Cambridge Green Belt – New Homes for Rough Sleepers?

10:23 Monday 27th August 2012
Mid-Morning Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

CHRIS MANN: A few minutes ago we heard from Paul Miner from the Campaign to Protect Rural England, as they call on the Government to honour its pledge to safeguard the Green Belt. It’s claimed there are bids for more than 81,000 homes on Green Belt land around cities and towns across England, a matter of concern for us all, I’m sure. Well Paul told us he was particularly concerned about plans for land around South Cambridgeshire. (TAPE)
PAUL MINER: It surprised and disturbed us to find that in the past couple of years new local plans have been coming forward which are actually talking about major changes to the Green Belt. And in Cambridge in particular, the City Council is talking about building 12,000 new dwellings on the Green Belt. And South Cambridgeshire District, on top of that, is likely to propose even more, which would be a major change in Cambridgeshire’s Green Belt. (LIVE)
CHRIS MANN: Well let’s get some instant reaction now, because Councillor Simon Edwards, Deputy Leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council is on duty even today, on a Bank Holiday. .. What do you think of what Paul Miner had to say? Are you concerned?
SIMON EDWARDS: Well I’m concerned that the CPRE seems to think that the plans are coming forward as a result of the developers putting pressure on us, because that’s simply not the case. As part of the consultation, we’re giving people a number of options as to the kind of increase in the number of jobs that they would like to see created in the district. And these options have been based on very sound evidence in terms of the number of studies that have been done over the past few years. So there are potential for increasing the number of jobs in the district, and we feel that that’s very very important for our local economy. We’ve always been keen to develop our local economy as much as possible. And of course, along with jobs, we do need housing as well. So there are a range of options that we want to hear people’s views on. And it’s most certainly not being driven by developers.
CHRIS MANN: He says there are cheap sites, chosen by the builders, because obviously that means that they can build cheaper. Not true?
SIMON EDWARDS: No it’s not. Because the majority of the sites are already in allocation in current plans. And as you pointed out in your interview, Cambridge City have got 8,000 people on the housing waiting list. In South Cambridgeshire we’ve got 5,000 people on the housing waiting list, 13,000 people who are in desperate need of housing now. These plans that we’re looking at at the moment are going to take us up to 2031, over the next 20 years, so we’ve got a desperate need for housing now. And it’s very difficult to .. you know, we all want to protect our rural green countryside, and we are very keen to do that. But it’s very difficult to then turn round to somebody who’s sleeping in a cardboard box in the centre of Cambridge, or a young family with a six month old baby who are living in bed and breakfast accommodation because we can’t provide them the housing. You know we have to have a balance somewhere.
CHRIS MANN: Well he challenged you to pick brown field where possible. Do you do that?
SIMON EDWARDS: Absolutely. Yes. And in the least review of the local plan, we did exactly that. Northstowe is a good example. The problem with Northstowe, particularly with greenfield sites, again, the CPRE seem to think greenfield sites come forward easier than brownfield sites. That’s actually not the case. With greenfield sites, you have a tremendous amount of infrastructure that you have to build first, very very costly infrastructure, roads and so on and so forth. With urban extensions to places like Cambridge, for example, you’ve already got a lot of that infrastructure in place in terms of what’s already there. So the brownfield sites quite typically are much easier to bring forward than the greenfield sites.
CHRIS MANN: And he also spoke about approving if you like small scale development on the edges of villages that are in keeping with the rest of the village. Is that something that South Cambridgeshire is committed to ?
SIMON EDWARDS: Oh we’re very very keen to do that. And we’ve already stated that that’s one of our aims for the coming years. We’ve committed to building 1,000 council houses for example, over the next ten years. A lot of that’s going to reply on us finding sites on the edge villages where the housing is really needed. But that is one of our key priorities for the coming years.
CHRIS MANN: OK. Well we’ve answered some of the local questions. Let’s talk about the big picture. There’s 81,000 homes are being planned across England. There’s a desperate need for them. This has been left too late, hasn’t it?
SIMON EDWARDS: Well I don’t think it’s been left too late. I think we planned for a lot of housing in the past, but of course we didn’t anticipate the economy taking such a downturn as it has done. The construction industry in particular has been hit very hard. We see very .. you know, it concerns us greatly that we see small businesses going out of business in our district, in the building industry, so the economy in general terms is very very difficult at the moment, and we’re seeing it locally. So I don’t think it’s that we haven’t been planning for the housing. We have been planning. It’s just that because of the economy, and because of the banking system not being able to make the loans available, we haven’t seen that housing come forward.
CHRIS MANN: And there’s a suggestion also that the relaxing .. or the changing of the rules on planning .. is somehow making it a free for all, when people can just go and build where they want, and sort of ask permission later. Is that the case?
SIMON EDWARDS: It’s a concern, I must say, to me. I hear the noises coming out of central government, and they are relaxing the planning laws to bring forward development. And what we want to do is to make sure that we have our local plan in place, that will guide whatever development does come forward. We accept that it needs to perhaps made a little bit easier for people to actually provide the housing, but we want the housing to be provided in a way that the residents want it, and the residents need it.
CHRIS MANN: You mentioned some pretty shocking figures, 5,000 people on your waiting list, 8,000 in Cambridge. What hope can you give them this morning that their plight will be fixed soon?
SIMON EDWARDS: Well it’s a difficult one, isn’t it? We’re doing everything that we can to bring forward the housing. The council housing build programme I think is a key element of that. But we are reliant on finding the sites. We hope to be able to provide some of those in Northstowe, but again Northstowe is dependent on things like the A14 and the road infrastructure in general to be upgraded. So it is a long process unfortunately. This plan we’re looking at at the moment takes us through to 2031. It’s a 20 year plan. But all I can say is that we’re doing absolutely everything we can to bring forward that housing for those people who are in desperate need.
CHRIS MANN: And what a contrast. Because South Cambs very often comes out in the polls as the best place to live in England. You’re massively affluent, great education, lovely area. But there are people still with great need in your area.
SIMON EDWARDS: It is. It’s amazing, isn’t it? We do always come out in the top five, I think it is. I think we’re at number of three at the moment. We have been at number one before, because it is a great place to live, and we recognise that. And yet we do have these acute housing problems. But it just brings into stark contrast how bad it must be in other parts of the country, if we are that well up in the league, there must be other parts of the country that are suffering terribly