Cambridge 1950

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In 1950 Cambridgeshire Country Council published an important document, "Cambridge Planning Proposals", by William Holford and H. Myles Wright. This would influence planning decisions in Cambridge directly for the next 20 years and indirectly still today and on into the future.

The authors stated "one cannot make a good expanding plan for Cambridge", which perhaps indicates their prejudice or lack of imagination more than anything else. But because of this belief their main conclusion is that "there should be a resolute effort to slow down migration into the Cambridge district, and to reduce the high rate of growth so that future population should not greatly exceed present figures".

In 1950 the city had around 86000 inhabitants (including students). In 2004 it has around 110000 inhabitants. It might well have had much more were it not for the Holford report. In the next 20 years Cambridge is supposed to grow to over 140000 inhabitants. No doubt this figure would have been considered to be catastrophic by Holford, et al.. No doubt Cambridge will easily absorb this population and in 50 years everybody will be wondering what the fuss was all about, and at the same time no doubt trying to prevent further growth.

The authors go on to state "if probability of rapid growth is the greatest problem in the planning of Cambridge the most urgent is that of traffic". Every generation in Cambridge (and elsewhere) thinks that traffic congestion is unbearable and that if nothing is done the world will end. No doubt the same complaints were made in Roman times.

In spite of their dire anti-growth message, the authors proposed some rather radical road building, and also foresaw the massive post-war growth of north and south Cambridge. Some of their proposals are reviewed here.

Finally, the authors realise that their job was not easy. "Persons or bodies whose interests are adversely affected by the proposals very naturally and properly oppose them strenuously. But the converse is not true. In these busy times those who would benefit from planning proposals do not save in rare instances, lend their support to the Planning Authority." That statement could easily have been written today. And in general it is really a question of which side in the argument has more committed activists.

It is fashionable in current government ideology to ask the public for their opinions, e.g. by the UK government about airport expansion, genetically modified food, etc., and by Cambridge government on the closure of Silver Street, etc. This would be a good idea were it not for the fact that the submissions are then taken as representative of public opinion and hence "democratic". They most certainly are not representative since they are dominated by activists. People who live near airports will vociferously oppose their expansion, everybody else benefits but only a little and so in general will not be bothered enough to submit an opinion. The anti-GM lobby is religious in its opposition to GM food and religious zealots are bound to be more vociferous than the general public, who do not care one way or the other. And in Cambridge the pro-cycling and pro-bus chattering classes are much more activist than the ordinary car commuter and so are always going to be over-represented in submissions. In all cases the main counterweight to the activists is the associated commercial interest.

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