No justification for further Cambridge Green Belt releases

Although apparently unrelated, there is a topical synergy in two items in Issue 1946 - the 'How we did it' article and Anthony Fyson's column.

The first explained the process leading to the recent release of Green Belt land around Cambridge, and the second highlighted the burgeoning interest in new towns.

Nurturing the economic growth potential of Cambridge is a matter of national importance and rightly an objective of the local authorities. Providing adequate housing is a key element of this and a typically thorny issue. Until 2000 strategic policy sought to disperse housing growth away from the city in order to protect its compact and historic core.

The subsequent decision to focus housing as close to the city as possible, of which the Green Belt releases referred to in the article are a key component, resulted from a realisation that the earlier strategy was responsible for driving up house prices, restricting the supply of key workers, causing unsustainable commuting patterns and ultimately threatening economic prospects overall.

As the local authorities prepare the next generation of Local plans to 2031 the issue has to be faced once again of how to accommodate population growth and satisfy employment needs in the most sustainable manner. Meeting the city’s housing needs at or as close as possible to the city remains an essential priority.

Whilst further release of Green Belt land is one of the options consulted on by the local authorities, responses have demonstrated that in many quarters this would be deeply unpopular. Notwithstanding what is said on this subject in September’s Ministerial Statement, the NPPF reiterates long-established national policy that Green Belt boundaries are intended to endure and that boundaries should be altered only in exceptional circumstances.

Cambridge has a tradition of meeting large scale growth requirements in new communities. As you reported, the latest of these at Northstowe has now secured an initial planning permission. For the next plan period a further opportunity exists, at Waterbeach on the northern edge of the city’s Green Belt. 

Not only have RSS and Structure Plan panels recognised the potential but it has two key advantages: the ability to deliver bus and rail based public transport into the city, and a large (brownfield) Ministry of Defence landholding which is being released by the government pursuant to the Strategic Defence and Security Review.

Anthony Fyson rightly highlights the issues of value capture and infrastructure delivery that have dogged a number of proposals in the past. A model to address this is a key feature of the Waterbeach proposal.

With this sustainable and deliverable solution to meeting a significant element of future housing needs at Cambridge (to 2031 and beyond) there is no justification for making further Green Belt releases in the new plan cycle.  

Yours sincerely,

David Lander

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