[P]AUL STAINTON: The former leader of Cambridgeshire County Council says Cambridge’s economic success will grind to a halt unless the planning system changes to allow growth and development. It comes a day after City planners rejected a hotel’s application to expand, after a campaign run by residents keen to protect an historic town house next door, not a listed town house, just historic. Nick Clarke, who lost his seat on the County Council in the May elections says a balance between encouraging growth and protecting heritage has to be struck, but that at the moment, the system just isn’t working.
NICK CLARKE: Nobody wants inappropriate development. But the city needs hotels. The city needs a new rail station, which is going to go ahead. But I’m also aware that the same discussion will take place about the rail station soon. The City Council would like gold plating on it. It’s not for that. It’s about a rail station at the moment. That’s what’s desperately needed. We saw it with Marshalls, and we’ll see it again elsewhere. And you’re right. There’s something about holding a city in aspic, and you can’t do that.
PAUL STAINTON: Well at the moment there are campaigns ongoing against the expansion of another city centre hotel. There’s also fierce criticism of the building of a Premier Inn and a Travelodge on Coldham’s Lane. Well Shara Ross from the Cambridge Hoteliers’ Association says people don’t realise that it’s all having a negative effect on the city’s future.
SHARA ROSS: It’s about nimbyism. It’s about people just suddenly taking it upon themselves to protect a property that they’ve never held in any high regard before. And all of a sudden it becomes important to them. And they don’t think of the larger picture, and the growth of the city. And also not only the growth, but the sustainability of the city.
PAUL STAINTON: But it’s not just the development of hotels that is meeting with opposition. Campaigners are also having a go at several planned housing developments. We asked people in Cambridge which is more important, growth or heritage.
PUBLIC ONE: I think expanding’s difficult. It’s already a crowded city, and expanding ten, twenty per cent is (such) a huge amount of expansion, that it seems like it will be hard for the city to manage that many more people.
PUBLIC TWO: I think we have to move with the times, and not be too nimbyist about it, but having said that, there are certain things which should be preserved. I’m thinking particularly of Grantchester Meadows. There was talk in the past of building on that, which I think that would be sacrilege.
PUBLIC THREE: Probably not too much more. With kids, I go to lots of groups. There’s lots of things on for small children, which is an amazing thing about Cambridge. I like to be able to get places really easily, on foot, by bike, so that would be lost if it got much bigger.
PAUL STAINTON: Well let’s speak to Carolin Göhler. She’s the Chief Executive of Cambridge Past Present and Future, a charity that champions the protection of green open spaces and sustainable development in the city of Cambridge. Morning.
CAROLINE GÖHLER: Good morning.
PAUL STAINTON: Are you holding back the future of Cambridge?
CAROLIN GÖHLER: No, not at all. We have very much recognised, though our eighty five year history, that the city always will grow. It has done for 800 years, and will do so for many centuries ahead. certainly what we are really after is that we would like to see good quality growth, and at times we do not see the quality which really warrants the success of the city. Certainly Cambridge and surrounds very much depends on the high quality we provide. That’s in the historic environment, but also the very large amount of wonderful green spaces we have right through the centre, and the surrounding Green Belt. It’s a very very unique special character Cambridge has, and this very much attracts business and actually is the driver for the growth economy. If we start developing very poor hotels from a quality or so on, then very very quickly Cambridge will lose this particular edge it has on a global scale, which some of your speakers recently have pointed out. And that is really the special thing Cambridge needs to protect, and needs to be hugely aware of. Because that is its business niche, and where we would need to be altogether, work together to achieve good developments which really bring Cambridge forward, but also really look after well its very special history and heritage.
PAUL STAINTON: So many campaigns though against expansion, isn’t there ? Every time somebody wants to build something, a Premier Inn, a Travelodge, even expanding this hotel and knocking down Gresham House. What’s so special about Gresham House? It’s not even listed, is it?
CAROLIN GÖHLER: Yes but it is within a conservation area. It’s in the historic core of Cambridge, and has obviously a special setting.
PAUL STAINTON: But we don’t have enough hotel rooms as it is.
CAROLIN GÖHLER: No. That’s very well recognised in the Cambridge city’s local plan, and also the emerging new local plan. And when you look, a lot of hotels which have been built in the recent years ..
PAUL STAINTON: Not enough,.
CAROLIN GÖHLER: Not enough, no. But there are also quite a few already have planning permission but have not yet been built.
PAUL STAINTON: Are there too many people in Cambridge that would just like to preserve the city the way it is? Preserve it in aspic.
CAROLIN GÖHLER: I think there are very few. I think a lot of people actually quite have a balanced approach on things, and would like to see growth, but at high quality. And we do see that a lot. And in comparison to many other cities, we actually have very little complaints or complaints stepping up.
PAUL STAINTON: There are some people in the city though that think it’s alright as it is, aren’t there? It’s the only city in the world I think that doesn’t advertise tourism, because it doesn’t need any more tourists.
CAROLIN GRÖHLER: No. And as you can hear from my voice, I’m not from this country, and very much came to Cambridge and remember it some thirty five years ago. The quality of Cambridge is very important. You have more wear and tear with a lot of people either living in the city or coming to the city. So you need to really build for it, and design for it.
PAUL STAINTON: But how do you do that? How do you build the economy of Cambridge which we keep being told is so important, without knocking down Downing College, and building flats shops houses? How do you do that? Do you build on the outskirts?
CAROLIN GÖHLER: All over to some extent, but through good visionary masterplanning of the city, together with all the local authorities. And one of the problems we really have in the local area that you have, Cambridgeshire County Council doing highways and education and so on. You have the district councils doing other planning side of things. And what really needs to happen, people need to sit together, work much closer together ..
PAUL STAINTON: So it’s not coordinated.
CAROLIN GÖHLER: Not coordinated. there’s some discussions going on, but argued by Cambridge PPS, not sufficiently.
PAUL STAINTON: Who’s holding it back? Who’s the spanner in the works here?
CAROLIN GÖHLER: I think it’s probably partly the political system, and probably partly human nature.
PAUL STAINTON: The City Council? Is it some councillors as Nick Clarke said?
CAROLIN GÖHLER: No I don’t agree with that at all. I think the local council is actually quite progressive in many ways.
PAUL STAINTON:The County councillors then? Somebody is to blame. Somebody’s holding the city back. Who is it?
CAROLIN GÖHLER: (LAUGHS) Well Nick Clarke mentioned that some planning applications have been refused three times. It’s not necessarily just the local planning authority’s fault in a way. It’s often sometimes the developers provide very very poor quality proposals. And then it’s sometimes their architects, or they haven’t even got architects on board to actually rethink and actually look more at quality. And often it doesn’t necessarily need to cost more. It’s just slightly better integration and detailing of buildings, and integration into the area where these buildings will be.
PAUL STAINTON: Why did you object against the Garden House Hotel? Why are you objecting against the Hilton Hotel?
CAROLIN GÖHLER: We felt that it wasn’t quite yet there in terms of respecting the setting of the conservation area. So we felt there were not enough options looked at in terms of retaining the (UNCLEAR) House but still building on the rear sympathetically, fitting properly into that area. So that is a very unique case, together with the Garden House Hotel. But many of the other hotels have been built, and look actually much better than they were originally proposed. So you have for example the Newmarket Road. The new Travelodge was proposed much much higher. Very very poor cladding was originally proposed.
PAUL STAINTON: Just look at how Newmarket Road could have been, if we’d moved Cambridge United to Trumpington Meadows. We could have built so much on that site, couldn’t we? It would have looked beautiful.
CAROLIN GÖHLER: You could. Yes. There’s a lot of different things you can do. But there’s also more visionary ..
PAUL STAINTON: People objected though. We can’t.
CAROLIN GÖHLER: Yes but if you have a large building, right at the edge of the Green Belt, and the edge of the city, it’s quite a difference. And there might be other locations. You have the new train station at the Science Park, and the new North East sector of Cambridge soon, hopefully, being developed and renovated where the old Park and Ride used to be. And there might be much better scope to actually integrate a huge stadium there, because you have a huge nodal point of sustainable transport intersections.
PAUL STAINTON: Very quickly, obviously you’re responsible for Cambridge Past Present and Future. What is the vision that you see for Cambridge in the future?
CAROLIN GÖHLER: We would like to see a city which has got high quality to offer for all its visitors as well as residents. And which can grow in a very sympathetic way, respecting really its really special environment.
PAUL STAINTON: Carolin, thank you. Carolin Göhler, from Cambridge Past Present and Future.