Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses(Questions 120-123)



  120. You have not run into difficulties with government departments like the MoD or even the Health Department, where they actually own tracts of land in Cambridge that they are not prepared to release for affordable housing? That has not been a problem, in your experience?
  (Mr Studdert) No, it has not. There are sites around within the sub-region, particularly Ministry of Defence sites, one of which has now been identified as a new settlement site at Oakington as part of the current Structure Plan review, where a large part of that land is owned by the Government, and obviously that is being brought forward, but the way in which that is being marketed will be as if it were a private site, I suspect. The developer who will be developing that for the Government will, I imagine, still only expect to put a maximum of 50 per cent affordable housing, and that the Government would reap the benefit of the receipt from the value of that land.

  121. Can we move on quickly to the Green Belt argument? You have obviously had a good record in Cambridge of re-using brownfield sites. You hope your new housing will go on brownfield sites, but obviously, because of all the pressures that you told us about at the start of your evidence, it has been decided that there will be an expansion of development into the Green Belt. Can you really justify that? Can you, hand on heart, say there is no way within the existing built-up area of Cambridge, by perhaps increasing densities or using whatever scraps of vacant sites you have, that you could create that extra dwelling? What are your arguments for breaking the Green Belt?
  (Mr Studdert) We have done an urban capacity study and we have identified some brownfield capacity within the city at something round about 6,500 properties. A lot of those are on difficult sites, and quite a large chunk of that would involve redevelopment of our sewage works, which is not going to be an easy matter. The strategy does allow for the maximum use of what few brownfield sites we do have, but the target that we have been set through regional planning guidance for the sub-region as a whole is 2,800 houses per year to 2016, which is something like 40 per cent higher than the rate we are building them at at the moment. So 6,500 units within the city is only going to be a small proportion of that sub-regional need. We have identified sites to come out of the Green Belt that would provide another 8,000 houses up to 2016 and also a reserve of white land for use beyond that, so that whatever new Green Belt boundary we define is robust for the next 25-30 years. So we look longer than the current planned period so that we do provide some certainty for the future definition of the Green Belt. Obviously, the new settlement which I mentioned at Oakington is also part of the package, and that is beyond the Green Belt. The main site that we are looking at within the Green Belt is actually Cambridge Airport, which is on the east side of Cambridge, which we are seeking to relocate within the sub-region and Alconbury is seen as being one of the most likely places that it could go. So technically that qualifies as a brownfield site anyway, and that site alone would have capacity for up to about 10,000 houses built at an urban density. So we feel that there are obviously some parts of the Green Belt which certainly we would never want to see developed, but through a fairly careful analysis of the opportunities, we feel that, particularly on the east side of Cambridge, which is relatively flat and characterless, there are opportunities to expand Cambridge, as long as we can do it well. It comes back to this quality issue: obviously we have to do it to a high quality, but we feel the opportunities are there, so we should take them.


  122. Have you considered knocking down one of the colleges and moving the students to somewhere else in the country?
  (Mr Studdert) I think there was a suggestion at a debate in this House only four months ago that Jim Paice precipitated, and I think he was suggesting that Cambridge should expand somewhere else and the university should expand somewhere else. I think the university see it differently. Interestingly, the colleges have built at quite high density and give us quite a good model for how we might expand Cambridge.

Christine Russell

  123. What has actually happened to density in new build in Cambridge over the last few years? Have you managed to increase it without violent objections?
  (Mr Studdert) There are still violent objections, but we try to ride them out, or reasonably anyway. Densities are going up certainly above 40-50 to the hectare, sometimes even higher in very central sites. But one should not under-estimate the amount of local opposition that one gets, because people are concerned about the densities. If it is going to lead to more traffic, particularly if we are cutting down on car parking, people then say everyone will park their cars on the street outside their house. It is no easy matter to increase densities on urban sites whilst maintaining some sort of democratic input from the local community.

  Chairman: On that note, can I thank you very much for your evidence.

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