07:07 Thursday 26th March 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
DOTTY MCLEOD: It is one of the largest planned new developments in the country. It could become the biggest new town in the country since Milton Keynes. But there’s still a question mark over the future of Northstowe in Cambridgeshire. Councillors met yesterday, but the meeting at South Cambridgeshire District Council was adjourned after more than five hours. Up to 10,000 homes could be built on land between Oakington and Longstanton, just north of the A14. To give you an idea of the size of this planned development, that would be more homes than there are currently in Ely. In a moment we’ll be talking to the councillor in charge of strategic planning at South Cambridgeshire District Council, but first Emma Howgego has been looking back at the history of Northstowe so far.
EMMA HOWGEGO: It was 17 years ago in 1998 that the town of Northstowe was first proposed on the site of Oakington Barracks, which closed down in the mid-1990s. The Government acquired the land and initially turned it into an immigration reception centre, which closed down in 2010. Since then plans to build 10,000 homes and the associated infrastructure have been discussed, debated and adjusted. So where are we now with Northstowe? Well outline planning permission for the north end of the town known as Phase I which includes 1500 homes has already been approved. Clearing work on the site is already underway, and construction work on the infrastructure is due to start on site in the next few weeks. According to the Northstowe website, the first homes will be ready to move into next year. The first primary school opens in September 2016. But that means there are still 8,500 homes that haven’t been given planning permission. That’s where Phase II comes in. This is the big part of the new town, the shops, the town centre, the secondary school and the guided busway extension, along with 3,500 homes. But there is one issue. This stage is reliant on the A14 upgrade going ahead, as Cllr Tim Wotherspoon explained to BBC Radio Cambridgeshire last week.
TIM WOTHERSPOON: What we’re specifying in the report and you’ll see is the bit between Swavesey and Girton, which is obviously the bit on which Northstowe depends, particularly the new Bar Hill junction. That has to be finished before there are any occupations in Phase II.
EMMA HOWGEGO: And that is the key point here. Over the years the A14 has been consulted on, approved, then scrapped by the Government, then re-proposed with a toll, the toll was abolished, and it is now at the stage of being consulted on again. And with a General Election just six weeks away, who knows what will happen if a new government comes into power.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Emma Howgego reporting there. Well with me now is Tim Wotherspoon, South Cambridgeshire District Council’s Cabinet member for Strategic Planning. What happened at this meeting yesterday Tim? Why no decision?
TIM WOTHERSPOON: Three reasons really. First of all I’ve always been committed to a quality first approach to Northstowe. And Phase II includes the town centre, which has always been acknowledged as giving the heart and identity of the town. So it’s absolutely critical to get that absolutely right. And we spent the afternoon dealing with I think eight or nine speakers who’d come to talk to us and be questioned by the committee members. And I’ve always been passionately committed to the widest possible community engagement and public participation, so I thought it was absolutely essential that we gave full time to those speakers, to make their representation to us. And the third point was to some extent concern about particularly the sports provision issue was obscuring exploration of some of the positive aspects of Phase II. And by a quarter to eight, we were all getting a little bit tired. There was no way that we could discuss all the other things that members had suggested to me they wanted to discuss within a reasonable time, and so it was my call. I adjourned the meeting.
DOTTY MCLEOD: What do you think it says about these plans and about how unhappy some people are with these plans, that six hours of debate wasn’t enough?
TIM WOTHERSPOON: I think it demonstrates that the councillors on the committee take their responsibilities incredibly seriously. And I don’t think anyone attending the meeting yesterday could have been left in any doubt about the extent of the scrutiny to which the proposals are being subjected, quite rightly in my view, by the councillors.
DOTTY MCLEOD: And what can come of all of this scrutiny at this stage?
TIM WOTHERSPOON: You’re right. This is only the outline stage. And so nothing is being decided in full except for the road, the southern access road. That part of the application was a full application. So yes, this would be the stage at which you launch the discussions on the contributions that the developer would make to the community facilities and so on, the so-called Section 106 agreement. And it would also give the opportunity for the developer to start working up some of the refinements of the proposal. On the other hand I’m in no rush on this. The most critical thing is obviously to allow infrastructure works to take place to get the secondary school built by 2018. But I think a few weeks at the moment is not going to hold that up. And I want to get this right.
DOTTY MCLEOD: So what happens next?
TIM WOTHERSPOON: We’ve adjourned the meeting to a date in April. I have to be fair to all the members who attended yesterday, so I need to make sure that that’s still convenient for everyone. But we will simply resume our meeting at some point in the future. I hope that meeting (will be) on 29th April, but I’m not exactly certain yet. And we will continue the discussion that we left off yesterday.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Councillor Tim Wotherspoon there, South Cambridgeshire District Council’s Cabinet member for Strategic Planning. Thanks for talking to us this morning. And so the saga of Northstowe goes on and on and on. Another meeting expected in April.