Tim Bick on the 2014 Draft Local Plan for Cambridge

busway10:09 Friday 14th February 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[S]UE DOUGAN: Last night Cambridge City councillors met to discuss the Local Plan, a fairly hefty document outlining the plans for the future development of the city. Despite hearing from objectors and receiving petitions, the Plan was passed, and will now be submitted to Government. So, what was decided, and what does it mean for the city? The Leader of the Cambridge City Council Tim Bick is with me now. Good morning Tim.
TIM BICK: Good morning.
SUE DOUGAN: The Local Plan was approved last night. So what’s the next stage?
TIM BICK: The next stage is that the approved Draft Plan goes to a planning inspector, a Government planing inspector, who will carry out hearings on the Plan, allowing again lots of people, developers, residents, traders, businesses, to put their point of view on the Plan over the summer. And we would hope to hear a response, a final response to our Plan by the end of the year.
SUE DOUGAN: Right. And now what key decisions were made in that Plan or about that Plan last night?

TIM BICK: Well there are many many decisions, all encompassed in this really large document. But most of the discussion last night was about the implications of growth, and how that would be addressed in the Plan. The Plan really governs all the planning decisions that will be taken over the next almost twenty years.
SUE DOUGAN: A lot of people are really unhappy about plans to build on areas of the Green Belt. The area around Wort’s Causeway particularly is of concern. To what extent are we creeping out towards the Green Belt, and is there do you think justification for doing that?
TIM BICK: Well, some of the petitioners that came along last night indeed were representing that point of view from Wort’s Causeway. Any incursion into the Green Belt is something that I think needs a lot of challenge. It’s something we don’t like to do, and it’s our last resort in meeting housing need. Our first resort is to use existing sites within the built-up area of the city, and we’ve been very very successful in doing that. Out of the 14,000 extra homes that we are going to provide through this Plan, all but 430 are going to be within the already built-up area.And it’s only that extra 430 that has taken us to use what is only 2% of the Green Belt that’s within the City Council boundary. So the balance of what is the draft Local Plan is overwhelmingly not building in the Green Belt. It’s overwhelmingly utilising properly sites within the built-up area, and protecting as much as we can this concept of the compact city. What’s been a a great frustration I think for me and colleagues has been the representation of the Local Plan as being about allowing urban sprawl. That actually is anathema to us too. We want to protect that compactness of Cambridge. I think we’ve done it in this Local Plan, as well as accommodating substantial extra growth.
SUE DOUGAN: That’s what John Hipkin said just before ten o’clock. He was talking about keeping the city neat and small and compact, buying into its history and heritage, and all of that.
TIM BICK: He’s right about that. He’s right.
SUE DOUGAN: And he’s worried about that creep though, that sprawl and that creep. About something like Wort’s Causeway, it’s just ever so slightly .. it keeps encroaching out of what we recognise currently to be Cambridge.
TIM BICK: Well he’s right about his objectives. The whole Council shares those. But I think he’s wrong about the Local Plan being some sort of environmental disaster, creating a further incursion into the Green Belt. It is minimal. And I think to enable a city like Cambridge to grow and thrive, we’re going to have to face those kinds of decisions very reluctantly. John represents a certain point of view. He was on his own last night, and he persuaded no other councillors to agree with him. because there is a whole other point of view, not one which causes us to be careless about the green environment, but another point of view which is about the people who want to live and work in Cambridge, who find very great difficulty in getting onto the housing ladder. The house prices are so expensive. Employers too find difficulty filling jobs in Cambridge because of this. And we are likely to lose our ability to have a balanced community in Cambridge, people to do the jobs we need doing, all of us, if we can’t allow the city to flex and grow.
SUE DOUGAN: Well to go back to what John said earlier on, just on that point actually, he said .. he suggested that instead of looking at developing in the city so much , it’s about development elsewhere and increasing the options, increasing the viability of allowing people to travel into Cambridge to work. Looking at the wider question of infrastructure, is there anything in the Plan around that? Is that part of the wider view if what the Cambridge city Plan is?
TIM BICK: Well yes. It is a Cambridge city plan, but it’s been formed in close collaboration with South Cambridgeshire District Council, which surrounds Cambridge. And that is happening. The preponderance of the development in both Local Plans is actually going to be in South Cambridgeshire. And John also talks about development further afield. I think that that’s a great option. But he also talked about the expense of infrastructure, and the infrastructure cost proportionately more the further you build centres of population away from Cambridge. So we have to be somehow reasonable. If we want the infrastructure, we can’t land settlements in the middle of nowhere.
SUE DOUGAN: But then don’t you also have to .. if you’re building houses within the urban area at the moment, will those new homes be affordable? Because that’s the other problem, isn’t it? So many new flats and homes are snapped up by people from outside of the city. It’s well known that dozens at a time are bought by investors. How many in the future could be affordable?
TIM BICK: The new Local Plan shores up our existing policy, which says that 40% of homes on new developments must be affordable homes. So that is really a very high requirement of developers, one which they really struggle and argue with. We’re insistent that that should be the case.
SUE DOUGAN: Thank you very much indeed.