Policy S/DS: Development strategy

DRAFT version for various committee meetings.

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Figure 6: Map showing proposed sites and overall quantity of development
Figure 6: Map showing proposed sites and overall quantity of development

What will this policy do?

Set out the proposed strategy for the pattern, scale and design quality of places created in Greater Cambridge, not only for the plan period but beyond to 2050. It will set out where the homes and jobs identified in S/JH: New Jobs and Homes should be provided, in order to meet the vision and aims of the Local Plan.

Proposed policy direction

The proposed development strategy for Greater Cambridge is to direct development to where it has the least climate impact, where active and public transport is the natural choice, where green infrastructure can be delivered alongside new development, and where jobs, services and facilities can be located near to where people live, whilst ensuring all necessary utilities can be provided in a sustainable way. It also seeks to be realistic around the locational limits of some new jobs floorspace which is centred upon national and global economic clusters.

We propose to reinforce the distinctive character of our city, towns and villages through developing sites that can be well-integrated with existing communities. Using less land for development reduces our carbon emissions, and allows more space for nature and wildlife, so we propose that sites should be developed at densities, and using appropriate forms and patterns of development, which make best use of land while creating well-designed, characterful places.

The proposed development strategy takes up opportunities to use brownfield land and responds to opportunities created by proposed major new infrastructure. We propose to meet our housing and jobs needs by taking account of existing planning permissions alongside a limited number of new sites in the most sustainable locations.

Within the city of Cambridge our strategy proposes:

  • North East Cambridge – a compact city district on brownfield land already identified for development, including a mix of jobs and homes;
  • The University Innovation District centred on West Cambridge/Eddington – supporting the continued development of this area, including encouraging a mix of uses to create a vibrant campus;
  • Smaller new sites for housing and employment well-integrated with existing neighbourhoods;
  • Continuing existing sites and areas of major change allocated in the previous plan that we still expect to be delivered;
  • Continuing existing opportunity areas and identifying new ones;
  • Windfall development – an allowance for homes on unallocated land, which would be consistent with the other policy requirements in the Plan.

On the edge of Cambridge we propose:

  • Cambridge East – a new mixed-use district on the existing safeguarded land at Cambridge Airport;
  • Supporting the nationally important Cambridge Biomedical Campus, including through a limited release of land from the Green Belt;
  • Using land more effectively at North West Cambridge through intensifying development within the existing boundary of the site;
  • Continuing development at existing strategic sites allocated in previous plans, for example at Darwin Green.

For our new settlements, we propose:

  • Evolving and expanding Cambourne into a vibrant town alongside the development of the new East West Rail station, which will make it one of the best connected and most accessible places in the area; and
  • Continuing development at the new settlements of Northstowe, Waterbeach and Bourn Airfield allocated in previous plans – including faster housing delivery rates at the new towns of Northstowe and Waterbeach, so that more homes are provided by 2041 without an increase in the overall amount of development proposed.

We propose some development in the rural area south of Cambridge, the Rural Southern Cluster, where homes and jobs can be located close to each other and served by good quality public transport, cycling and walking links, including:

  • Employment and tied housing at the Wellcome Genome Campus expansion – confirming the existing planning permission;
  • Additional employment at Babraham Research Campus, through releasing the Campus and a modest area of additional land from the Green Belt;
  • New smaller sites for housing and employment in villages that have very good public transport access and are close to jobs, some of which are through release of land from the Green Belt; and
  • Continuing allocations for existing sites allocated in previous plans;

In the rest of the rural area, we propose a very limited amount of development:

  • Small new sites for housing and employment at villages that have very good public transport access, to help our rural communities thrive;
  • New employment sites in the countryside meeting specific business needs; and
  • Windfall development - an allowance for homes on unallocated land, which would need to be consistent with policy requirements in the Plan, including Policy SS/SH: Settlement Hierarchy, which sets out scales of development in different categories of village.

Consistent with the new National Planning Policy Framework, our vision for Greater Cambridge looks not only to the plan period of 2041, but well beyond to 2050, reflecting that significant development identified in our strategy will continue beyond the plan period from the range of strategic sites identified, including the new settlements.

In order to provide greater confidence that the identified housing needs in Policy S/JH New Jobs and Homes can be met, and that a continuing supply of housing can be demonstrated, we are proposing to allocate enough sites to provide approximately a 10% buffer so we have the flexibility to deal with unforeseen circumstances. We also propose to provide flexibility in the amount and type of employment land supply to help enable the Greater Cambridge economy to continue to flourish.

Why is this policy needed?

Confirming the amount of new employment space and number of new homes to plan for

S/JH New Jobs and Homes identifies the needs over the plan period. It is then for the Councils to decide how to meet those needs and the amount of development to plan for. National planning policy requires us to ensure our plan is positively prepared and meets our identified housing needs. This includes meeting the government’s Five-Year Housing Land Supply requirement throughout the plan period and also the Housing Delivery Test, which in turn look ahead at ensuring adequate future supply and backwards at past delivery. This is important as if we fail either of those tests at any point in the future, the Councils would have less control over development that comes forward in planning applications for sites that are not proposed in our plan. For homes, in order to give greater confidence in meeting our needs, and in line with good practice, we propose to plan for approximately 10% more homes than our objectively assessed needs, a total of around 48,840 homes.

For jobs, our Greater Cambridge Employment Land Review & Economic Development Evidence Base (2020) identified that of the 58,500 overall jobs anticipated over the plan period, around 20,000 of those would be office and industrial jobs, and it converted those into employment floorspace needs of almost 416,400sqm. The rest of the jobs forecast are in services and support uses such as shops, schools and healthcare. It recommends that to ensure a flexible employment land supply for office and industrial jobs, and encouraging growth in existing businesses and attracting inward investment, we plan for a greater amount of employment floorspace than that associated with our identified need, taking into account the needs of different employment sectors.

 

Identifying how much land for new jobs and homes need to be found

Our adopted 2018 Local Plans, which identified a number of large sites for development on the edge of Cambridge, and major developments like Northstowe and the new town north of Waterbeach that will continue to build out for many years to come, including in some cases beyond the new plan period, mean that a large proportion of the development we need to plan for in the Greater Cambridge Local Plan has already been identified.

For jobs, we have a considerable amount of employment land already identified, and there is over 600,000 sqm of employment floorspace in our supply. However, this includes some large employment sites, such as the Genome Campus, that are expected to continue to build out well beyond the new plan period in a similar way to identified land for new homes on some of the large sites. This has been the case over many years, even with the fast rate of growth in some of the key sectors in Greater Cambridge area recent years. Our employment evidence identifies that notwithstanding the overall level of employment land supply, there is a need for suitable new land to be identified to meet the employment needs of specific sectors – some of which have very specific locational requirements.

For homes, we already have almost 31,500 homes in our adopted Local Plans or with planning permission set to be delivered by 2041. On top of this, we have identified an allowance for windfall sites for residential development coming through planning applications. For Greater Cambridge as a whole we expect about 5,300 homes to be built during the plan period from this source. We also have the equivalent of just over 400 homes either allocated in our adopted plans or with planning permission anticipated to be provided in the form of bedrooms for students or older people. Subtracting existing commitments and our windfall allowance from our housing need, whilst incorporating a flexibility buffer of approximately 10%, results in a balance to find in new allocations between 2020 and 2041 of 11,640 homes. The sites set out in this preferred option plan would meet those residual needs.

Figure 6: Infographic showing the amount of new homes we propose to plan for
Figure 7: Infographic showing the amount of new homes we propose to plan for
Figure 8: Graph showing proposed housing trajectory, 2020-2041
Figure 8: Graph showing proposed housing trajectory, 2020-2041​​​​​

 

 

The Cambridge economy

Greater Cambridge hosts internationally significant clusters of Life Science, ICT and Professional Services and Advanced Manufacturing businesses. Cambridgeshire and Peterborough’s Digital Sector Strategy (2019) describes Greater Cambridge as being at the area’s heart as an unparalleled centre of technological innovation. In 2019, Cambridge had 308.7 patents per 1,000 of the population, the most in the UK and more that the next three cities combined. The success of the Life Science sector in Greater Cambridge, built on the knowledge and expertise of Cambridge University and world leading research institutes, has been characterised by both the growth of indigenous businesses and the investment of internationally renowned businesses such as Astra Zeneca who have chosen to locate here.

These knowledge-based clusters are key to Greater Cambridge’s role as the engine for economic growth. The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Independent Economic Review (CPIER) says: “A distinguishing feature of [Cambridgeshire and Peterborough] is how strongly it has grown recently… This has been driven primarily, but not entirely, by rapid business creation and growth in the south – Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire.”

The Greater Cambridge Employment Land and Economic Development Evidence Study (November 2020) (ELR) explores the characteristics of each key economic cluster including the challenges and opportunities that they currently face.

Life Sciences (including healthcare, biotechnology and biomedical activities): The ELR confirms that Life Science cluster in Greater Cambridge continues to grow with a need for additional research and development laboratory space identified. Businesses are looking for flexible workspace where new and growing businesses can locate and, with time, expand. Life science companies tend to prefer to cluster together and close to research institutes and, in some cases clinical medicine, in order to benefit from the exchange of ideas, information, resources.

ICT (including digital technology and artificial intelligence) and Professional Services (including traditional business services and knowledge activities related to research and development not captured otherwise): The ELR reports that in recent years Cambridge has become a major employment centre for ICT taking advantage of academic research, industry collaboration and the skills of local residents. The outlook for the sector is considered to be positive but there is a need for additional floorspace with challenges for new and small businesses in finding flexible quality units.

Advanced Manufacturing (the making of physical products, often a critical feeder service to other sectors): The ELR report expected sustained incremental advanced manufacturing growth as it is linked to supplying other growth sectors, notably life sciences. Advanced manufacturing is varied and takes many forms and may include light industrial floorspace, but also office space and, in some cases, laboratory space. More generally, there is a need for multi-purpose buildings - sometimes with either industrial, laboratory or storage floorspace on the ground floor and office floorspace used for administration on the floor above.

The emerging Local Plan proposes a range of new employment space which together with the existing allocations that we are carrying forward, will support our key economic clusters, ensuring we provide a good range in the type, size and location of sites that respond to the needs of businesses as identified in our evidence. For example, new sites at Babraham Research Campus and the Cambridge Biomedical Campus will provide additional space for life science businesses to cluster and grow. ICT and professional services businesses will have the opportunity to locate to North East Cambridge as well as a range of other sites within new and existing communities across Greater Cambridge. At Cambridge East we will be looking to ensure that the site’s manufacturing legacy is not lost and we are proposing to allocate additional space for manufacturing space close the Swavesey junction on the A14.  This allocation would also cater for the need for warehousing businesses which provide important support to all of our key sectors.

 

Spatial strategy

National planning policy says that plans should set out “an appropriate strategy, taking into account the reasonable alternatives, and based on proportionate evidence”.

The adopted development strategy for Greater Cambridge in the 2018 Local Plans continued in broad terms the strategy set out in the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Structure Plan 2003 and the previous Local Plans. The joint strategy within the separate 2018 Local Plans includes:

  • Development within Cambridge where there was capacity  
  • Carrying forward existing edge of Cambridge allocations, identifying limited additional development on the edge of Cambridge where this would not cause significant harm to Green Belt purposes, and safeguarding land for development at Cambridge Airport
  • New Settlements at North of Waterbeach and at Bourn Airfield, alongside carrying forward the existing allocation at Northstowe
  • Extension of Cambourne at Cambourne West 
  • Limited Village allocations at Rural Centres and Minor Rural Centres

Delivery of the adopted strategy is progressing well, with development underway or completed at all stages of the development strategy, including at the edge of Cambridge sites, at the new settlement sites of Northstowe and Waterbeach New Town, at Marleigh north of Cambridge Airport and at Cambourne West, and with outline permission granted for Bourn Airfield New Village and Land North of Cherry Hinton.

Figure 9: Location of currently consented and allocated development pipeline 2020-2041
Figure 9: Location of currently consented and allocated development pipeline 2020-2041 

In considering the strategy choices available for the new Greater Cambridge Local Plan we explored the sustainability merits of locating development within each of the five sources of supply from the adopted development strategy, comprising Cambridge urban area, edge of Cambridge (both non-Green Belt and Green Belt land), new settlements and villages. We also identified four new development strategy choices not considered for previous plans, which form geographically focused hybrids of the previously identified sources of supply, comprising Public Transport Corridors, providing homes close to jobs in the research parks to the south of Cambridge, integrating development with planned infrastructure in the corridor to the west of Cambridge, and a hybrid involving release of land from the Green Belt. We reviewed the sustainability merits, opportunities and constraints for each of these nine potential strategy choices, considering evidence under each of our themes, as well as completing Sustainability Appraisal of them.

Alongside considering the best locations for new homes and jobs, we have also been considering the best locations to restore our area’s habitat networks and provide more green spaces for people providing health and wellbeing benefits. Our Green Infrastructure evidence has identified 14 strategic green infrastructure initiatives to help achieve this. We have prepared our preferred development strategy including draft allocations and green infrastructure initiatives in parallel. See BG2: Green Infrastructure for more detail on each initiative.

Drawing on our evidence and consultation feedback, our preferred option is a blended strategy to meet a variety of needs, and respond to the opportunities provided by the sources of supply. It is strongly influenced by:

  • Reducing climate impacts through compact development located to connect homes and jobs and where active and sustainable travel can be maximised
  • Making best use of suitable safeguarded and brownfield land
  • Making best use of existing and committed key sustainable transport infrastructure
  • Supporting rural communities to thrive and sustain services

Our evidence and Sustainability Appraisal confirm that the urban area of Cambridge remains a highly sustainable broad location for additional homes and jobs, relating to its accessibility to existing jobs and services. A number of existing allocations are proposed for retention in this broad area. Beyond this, North East Cambridge provides the most significant development opportunity in this area. Given the very detailed assessment that informed the 2018 Cambridge Local Plan and that a number of allocations have yet to be implemented very limited new smaller allocations have been identified, whilst several new opportunity areas for regeneration have been identified alongside carrying forward those that have yet to come forward.

Our evidence shows that the edge of Cambridge could be a sustainable location for homes and jobs, being accessible to existing jobs and services, and if development is planned at sufficient scale this could also support new infrastructure. A number of existing allocations on the edge of Cambridge continue to be built out. Beyond this, on the edge of Cambridge outside the Green Belt, Cambridge East provides the most significant development opportunity in this area, comprising land at Cambridge Airport that was originally identified for development in the 2003 Structure Plan and is safeguarded in the 2018 Local Plans for development should the site become available, which the landowner has now advised will be the case by 2030. There is also opportunity for additional homes within the built area of the existing site being built in North West Cambridge at Eddington.

We do not consider that our housing needs alone provide the ‘exceptional circumstances’ required in national policy to justify removing land from the Green Belt on the edge of Cambridge in this Local Plan, having regard to the identification of the proposed emerging strategy that can meet needs in a sustainable way without the need for Green Belt release. We have therefore considered sites on the edge of Cambridge in the Green Belt individually to assess whether there could be any site specific exceptional circumstances that could justify release of land from the Green Belt. In all but one case we do not consider that such exceptional circumstances exist. However, we do think that it may be possible to demonstrate that exceptional circumstance exist to justify a limited release of Green Belt at Cambridge Biomedical Campus to provide an opportunity to improve the sustainability and qualities  for of this unique international campus  and to allow it to continue to grow into the future.

Our existing new settlements at Northstowe, Waterbeach and Bourn Airfield will continue to be built out through the new plan period to 2041 and beyond, and form a significant part of our future supply. We don’t think that further new settlements should be allocated. The most sustainable location for strategic scale development away from Cambridge is to expand on existing development in the Cambourne area, taking advantage of the significant benefits that will be provided by the proposed East West Rail station as well as the improvements already anticipated from the Greater Cambridge Partnership’s Cambourne to Cambridge scheme. This significant improvement in public transport provides an opportunity to grow an existing new town, enhancing the critical mass of population, employment and services available locally to those communities.

We also have evidence that locating homes close to existing and proposed jobs at the cluster of research parks to the south of Cambridge would help reduce commuting and associated carbon emissions and congestion. We are supporting both jobs and homes growth in this area, through rolling forward a number of existing housing allocations, and by identifying new allocations, including for jobs at Babraham Research Campus, jobs and tied homes confirming the existing planning permission at Wellcome Genome Campus, and a number of housing sites at well-connected villages in the area

Our evidence shows that our villages should play only a limited role in meeting future development needs to support delivery of a range of smaller sites and support the vitality of our villages. Alongside rolling forward a number of existing housing sites, we have identified a limited number of new sites for housing at our more sustainable villages.

In addition to the allocations within the sources of supply listed above, some of which will include both homes and employment space, we have also identified a number of new employment allocations in the rural area to meet the specific needs of different sectors identified in our employment evidence.

Taking the proposed development strategy as a whole, with the new allocations proposed in this section, the Preferred Options for the new Local Plan propose a total of 11,590 new homes (rounded down), which is broadly consistent with the number we were aiming to identify approximately 11,640, which represents our housing need plus a 10% buffer.

National planning policy says at least 10% of our housing requirement should be accommodated on sites no larger than 1 hectare, unless it can be shown that there are strong reasons why this cannot be achieved. The site commitments we have and new proposals suggested in this consultation, together with windfall sites expected to come forward would mean we exceed this requirement by some margin. However, if we were to allocate specific sites it would need us to develop large numbers of sites in the rural area. This would compromise our development strategy, by directing a significant portion of growth to less sustainable locations, impacting on our response to the challenges of net zero carbon, and likely requiring large numbers of Green Belt releases.

The following table sets out the broad distribution of housing growth under previous rounds of plan-making, alongside the preferred option strategy distribution. The proportions of housing development in different types of location have changed over time as the impacts of the sustainable development strategy across our current 2018 Local Plans, which was initiated in the round of plans before, really starts to take effect. The large strategic sites on the edge of Cambridge and the new settlements in South Cambridgeshire have had long lead-in times but are now delivering well and starting to make up a larger proportion of development that is expected to continue through the plan period. The less sustainable rural area would have a lower share of development in the new plan, whilst still providing some limited development to help support our rural communities.

Figure 10: Distribution of growth in comparison to previous Local Plans
Figure 10: Distribution of growth in comparison to previous Local Plans

The new National Planning Policy Framework (July 2021) says that where a local plan includes proposals for new settlements, it should set a vision that looks further ahead than the normal 15 years from adoption of the plan, to at least 30 years. The development strategy contained in plans for the Greater Cambridge area over many years have contained new settlements, going back to the original proposals for Cambourne. Each past Local Plan has identified new settlements that will continue to build out well beyond the plan they were first identified in so having a vision that looks beyond the plan period is something that has long been part of plan making in this area. The new Local Plan supply for the plan period to 2041 contains 16,725 homes from new settlements in the adopted plans as well as around 2,000 from new proposals for an expanded Cambourne so approximately 19,000 in total. However, there will still be approaching 10,000 homes to build out beyond 2041, plus whatever may ultimately be identified at an expanded Cambourne. The proposed Local Plan vision reflects the important role of the four proposed new settlements for not only the plan period but also for the period to 2050. This will be kept under view during the plan making process, including how it relates to the government’s emerging Oxford-Cambridge Arc Spatial Framework that will also plan for the period to 2050.

 

Ensuring a deliverable plan

Having confirmed our objectively assessed needs for housing and jobs and our proposed provision, we also have to ensure that the plan is deliverable and that any environmental impacts can be addressed appropriately.  

A key issue identified in the Greater Cambridge Integrated Water Management Study is the need for new strategic water supply infrastructure to provide for longer term needs, and to protect the integrity of the chalk aquifer south of Cambridge. The current preferred growth trajectories put pressure on water resources in Greater Cambridge. Our draft Sustainability Appraisal also identifies significant environmental impacts if the issue is not resolved.  

Water Resources East is currently preparing its Water Management Plan for the region to cover the period 2050, expected to be published for consultation in 2022. It is understood that this will include planning for significant new infrastructure in the form of a new Fenland reservoir, alongside other measures, to provide water supply that is designed to address both environmental and growth needs. However, on current timelines this will only be available to supply water from the mid 2030’s. Until such new strategic resources are delivered, there are short/medium term risks that ongoing growth will cause further deterioration to the chalk aquifer and habitats in the chalk streams which flow into Cambridge. The solutions could lie in measures such as sourcing more water from other locations that do not rely on the aquifer and seeking maximum efficiency in water use and further reducing wastage through leakage. This approach could have dual benefits in reducing pressures from existing development and meeting short/medium term risks until the mid 2030s. 

Until more is known about the proposals for water supply that will be contained in the new regional Water Management Plan, there remains some uncertainty whether water supplies can be provided in a way that is sufficient for the full objectively assessed needs to be able to be delivered in a sustainable way throughout the plan period.  

It is critical that the key strategic water infrastructure is delivered as soon as possible to support the government’s economic ambitions. It is an issue for a much wider area than Greater Cambridge, but our plan is the first to confront the latest issues.  

The Councils have been, and continue to, engage with the relevant bodies responsible for water supply planning, including Water Resources East, the Water Companies and the Environment Agency to ensure they understand the significance of the issue. We are taking every opportunity to raise this at the most senior level with all key parties, including government through its focus on the Oxford-Cambridge Spatial Framework, that will also have to address this issue.  

If it is concluded that it is not possible to demonstrate an adequate supply of water without unacceptable environmental harm to support development ahead of strategic water infrastructure being in place, there may be a need for the plan to include policies to phase delivery of development. A ‘stepped’ housing requirement may need to be explored that would see development limited to levels that can be supported by a sustainable water supply until such time as the new strategic infrastructure is in place. Given the need to rely only on reasonable rates of delivery of homes and jobs, this could mean that it is not possible to demonstrate delivery of the full objectively assessed needs within the plan period.  

As noted above, under circumstances where it would not be possible to demonstrate that there is a reasonable prospect that the full development needs can be delivered by 2041, the Councils would have to discuss with neighbours the potential for them to meet that element of needs under the duty to cooperate, recognising that they may experience the same regional water issues. It is possible, if this issue cannot be resolved, that ultimately the Councils may have to put forward a plan that does not demonstrate that needs will be met and argue through the examination process that it can be found sound.  

Clearly the hope is that the water industry, supported by government, will set out its intentions for positively addressing this key infrastructure issue at an early point in the ongoing plan making process that provide confidence that adequate water supply will be available to support delivery of the preferred options, before the next stage of a full draft Local Plan. 

 

Duty to Cooperate

In preparing our evidence informing the preferred strategy we have engaged with relevant organisations under the legal duty to cooperate on plan making, to ensure we have fully considered strategic cross-boundary matters. The engagement we’ve completed to consider these strategic issues is set out in our Duty to Cooperate Statement of Compliance, and our current position on each substantive issue is set out in our draft Statement of Common Ground. The water supply challenge addressed above is a serious issue to be resolved. Apart from this, we are not currently aware of any unresolved strategic cross-boundary matters that would prevent the preferred strategy from being delivered. However, should it be proven that we cannot deliver our strategy because of any reason later in the plan process, then we will need to talk with our neighbours. We will continue to engage with all relevant organisations as we take the plan forward.

 

Transport Strategy

Figure 11: Map of existing and proposed major transport projects
Figure 11: Map of existing and proposed major transport projects

There are a number of committed infrastructure proposals being progressed by transport bodies, including for example the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, Greater Cambridge Partnership, Highways England and East West Rail Company, that will provide significant transport capacity to support the delivery of committed development. We are working together with these bodies to support delivery of these schemes, and with the Combined Authority as Local Transport Authority and Cambridgeshire County Council as Highways Authority in particular to progress our own Local Plan evidence.

Our proposed strategy is heavily informed by the location of existing and committed public transport schemes. For example, locating growth at Cambourne takes advantage of the proposed East West Rail station and Cambourne to Cambridge Public Transport Scheme; equally, North East Cambridge is made more sustainable by the presence of Cambridge North Station, the proposed Waterbeach to Cambridge North Public Transport Scheme, and Waterbeach Greenway. Beyond this, we have undertaken transport modelling to understand whether additional infrastructure and policies, beyond these proposals, would be required to address the transport impacts of the preferred development strategy. Transport infrastructure and policy requirements associated with specific proposed allocations are set out in each allocation policy within this chapter.

What consultation have we done on this issue?

Initial responses to the First Conversation question that asked respondents to rank the six spatial choices identified in the consultation, indicated that densification of existing urban areas was the most popular location for siting new development. Public Transport Corridors was the second most popular spatial choice; Edge of Cambridge – Green Belt was the least popular location, but a majority responded positively to Question 39 which asked ‘Should we look to remove land from the Green Belt if evidence shows it provides a more sustainable development option by reducing travel distances, helping us reduce our climate impacts?’.

A variety of comments were shared in relation to each spatial choice, with many noting the need to limit carbon emissions associated with transport by locating new development close to existing jobs and services or else close to existing and proposed public transport infrastructure. Comments relating to densification and the edge of Cambridge highlighted the tension between locating growth here to provide good access to existing facilities, with the townscape and landscape impacts this would have. Comments relating to villages were mixed, with some highlighting the benefits of development in supporting services, while others identified negative carbon and historic environment impacts.

What alternatives did we consider?

The councils have explored a wide range of alternative options in developing the preferred options. This began with identifying and testing 6 spatial options in our First Conversation consultation (issues and options) including undertaking sustainability appraisal.  

As we developed our interim evidence, we initially identified 3 growth level options for homes and jobs and 2 further blended spatial strategies creating 8 spatial options. These were all tested so we considered 24 strategy options in our interim evidence published in November 2020, including a further Sustainability Appraisal. 

As we moved towards identifying our preferred options, we identified our objectively assess need for jobs and homes (see S/JH Jobs and Homes). Drawing on the evidence we started by identifying a high level preferred spatial option, which included the core preferred strategic sites of North East Cambridge, Cambridge East and Cambourne to provide the majority of our objectively assessed needs. Our evidence showed that these performed well against our core evidence and better than most other alternative options when considered against key aims of: 

  • Reducing climate impacts through compact development located to connect homes and jobs, and where active and sustainable travel can be maximised; 
  • Making best use of suitable safeguarded and brownfield land;
  • Making best use of existing and committed key sustainable transport infrastructure; and
  • Supporting rural communities to thrive and sustain services. 

As we developed a working preferred option for further testing, we identified a further blended spatial option that warranted testing, which was similar to the preferred option with the exception that it did not include Cambourne and did include non site specific locations on the edge of Cambridge in the Green Belt. Both were tested in a comparable way to the 8 spatial options, so ten spatial options were tested, prior to confirming the final preferred strategy. 

Whilst edge of Cambridge Green Belt sites performed in a similar way in many respects to Cambridge East, they would have significant Green Belt impacts and given the relatively good performance of Cambourne, which is not in the Green Belt and would benefit from East West Rail, there was considered to be no exceptional circumstances for releasing land on the edge of Cambridge to meet development needs as a matter of principle and that spatial option was not preferred. Consideration was given to whether there were any site specific exceptional circumstances for releasing any particular site from the Green Belt and only the Cambridge Biomedical Campus was identified as potentially being able to demonstrate such exceptional circumstances. All other sites on the edge of Cambridge in the Green Belt were not able to do so and were not preferred.  

Consideration was given to the provision of a range of sizes and types of sites to give flexibility and help with delivery over the plan period, reflecting our evidence, and a modest element of housing was in principle considered to be an appropriate element of the strategy. Drawing on our evidence, a wide range of sites were considered but many were not preferred due to their impacts, with only a limited number of sites being preferred in Cambridge, close to centres of employment in the southern cluster, and in villages well served by public transport in the rest of the rural area. Allocating large numbers of sites in villages was not a preferred approach, as evidence demonstrated how poorly a dispersed strategy performed with regard to a number of issues, but particularly in relation to transport and carbon impacts. 

In summary, drawing on our evidence and consultation feedback, alternatives to our preferred option would either distribute development to less sustainable locations that are distant from Cambridge or without the benefit of very high quality public transport (existing or proposed) that would generate greater car use contrary to our climate change theme, or would require the release of large areas of Green Belt on the edge of Cambridge which would cause significant harm to the purposes of the Cambridge Green Belt. Full information regarding the testing of these alternatives can be found in the Sustainability Appraisal accompanying the First Proposals. 

Supporting evidence studies and topic papers

  • Greater Cambridge Local Plan Topic Paper 1: Strategy
  • Greater Cambridge Local Plan Transport Evidence Report: Preferred Options
  • Greater Cambridge Local Plan: Duty to Cooperate Statement of Compliance
  • Greater Cambridge Local Plan: Draft Statement of Common Ground

Existing policies in adopted 2018 Local Plans

South Cambridgeshire Local Plan 2018

  • Policy S/6: The Development Strategy to 2031

Cambridge Local Plan 2018

  • Policy 2: Spatial strategy for the location of employment development
  • Policy 3: Spatial strategy for the location of residential development

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