08:19 Thursday 30th July 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
CHRIS MANN: Another 3,500 homes have been given the go-ahead at Northstowe. The new town is being built between the villages of Oakington and Longstanton in South Cambridgeshire, the ones that were choked with traffic yesterday when the A14 was blocked of course. After lengthy discussions councillors agreed on the planning application for Phase 2 of the new town, and our political reporter Hannah Olsson was at yesterday’s meeting. Good morning.
HANNAH OLSSON: Good morning Chris.
CHRIS MANN: So tell us what’s in Phase 2.
HANNAH OLSSON: Well as well as the 3,500 homes we’ve got two primary schools, a secondary school, the town centre and sports hub, so a really significant part of Northstowe. We’re now at 5,000 homes, with the 1,500 agreed in Phase 1. This is the phase that the Government took over as the developer for last year, putting in their detailed planning application through the Homes and Communities Agency back in August.
CHRIS MANN: This is a long running story. It’s taken ages to get to this point.
HANNAH OLSSON: Yes, and not just yesterday’s six hours. And that’s because councillors wanted to get it right. The ambition is for this to be an exemplar town. That phrase was mentioned a lot yesterday, And throughout discussions some of the issues that came up with Cambourne and Orchard Park were mentioned, with everyone keen to learn from some mistakes that happened there, particularly the community facilities. And it was this aspect that was being signed off yesterday, the so-called 106 agreement in the planning application, which is the amount of money that the developers must guarantee will be spent on things like schools, health centres and community hubs. One of the councillors who spoke at yesterday’s meeting, the Leader of the LibDems on South Cambridgeshire Council Bridget Smith spoke of wanting to avoid it becoming a rurally isolated ghetto, with nowhere for residents to meet or socialise, particularly in the early stages.
CHRIS MANN: OK.
HANNAH OLSSON: So compromises did have to be made. The Council had originally asked for £86 million in investment, but the figure agreed with the Homes and Communities Agency is now £73 million. There’s also a compromise on affordable housing. The South Cambridgeshire policy is for 40% affordable homes, but the HCA said it’s only viable to have 20% of affordable homes at the moment, but this will be reviewed as more houses are built and sold. Some councillors do still have concerns, particularly about the timing of when the facilities are going to be built, but you could audibly hear the sign of relief when it was eventually voted through by all but one of the committee, not least from the man sat next to me, the Chair of Northstowe Joint Development Committee, Tim Wotherspoon.
CHRIS MANN: So Tim, how significant is this?
TIM WOTHERSPOON: oh it’s hugely significant. Yes. We’ve now cleared the way for the first half of the town, the first 5,000 homes to go forward for detailed planning preparation and delivery. It’s a huge step forward for South Cambridgeshire.
CHRIS MANN: OK. Yesterday we saw these villages absolutely jammed with traffic when the A14 was blocked, and some people saying why build them when you’ve got these road problems still going on. What’s your answer to that?
TIM WOTHERSPOON: Well of course the A14 is about to undergo a major upgrade, partly with a view to avoiding these problems in the future. We’re in the middle of the examination of the development consent order application from Highways England, and I’m fully expecting that to continue to proceed as per programme.
CHRIS MANN: Have you got sympathy with the villagers yesterday who were complaining about having the traffic routed through these quiet villages? We had the postmaster on yesterday who was tearing his hair out because nothing was moving.
TIM WOTHERSPOON: Yes of course I have sympathy with everyone who suffers when there’s traffic congestion of that scale. But that’s a fact of life unfortunately, when the existing road network is snarled up as we know.
CHRIS MANN: And Hannah they didn’t get everything they wanted, the Council.
HANNAH OLSSON: No not quite. I think they’re happy.. Originally the figure was going down to £70 million and they managed to get it up to £73 million. I think it’s a case and Tim will agree here, it’s a bit of salami slicing, a bit of rejigging some budgets, making sure that some of the money that they had aside in case they need it wasn’t in. And just making sure that everything was exactly the amount of money required, rather than leaving a bit of a buffer.
CHRIS MANN: And yet Tim, when this was first announced, there was a headline figure of affordable homes, this is homes for people who are trying to get or have been struggling to get homes, and need help with it, need a cheaper residence. Now that initial figure, the headline figure was announced as 40%. It’s now down to 20%. How can that be?
TIM WOTHERSPOON: The policy as Hannah says is 40%, but it’s subject to viability. And it’s always been recognised that with a major new settlement like Northstowe there’s an enormous infrastructure cost of putting in the roads and the new sewers and all the facilities.
CHRIS MANN: Why say it’s 40% at the beginning when it’s going to be 20% at the end? Isn’t that conning people?
TIM WOTHERSPOON: No. The policy says right from the beginning that it’s 40% subject to viability. And national and local policies do recognise that you have to take into account the cost of delivering a major new settlement like this.
CHRIS MANN: Let me try another thing. Are you disappointed then that it’s only 20%? Would you have preferred to have more, given the need in this part of the world?
TIM WOTHERSPOON: Well first of all I’m delighted it’s 20%, because quite a few maor settlements outside Cambridgeshire are only getting 10% or 15% if that. So 20% is a minimum across this phase, and the applicants have offered a review mechanism. In fact there are going to be three review points where this financial contribution package is going to be reviewed. And at each of those there will be an opportunity to raise the proportion of affordable housing from 20% to perhaps something higher than that.
CHRIS MANN: OK. Thank you both for joining us. That’s the Northstowe Joint Development Committee, Chair Tim Wotherspoon, and also our political reporter Hannah Olsson. Thank you so much.