It was with interest we waited to see details of the sites for the 50,000 new homes on brownfield land announced by the government to see if they were genuinely new or a renouncement. Good to see they are genuinely new – although the close of some sites had been announced over the Summer none of the sites as far as I can see had been released p[previously and so were not in current development plans.
The biggest by far is Waterbeach Barracks Cambridgeshire. Planned for 12.500 homes. This was announced as surplus in July.
Its release surely has much to do with the potential of the land so close to Cambridge (6km north) as the logistical support activities it undertakes can be carried on anywhere.
Liam Fox said at the time
“Those sites which can be sold, especially high-value sites, will deliver much needed receipts to the defence budget,” he said.
“We plan to vacate and dispose of Waterbeach in Cambridgeshire which, subject to the necessary planning consents, will support the government’s broader aim of increasing the supply of new housing.
What of local reaction. Well it is perhaps no surprise that the Waterbeach conservative party has already launched a campaign against the proposal, with a rally already proposed. and a facebook page. Perhaps the prime minister will be asking them to lobby outside the local job centre.
The site has history there was great debate several years ago about strategic options in South Cambridgeshire, it came down to a choice between Waterbeach and Oakington Barrecks. Oakington was chosen and is now the proposed Northstowe New Town. In part because of the availability of the Oakington site and in part because of the issues concerning congestion on the A10, which Waterbeach lies beside.
The Waterbeach site is of course opposed by the local LibDem councillor Michael Williamson, who believes building houses on the barracks site would be a bad idea because of the “appalling A10 which has major issues”“Northstowe has not been build yet, so what is the point of closing Waterbeach?”
Of course the housing demand around Cambridge is so great, as well as the amount of in-commuting for work, that the more suitable brownfield sites the better. So is it suitable?
Its a part brownfield/part greenfield site (109 Ha out of 554 total) including a disused airbase and the barracks. It has lots of community facilities such as a swimming pool in place. It is outside the Green Belt – which is only a couple of miles wide running to the Southern Edge of Waterbeach the barracks is on the northern side. The residents of the new development would have direct pedestrian access to the main village street. It is also next door to Cambridge Research Park.
The call for sites submission says
Mixed use new community comprising up to 12,750 dwellings forming a linked urban extension to Waterbeach, with employment, town centre, local centres, education, sports facilities, new train station and bus interchanges, a rapid bus service alongside the A10, and public open space including parkland around Denny Abbey Scheduled Monument
Site Size (hectares): 554.0
The train station (on the Cambridge to Ely Line) and proposed arm of the guided bus way could be key given the notorious congestion along the A10. The station would be served by three trains per hour but the problem is that it is single track. Costly track doubling works may be needed and the DfT did not support having a new station so close to the existing village station.
The site has been suggested and considered as part of several sub-regional studies over the years. It has always ranked second to Northstowe, not being ruled out in principle but there have been doubts about the deliverability of the transport elements of the proposal.
The Ecotown assessment in 2008 considered the proposal proposed too much development too close to the ancient monument of Denny Abbey and
‘Development up to the line shown not suitable – would compromise historic context of site – this would therefore be a showstopper”
It requested a 1km buffer from the Abbey.
Its assessment was C) (A best D worst) ‘location where growth is possible but major issues /assurance needed, in this case on transport and environment/deliverability. The deliverability issue has gone the site is now surplus.
So the issue is one of design and sustainable transport. Hopefully sites like this will make the government realise that they cant just flog sites off like this to developers grant them permission tomorrow and let it rip. Only good planning of a largely car free sustainable community would make sites like this work at all. It requires an exemplar design of Smart Growth and being on potentially two rapid transit links (if it could be made to work) shows a real opportunity. This is not to say that the site could eventually take up to 13,000 dwellings, who knows until the detailed work has been done. I suspect unless the difficult transport issues are resolved it may be a lot less, but none the less if you are in favour of Smart Growth instead of sprawl then this is the sort of site that should be supported in principle. Other options in the north of Cambridge area are far less accessible or sustainable.