A guide to responding to the Local Plan First Proposals, and some personal thoughts on the issues. Written by: Barrie Hunt, Queen Edith’s resident
What growth are the planners proposing?
When interviewing candidates, the question “where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?” can be enlightening – is the candidate likely to be a long-serving bedrock of the team or an ambitious high-flyer on a journey to greater things? There is, of course, no right answer – it depends on what the interviewer is looking for.
Similarly, when assessing the Greater Cambridge Local Plan First Proposals [referred from here as “The Plan”] as the basis for our future lives, residents might ask them: “what will our local area look like in 100 years?”
Whether or not we like the answer will depend on the resident.
The Plan is clear about growth – it is unashamedly ambitious and offers no alternative. By 2041 it projects that Greater Cambridge will need to provide floorspace for 58,500 additional jobs closely linked to 44,400 new homes.
However, it then states that, “in order to give greater confidence in meeting our needs, and in line with good practice, we propose to plan for approximately 10% more homes than our objectively assessed needs, a total of around 48,840 homes.” This equates to 2,326 new homes per year.
To put this in perspective, in 2020, there were c.130,000 homes in Greater Cambridge (i.e. the area administered by the City Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council). So 48,840 extra homes would represent an increase of almost 40% over 21 years.
How do the Planners arrive at that figure?
To justify their figures, the Planning Authority has also published two (very) weighty documents in its evidence base: Strategic spatial options appraisal: Employment (848 pages – see section 4.2) and Employment Land and Economic Development Evidence Study (210 pages – see section 5 pp 96-103).
Recent press articles have attempted to make political capital out of attacking the figure of 48,840 new homes, but fail to ask about its origin. The short answer is that it is solely derived from five separate calculations of past growth of employment. The figure of 58,400 [sic] jobs first appears on page 102 of the Evidence Study, and standard planning calculations, plus 10%, are applied to give the figure for 48,840 homes.
This remains unchanged until it reaches The Plan.
Nowhere in either of the two supporting documents are alternative models seriously considered.
Nor, at any point, is there a discussion of possible visions of Cambridge that current residents might hold.
To be fair, the Planners do have some weighty external constraints including:
- The government currently requires Local Plans to take “The Oxford-Cambridge Arc” into account. Its initial proposals are that the Arc should double its economic output by 2050.
- The 2017 Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Devolution Deal includes the aim that economic output will double by 2042, with GVA [Gross Value Added to the economy] growing from £22bn to over £40bn.
- Plans should provide, as a minimum, the number of homes informed by a local housing needs assessment, conducted using the standard method in planning guidance.
Given these constraints from government, it is clear that no expansion is not a realistic option for The Plan.
Two aspects of the supporting documents do add some flesh to the bald projections:
- A recognition that Covid-19 may affect homeworking and projections will need to be revisited in the final version of The Plan.
- Substantial sections on Wellbeing and Social Inclusion (Section 3.3) and Great Places (Section 3.4). However, this does not consider the impact of growth itself on the welfare of current residents.
Nevertheless, I cannot find:
- Any alternative models with consideration of their relative costs and benefits.
- Alternative projections that consider sector-specific growth in the future – specifically, reference to the longer-term effect of Covid on employment in the local Leisure and Hospitality sector.
- Reference to making up the existing deficit of housing stock. The figure of 48,840 new homes is directly linked to the figure of 58,400 new jobs.
- Realistic discussion of reducing house prices to a genuinely affordable level.
Is growth good?
Growth is not automatically bad – Cambridge clearly has a major economic role to play nationally and internationally and the prosperity of our children and generations beyond will be affected by decisions that emanate from The Plan. But there are clear tensions – what will be the impact on our local neighbourhood and on the surrounding environment?
Our task in responding to the consultation should certainly point out the dangers, but if we are to create a balance, we need to propose ways to “accentuate the positives and eliminate the negatives” – calling the whole thing off is simply not a (realistic) option!
Growth to the authors of The Plan appears to be an unimaginative, more of the same. At no point are any alternative rates of growth that may be appropriate for future changes, or the hopes of current residents, considered and the existing housing deficit, with its associated high prices is not addressed.
If the model of growth adopted in The Plan is used for the next 100 years, 40% growth becomes 440%. This is a total of almost 700,000 homes.
It is not unreasonable to ask: “At what point will the current model be forced to change?” and, “Maybe residents should be asking that question now?”
I have deliberately not discussed the impact of growth in any detail here since that is covered elsewhere. And, whilst my investigations suggest that, in calculating growth, The Plan has lost sight of the wood for the trees, I have to confess that in 1000 pages of supporting documentation I may just have missed a key argument. I am merely an amateur venturing into a dark forest!
What to do
To let the planners have your thoughts on growth, here’s what you need to do:
- Go to the proposal’s ‘Greater Cambridge in 2041’ page here.
- Scroll down the page to near the bottom, until you get to the ‘tell us what you think’ section. Ignore the + button on its right, but click on the blue speech bubble on the left.
- Log in, or create an account and then log in.
- Then you can add your comments and/or upload a separately-written document.
Additionally, I recommend completing the Local Plan’s online questionnaire, where you can make similar points to those you’ve made above, but also comment briefly on many others.
These guides to commenting on the Local Plan First Proposals are provided by the individual authors. The Queen Edith’s Community Forum does not take any political stance on local issues. We welcome other guides on the same lines, written by local residents. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to write one.