The Varsity Line and Opportunities for Garden Cities West of Cambridge

With talk of a study driven by the Infrastructure Commission for the Oxford/MK Cambridge Arc and a new Spatial Plan for Cambridgeshire +Peterborough driven by Lewis Herbert it is appropriate to talk about opportunities in Cambridgeshire.

I have previously written at length about opportunities further East as they are more immediate – the extra capacity from HS2 to WCML and the first phase of the Varsity Line.

The medium term requirements for Cambridgeshire are set out in the MoU agreed by all districts.  However this maintains the status quo and not the level of jobs driven growth the Infrastructure commission is aiming at.  Housing targets would be much more if Cambs had to take its share of shortfalls from the London Plan.

The biggest opportunity comes from the RAF Mildenhall closure – large enough for a Garden City – though just over the border in Suffolk it is within the ever expanding housing market area for Cambridge and shows how strategic planning cannot stick rigidly to county boundaries.

The old structure plan strategy was to discourage commuting to London by focusing growth North of Cambridge.  This is out of date.  Traffic modelling by the county shows it has little benefit, and of course where will London overspill go – clearly to places with strong jobs growth such as Cambridgeshire.

There is a particular cluster of opportunities West of Cambridge along the old North Road (Ermine Street) which I think should be upgraded to serve them and act as a growth corridor within an Easy commute both of London and Cambridge only 12 miles away, as well as providing improved connections to infrastructure starved Huntingdonshire and Peterborough from the South.

Those opportunities are:

  • Papworth Hospital Paworth Everard – due to move to Cambridge Biomedical Campus in 2018
  • Longstowe – where Ermine Street crosses the route of the former Varsity line – and site of a former Station. If the old route is chosen, even if not could be used as a guided bus route as per Northstowe.
  • RAF Bassingborn – Closed in 2016, and close to the revised proposed southerly route of the Varsity Line
  • The area around Ashwell and Morden Station – which will have increased capacity to serve Cambridge following completion of the Hitchin Chord (in North Herts)

The concept here would be to dual Ermine Street to the A429  and Huntingdn- which would also enable substantial expansion of Camborne.

Development of new/expanded commuter stations at Longstowe and Ashwell and Morden

Development of a Garden Village expansion at Papworth Everard

Development of a Garden Town at Longstowe

Expand Royston to the North East and develop a new Garden City to the North and East of Royston in a arc between Ashwell and Morden Station and RAF Bassingborn.  This would be large enough to be developed as several neighbourhoods with substantial space between to preserve the setting of attractive villages such as Steeple Morden and Litlington.

It should be noted that in this falt dull landscape it is the villages and historic houses that provide interest – so Garden Cities, Villages and Suburbs could enhance teh landscape.

All of these areas could share infrastructure – such as Sewerage and public transport, secondary schools etc, benefitting from Major Economies of Scale.

At Bassingborn there is the potential to relocate Cambridge Airport there – a site with potential for over 10,000 homes.

At Longstowe I would relocate Anglia Ruskin University and Oxford University Press, and Fulborne Hospital, opening up precious brownfield sites in Cambridge.  None of them really needs to be there.

In total with infrastructure upgrades they could house around 150,000 population.


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