recent university, research and non-retail commercial developments in Cambridge have been quality buildings, why is it that residential developments are allowed to be so mediocre?
Policies P2/1, P2/5 and P9/8: Policy P2/1 states that we should have "the selective management of employment which does not need to be located in or close to Cambridge", and Policy P9/8 is similar in tone. Policy P2/5 states that "distribution and warehousing facilities will not be permitted within or close to Cambridge". These statements should be removed from the document. No company would locate near Cambridge without good reason (which includes the obvious considerations about the current poor state of the transportation network near Cambridge), and all development applications should be looked at on a case-by-case basis. Indeed Policy 2/1 also states that we should be "encouraging a wider range of business and industrial development" and Policy P9/8 states that we should allow "industries which would contribute to a greater range of local employment opportunities, especially where this takes advantage of, or contributes to the development of, particular locally based skills and expertise". These are much more sensible statements (because they are so vague, i.e. flexible).
Policy P2/2: This states that we should "work towards a balance of jobs and housing". There is an implicit belief here (and implied elsewhere in the document as well) that if a house is near a company then a person in that house is likely to take a job in that that company. In Cambridge itself this might be (somewhat) true (because there are so many people and companies). But outside of Cambridge this would only be true for low-skill jobs, and for high-skill jobs this is extremely unlikely to be true. Any house or hi-tech company located outside the city (even in a nearby village) is almost a guarantee of increased car usage. The development of clusters (Policy P2/4) is sensible but will lead to increased car usage. People are willing to travel a fair amount to get to work. Growth in car usage is highly correlated with growth in the economy, which the authors of the document refuse to recognise or accept.
Policies P3/1 and P8/4: Policy P3/1 states that we should "reduce the impact of traffic on centres" and "improve town and city centre safety". Policy 8/4 is all about "managing demand for car travel". This all sounds wonderful but nothing should be done on any of these scores unless a cost-benefit analysis is done on a case-by-case basis that convincingly demonstrates that it is worth doing. The idea that we should only look at one side of the equation (the benefit) is ridiculous. The need for a cost-benefit analysis in all cases should be stated unequivocally in the document.
Policy P3/2: This states that "proposals for shopping, commercial leisure, sporting facilities and other uses which attract large numbers of people should be accessible by a range of transport modes particularly public transport, walking and cycling". The document should explicitly state that Out-of-Centre locations should be accessible by cars and be permitted to have plenty of parking. (And obviously as part of the planning process consideration will have to be made of how much traffic they will generate.) Otherwise they will not be economically feasible (in general).
Policy P4/1: This states that "tourism, recreation and leisure development should be accessible by a choice of sustainable transport modes". The meaningless word "sustainable" should be removed (and it should not be replaced by the word "public", which is probably what is meant by "sustainable").
Policy P5/2: This states that in Cambridge City 55% of development should be on previously developed land. This is manifestly impossible without developing the airport site, so cannot be supported by anyone who objects to the closure of the airport. The number should be much smaller (but only an expert would be able to give a sensible value).
Policy P5/4: The structure plan should state that Cambridge colleges should be encouraged to build enough accommodation to house all their students in college-owned buildings. (Many are trying to do this in any case.) And the university should be encouraged to build some accommodation for their staff.
Policy P5/5: The structure plan should encourage the building of new country-house estates of world-class architectural quality in rural areas, with a minimum of (say) a ten-acre plot. Put some vision into the document.
Policy P8/5: This states that "parking standards for all new development will be expressed as maximum standards". This is stupid. If there is not enough parking then cars will spill over into neighbouring streets and/or park dangerously (e.g. blocking access for emergency vehicles). It is 2002, not 1902 and not 2102 and we should reflect reality today, not some government-dictated fantasy about a world without cars.
Policy P8/6: This states that "high quality public transport services will be developed". The document implies in several places (e.g. Policy P6/1) that developers will have to pay (at least partly) for public transport services to be built, but who is going to pay for them to be operated? If they turn out to be hopelessly uneconomic are they going to be maintained? The document is again completely ignoring the cost side of the cost-benefit equation. The document should state that "high quality public transport services will be developed where and when affordable".
Policy 8/7: This states that "Local Authorities will work closely with the rail industry to bring forward service enhancements and new infrastructure to increase rail use". If the rail route to London is improved this will only encourage more London commuters to move to the Cambridge area, exacerbating the housing situation. Is the sixty-mile commute by rail from Cambridge to London more "sustainable" than a five-mile commute by car in and around Cambridge?
Policies P8/10 and P9/10: These give priorities for transport developments that will be "required to enable new development to proceed". By far and away the most important of these is the upgrading of the A14 (including access). If this does not happen it would be criminally irresponsible to put any large-scale development in or near Cambridge. The A14 should be clearly indicated to be the number one priority.
Policy P8/12: This states that "the need for additional regional airport capacity is being investigated and if a requirement is identified, a suitable location will be sought". Needless to say there is already a suitable location. It is called Cambridge Airport. No other town or village near Cambridge will want an equivalent airport on its doorstep.
Policy P9/3c: This gives the preferred locations of development land to be released from the "green" belt. Cambridge Airport should be removed from the list (unless Marshall's wants to move, or close down, voluntarily, and that should be discouraged).
Some other general comments follow.
Needless to say Policy P9/3c will one of the most contentious. It seems (according to the local press) that at the last minute at least one developer is trying to get additional areas included in the policy (in particular, the land between Madingley Road and Barton Road). If these additional areas are allowed to be included in the structure plan, or any priorities changed, then it is incumbent on the local government to give people the opportunity to comment again in future (specifically on this one policy), otherwise a potentially large development will have been sneaked in by the back door.
As well as "sustainable", the meaningless phrase "key worker" is used over and over again. In paragraph 5.16 the examples of "key workers" given are "teachers, nurses and those in the emergency services". So perhaps government workers are "key" and by exclusion presumably non-government workers are not. Are teachers really more "key" than bank clerks or supermarket checkout staff or people who deliver petrol to service stations or anyone else? Well paragraph 9.18 tries to be more balanced with the statement that "key worker housing is needed for those employed locally who, whilst not eligible for subsidised housing cannot afford to buy locally on the open market". So perhaps all people who work locally are "key". And so presumably people who live in Cambridge but work elsewhere, e.g. in London, are not "key". If this is really the intent then the phrase "local worker" should be used instead. No matter what, the awful phase "key worker" has no place in the document.
Finally, mention must be made of paragraph 8.33, which is the worst in the entire document: "A significant proportion of journeys are under two miles and thus have the potential to be made by cycle or on foot. However, across the Structure Plan Area, only a small number of journeys are made in this way although in many cases, they could be made more quickly and conveniently by cycle or on foot. This is due to inadequate facilities for cyclists and pedestrians in some areas and a lack of awareness of the benefits of cycling and walking." The whole tone, in particular of the last phrase, is patronising beyond belief. This is 2002, not 1952.
Note: for more information see the following government of Cambridgeshire webpage:
Cambridge 2000 memos