Cambridge – housing demand and the limits to growth

“There’s a grave concern I feel that if it gets much bigger .. it won’t be the attractive place it currently is.”

fen_road11:20 Wednesday 8th June 2016
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

PAUL STAINTON: Thousands of homes already planned for Northstowe, Waterbeach, Bourn Airfield, but we need more. We need to build a town the size of Ely. That’s the conclusion of a report by Savill’s. 43,000 more homes are needed they say by 2031, 10,000 more than are currently planned. This is David Henry who we had on earlier, Head of Planning at Savills in Cambridge. He says the area should go for growth.
DAVID HENRY: It’s an awful lot, but there again we are in one of the fastest growing parts of the country. We have clearly the effect of that all around us in terms of the infrastructure, the house prices going through the roof, and firms moving into the area. So it’s the big question really, isn’t it? It has been for a number of years. How do we respond to that? Do we simply say enough is enough? Or do we say OK, let’s go for it and as part of the leaders of UKPLC go for growth.
PAUL STAINTON: Well let’s speak to David Shaw. He’s a Chartered Town Planner and he worked on the New Town Development Corporation in Peterborough of course many many years ago now. Morning David.
DAVID SHAW: Good morning Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: So we just keep building and building and building do we on new towns and on our countryside? And eventually we might build enough houses so that everybody’s got somewhere to live.
DAVID SHAW: Well I rather expect that we will never get to that position, well not unless we stay in Europe and we take the whole of Europe into the UK. But that’s a different debate (LAUGHS) in which we perhaps ought to be careful.
PAUL STAINTON: Well there’s a lot of pressure now though isn’t there with the increase in population.
DAVID SHAW: There is. It strikes me these days we’ve got rid of a lot of our experienced planning officers from local authorities. They’ve been cut back. The Government doesn’t like spending money on infrastructure. Every time we try and build a lot more homes, we end up with not a very good plan to be quite honest. You know I’m a new town man. They were properly planned. We had the right infrastructure with it. We had people who made sure that those people who moved into those new towns were properly integrated. That’s what we seem to miss these days. But do we need this number of houses? Well we are a growing economy. I’m sure that there is an argument for it. The key point would be that if we do build more houses, then in theory the prices might not go up so much, because that’s what’s been happening. I think that’s the basic economics of housing.
PAUL STAINTON: But when you talk about 10,000 houses on top of 33,000 in and around Cambridge, you’re talking about a town the size of Ely. That’s a heck of a big lump. And you look at what’s happened in Peterborough over the years, you might like it, I preferred it in 1989 when there was green grass around the parkways and Werrington was separated from Peterborough, and Hampton was just a tear in its daddy’s eye.
DAVID SHAW: Yes you’re quite right. We’ve got to put houses somewhere, and I tend to agree that perhaps East Anglia shouldn’t be growing .. we shouldn’t be planning for it to grow at an enormous rate. It can only absorb new people at a certain rate, and I think we need to keep control of that. We’ve got to have some growth, because that’s the way the economy keeps going, but there is a limit I think to how much that can grow. People may start to say that Peterborough has now got nearly big enough. How much larger should it get? We don’t want to wreck Ely, because that’s a lovely place. Cambridge as well, Cambridge is in grave .. there’s a grave concern I feel that if it gets much bigger as itself, without some proper planning going on about how it will work, it will just become a hotspot of traffic, people moving around not quite going where they’re going, it won’t be the attractive place it currently is.
PAUL STAINTON: What should we do then? Do we need to bite the bullet here? If we accept we need these houses, perhaps we don’t need them in and around Cambridge on an already busy A14, a struggling infrastructure. We’ve already got Northstowe. Gawd knows what the roads are going to be like when them thousands of people are living there. Do we just go to the middle of the Yorkshire Dales and build a massive town there?
DAVID SHAW: i think that probably won’t work, because the economy is not strong enough there to take it. It has to be somewhere where the economy is strong.
PAUL STAINTON: There’s plenty of room in the Fens.
DAVID SHAW: Well yes, maybe we need more new villages in the Fens. I think there is scope for new villages Paul, new towns to be built, within East Anglia, with the right infrastructure, where they could in future be really attractive places to live. And I think that’s where we should be going, rather than organically trying to continue to grow each town we’ve already got. We really are in danger of upsetting too many people.
PAUL STAINTON: 43,000 houses in and around Cambridge. Can it cope? Can the A14 cope? Can the infrastructure cope with that many houses?
DAVID SHAW: Well as it is at the present, there’s more .. the A14 of course there are improvements supposed to be taking place to that very soon, which may help. The trouble is of course as soon as you build a new road everybody wants to go on it.
PAUL STAINTON: Well they’re closing the old one. (THEY LAUGH) By the time it’s finished they might need to reopen the old one.
DAVID SHAW: That’s right. So I think with some proper planning, but it does need some really good planning, and that’s what we’ve been missing around Cambridge. I’m not saying I can instantly come up with an answer, but ..
PAUL STAINTON: So it’s a bit like Baldrick. We need a cunning plan.
DAVID SHAW: We need a really good plan, that’s what we need, which could demonstrate how we get really good infrastructure into the area, and the wonderful companies that we do have in Cambridge, which are very very good and can provide some really strong growth for the area so everybody’s got really nice jobs, we need to have that. But we really do need a very very good plan, and that’s what we’ve been missing, to my mind, for about thirty or forty years.
PAUL STAINTON: David Shaw. He’s a Chartered Town Planner. He worked on the New Town Development Corporation in Peterborough. He put the parkways in and all that. Planned it. It still works. Listen to him maybe. We need a good plan. Don’t just tack onn houses to the outskirts of Cambridge he says.