1,500-home expansion of Cambs research campus approved despite plan conflict

Mixed-use plans for a huge expansion of a research campus, including proposals for 1,500 new homes, have been approved by a Cambridgeshire council, after officers advised that the scheme's "significant economic and health benefits in the national interest" outweighed its conflict with local policies.

Plans for genome campus expansion approved. Image by Wellcome Trust
Plans for genome campus expansion approved. Image by Wellcome Trust

South Cambridgeshire District Council’s planning committee last night approved an outline application for a 127.5 hectare expansion of health research organisation the Wellcome Trust's Genome Campus in Hinxton, near Cambridge.

The plans include 1,500 homes for workers and up to 150,000 square metres of flexible employment uses incorporating space for research, development and offices.

The proposal includes land for a new school, nursery and community facilities and provides public open spaces and allotments. Also proposed are shops, a fitness centre, a health centre, new cycling and walking paths, road crossings and a new roundabout on the A1301.

A committee report by officers said: "The highly specialist nature of the work undertaken at the campus, its existing successful establishment, the anchored institutional research base and the evidence of future demand for significant floorspace combine to represent a set of material considerations which can be weighed in favour of the proposal."

The report acknowledged that Wellcome’s proposal conflicts with the council’s local plan policies.

It added that the development would "result in significant harm to landscape, harm to the setting of heritage assets and result in the permanent loss of best and most versatile agricultural land".

However, it said these considerations were outweighed by "significant economic and health benefits in the national interest", including the creation of 6,800 jobs.

Following the submission of a viability assessment, a 30 per cent proportion of affordable housing has been agreed, which is below the council’s policy requiring 40 per cent.

Objecting to the application, a number of parish councils said their concerns over traffic and the scale of the proposal had been ignored.

But the applicant said it had held comprehensive engagement with the local community.

The council said the circumstances of the site, near Cambridge, are very different to a separate proposal it turned down for an AgriTech park on nearby unallocated agricultural land, on which  is currently awaiting a planning inspector’s appeal decision.

The report said: "The context within which the application comes forward therefore significantly contrasts with the wholly speculative, wide breadth and loosely defined application for the AgriTech park as put forward by SmithsonHill at the recent inquiry."

Following the vote, South Cambridgeshire’s lead cabinet member for planning, Tumi Hawkins, said: "This ambitious project was not anticipated in our current local plan and the planning committee therefore had to carefully balance the impacts of this proposal against the contribution that this unique site will make – both in furthering the scientific, education and economic future of South Cambridgeshire residents, and the rest of the country."

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