After years of negotiations, the British Government, Cambridgeshire County Council and Cambridge City Council have finally agreed on a plan for the development of Cambridge and its county. Here, we look at 10 of the most important and ambitious green-lit projects that will change the face of Britain’s fastest-growing region over the next 10 years.
Wisbech Garden Town
Wisbech is a famous old town, it is known as ‘the capital of fenland’, in the north-east corner of Cambridgeshire. With the scenic River Nene running through its picturesque town centre, often lined with floral displays, it is already popular with tourists, but it is set to become ‘the place to live’ over the next 10 years. The creation of Wisbech Garden Town, an idea first put forward by the Wisbech 2020 Vision Group in 2016, should see the development of the town’s more deprived areas, the creation of 12,000 new homes in the first phase of construction alone and a new rail link that will mean easy access to Cambridge for commuters.
This huge airfield, just 8 miles west of Cambridge, was constructed during World War II as a base for heavy bombers like Wellingtons and Lancasters. In recent years, though, it has been used mainly for recreational purposes. However, the developers Countryside got the green light in 2018 to build 3,500 new homes on the site, and their ambitious plans will mean a complete redevelopment of the airfield and the surrounding area, turning it into an ideal suburb of Cambridge for families to live in. Along with the houses, there are plans to build schools, health centres, shops and leisure facilities, they are even planning a park in the shape of a runway in a nod to the site’s historic and noble past.
Another former RAF site that is being redeveloped is Northstowe, and being just 5 miles outside Cambridge, it is another development that is garnering huge amounts of interest. Billed as the biggest newtown since Milton Keynes, there are plans for up to 12,000 new homes to be built and for the town to have a population of around 24,000. Northstowe has actually been around for a while now, with its first phase of development beginning back in 2003. The idea was that Northstowe would become an exemplar of a low carbon emissions town, and with Homes England, the British Government’s housing body, behind the next two phases of development, people are confident that the plans for the town will indeed come to fruition.
The M11 Expansion
It is no secret that one of the problems that residents of Cambridgeshire regularly complain about is traffic congestion. Many of this famous old county’s roads simply aren’t wide enough to cope with the amount of traffic that flows through the area due to its population growth over the past couple of decades. The expansion of the M11 should help to alleviate the congestion, though, linking London with Peterborough and all points in between. As the county’s only motorway, it has long been the focus of motorists’ fury as they sat for hours in lengthy tailbacks, but finally that looks like changing.
A10 and A47 Improvements
Two more important roads in Cambridgeshire are the A10, which links Cambridge and Ely, and the A47, which links Peterborough with Norfolk, Fenland and the A1. The plans for the A10 are incredibly ambitious and far-reaching. The half a billion pound project includes changing the single carriageway road to dual carriageway, a dedicated park and ride service to Waterbeach (a beautiful seaside town just outside Ely) and, in the process, creating thousands of new jobs. The plans for the A47 are a little simpler as they basically constitute the dualling of the road to make travel between Peterborough and other areas in the region faster and easier. The A47 will also link straight to the new M11 expansion, making travel by car from Peterborough to London less frustrating and daunting than it has been in recent years.
Cambridge Autonomous Metro
The Cambridge Autonomous Metro, or CAM for short, will be a unique driverless metro system that will not only make travel around the city itself much easier, but will also connect Cambridge with nearby towns like Huntingdon, Waterbeach and towns in South Cambridgeshire. The CAM will be a welcome alternative mode of transport for commuters who currently have lengthy drives or expensive train trips to and from work in the city centre. At a meeting in January 2020, during which plans were agreed to extend the CAM all the way up to Peterborough, the Mayor of Cambridge, James Palmer, described the CAM as “a beacon of smart, clean autonomous public transportation (that) will be the future for ourselves and our children.”
Rail and Station Developments
There are several important improvements to rail links and stations in the area planned. The most talked about of these is probably the East-West Expressway, a high speed rail link that would connect Cambridge and Oxford along what is being dubbed the ‘brain belt’. Milton Keynes, being at the mid-point between the two cities, would benefit from the link, as would any other towns along the route. Another highly anticipated project is the construction of two new stations in Cambridge, Cambridge North and Cambridge South. It is hoped that Cambridge South will be completed by 2025 and North by 2030 and that when they are up and running they will serve up to 3,000 commuters a day, making life for commuters who work in those areas much more pleasant. These projects, along with several others such as the new station at Soham, should make rail travel far more attractive thus alleviating much of the congestion on the county’s roads.
One of the major issues in Cambridge and the surrounding region over the last 20 or so years has been the lack of affordable housing. Business owners bemoan the fact that they can’t attract employees to work for them as there is nowhere near by that they can afford to live. This should change over the next few years, though, as Cambridgeshire County Council has recognised the need for affordable housing. Darwin Green, just outside Cambridge, is one such development. Of the nearly 1,600 homes being built by developers Barratt Homes and David Wilson Homes 40% will be affordable. There are also plans for a school, retail units and a central park on the site.
A fascinating new development, and another one that should help people who can’t afford to buy a large house in the Cambridgeshire countryside, is Eddington. The project started out as a way for workers at Cambridge University, who may not be on a professor’s salary, to still be able to live close enough to their place of work to make their work-life balance more equal. The development has since grown and will include new affordable housing for people who do not work at the university. Situated in the north-west of the city around a market square, it is being called a model for sustainable urban housing, and apartments in developments such as the Athena residence are, unsurprisingly, selling fast.
Another area of the city of Cambridge itself which has been earmarked for massive development is Wing, with plans for 10,000 to 12,000 new homes to be built in the currently empty fields north of Newmarket Road over the next 10 years. The housing will be just one aspect of the plans to transform the area into a new urban quarter of the city, with schools, nurseries, shops, health centres and recreational facilities. With all the other developments connected to business, transportation and education that are currently taking place or due to start in the near future, Wing could fill up fast… so it might be an idea to start looking into moving to the area sooner rather than later...