Implications for planning policy and decisions within Cambridge.

In 2010, some 50 years on from the early days of what is called the “Cambridge Cluster Phenomenon”, EEDA (supported, amongst others, by Cambridge City Council and South Cambs DC) commissioned a report from SQW, on how the Cambridge economy is faring today and to identify opportunities, threats and constraints. This report was published in March 2011 and on 14 June 2011 was considered by a committee of Cambridge City Council. The outcome was to take the SQW report forward to the review of local planning policies and for that report to now stand as a material consideration in decisions on planning applications.

The link between economic success and planning is recognised in a number of recent communications from the Government, including the March 2011 budget and is informing the Government’s review of national planning policy. Given the outcome of the committee meeting on 14 June, it now seems that this link is just as relevant in the Cambridge economic area.

So what were the SQW report findings, relevant to planning, which will influence policy development and, potentially, planning decisions? To summarise:  

  • Cambridge city centre is small and its historical character and “ownership structure” constrain it further – yet it is a substantial draw for businesses and other land uses which bring economic benefits. These in turn will demand further environmental and other improvements. This should be done through a masterplan for the central area.
  • Planning policy continues to restrict the occupation of office accommodation. Yet the report also finds that Cambridge may have opportunities to develop as a location for HQ functions where key decisions are made – moving on from its more traditional and well recognised R&D role – so planning policy should be more welcoming of HQ functions.
  • More business (B1) space generally should be permitted and more land is needed for manufacturing.
  • Social space (both within and accessible from the workplace) has an important role to play in doing business within Cambridge and should be part of new developments.
  • Connectivity between the railway station, the city centre and key employment sites (Cambridge Science Park, Addenbrooke’s and West Cambridge) must be improved.
  • More housing is needed and where infrastructure is required “up front”, forward funding mechanisms like Tax Increment Financing should be utilised. The City Council’s current affordable housing policies should be reviewed particularly in light of the significant reductions in grant funding.
  • What is termed “creative and bold thinking” is called for to deal with traffic congestion, including a review of private commuter parking.
  • Policies which restrict certain educational establishments, and provision for them (eg, language schools, private colleges) should be reviewed in view of the contribution they make to the local economy.
  • The need for an additional conference facility in the 300 – 500 delegate range should be considered.

How can we help? The City Council’s decision will have a bearing on how its future planning policies are worded. In many ways the more interesting element of the decision, however, is to make the SQW report a “material consideration” in the determination of planning applications. This may well be very valuable to anyone looking for planning permission for development which may seem to conflict with certain policies – but where this report provides support. Given the emerging presumption in favour of sustainable development at national policy level, developers should take note of the outcome of the decision.

We can advise on all aspects of planning law including the emerging Localism Bill and issues such as Community Infrastructure Levy, Tax Increment Financing and the relevance of economic considerations in planning decisions.