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Initial findings published on key topics for the Greater Cambridge Local Plan

The Greater Cambridge Shared Planning Service has published a range of research developed as part of an important stage of work on the new Greater Cambridge Local Plan. This includes new baseline data about the Greater Cambridge area, insights into the amount of development that may be required in the future, and expert assessments about the pros and cons of different approaches to planning for the future.  

Planners used national planning policy, evidence about past economic growth, and independent future forecasts, to calculate the minimum and maximum amount of development that may be needed in the area. Planners then tested these growth level options on a variety of potential types of location for development, and commissioned experts on a range of topics – from water resources to carbon emissions to infrastructure - to gather baseline data and undertake assessments that would highlight the strengths and weaknesses of these different scenarios  

These are interim findings which will be developed further as the Local Plan is progressed, and a range of other studies are also being developed. This thorough evidence base will help councillors and planners develop a well-informed ‘preferred option’ for how much development to plan for, and where development should be allocated in the new Local Plan. This is scheduled for full public consultation in 2021. In the mean time, the Planning Service has published these initial studies online in our Document Library so that they can be read by anyone interested in how the Local Plan is being developed.  

No decisions have been made yet about what the eventual strategy will be, and the reports will be discussed by councillors from both Councils at the Joint Local Plan Advisory Group later in November. 

Some of the initial findings include: 

  • Under the standard method set by national government, the minimum number of new homes that would need to be built in the area is around 1,900 per year. This is about 180 more homes per year than we currently have in our development pipeline.  
  • However, taking into account forecasts for jobs growth in the area, there may be a case for planning for between 2,200-3,000 homes per year, to help reduce pressure on house prices and commuting into the area. This would mean finding sites for up to 1,250 extra homes per year.  
  • Our evidence suggests there could be real challenges in achieving very high levels of house-building due to market forces, but that the minimum level set by the government’s standard method may not respond to the current forecast growth in jobs in the area, potentially leading to higher house prices and more commuting into the area. 
  • New and innovative modelling suggests that the carbon emissions associated with each new home in Greater Cambridge would be between 6-13 tonnes of CO2 per year, depending on the type and location of the home. If ambitious zero carbon policies are brought in, this could reduce emissions to around 2-9 tonnes per home. 
  • If ambitious zero carbon policies are brought in, almost no CO2 would be produced by the building’s energy use itself and less than 1 tonne of CO2 per home would be generated by the carbon needed to build the home in the first place (this is calculated by spreading the upfront carbon emissions of the construction over the anticipated lifespan of the building). The rest of the carbon emissions are created by the travel patterns of the residents, which is why new homes in villages are likely to create over three times as much carbon as new homes in denser urban areas. 
  • Water supply analysis shows that the minimum required level of growth could be plausibly achieved through adjustments to current water resource management plans, such as greater water efficiency, reducing leakages and shifting to more sustainable water sources. Medium or high growth levels would need new regional scale infrastructure, such as reservoirs and transfer schemes, and this will inform plans currently being developed by the water industry Under normal means of provision, these will take time to implement, and this could be a ‘deal breaker’ that means high growth levels cannot be achieved within the period of the new Plan. For more information, read our water briefing.
  • From a water management perspective, the best place to build new homes would be in new settlements, or to build large developments on the edge of Cambridge. This is because they can be designed from the outset for efficient and integrated water management, rather than having to ‘bolt on’ to existing infrastructure in the city or existing villages where there may be existing flood risk, wastewater and water quality constraints 
  • About 19% of Greater Cambridge’s land area is green or blue infrastructure, which means the network of natural and semi-natural spaces, including water bodies. This compares to farmland, which accounts for 74% of the land in Greater Cambridge. This figure has been developed through a very detailed analysis which included asking community representatives to complete surveys about green spaces in their area. 
  • There are many opportunities to improve and expand the green and blue infrastructure network, but the river corridors in particular would create the most benefits for biodiversity as well as communities. 
  • Initial viability testing suggests that market-led development in Greater Cambridge should be able to pay for 40% affordable housing as part of the mix in each major development, but there is further work being developed to look at the costs of infrastructure and potential policies such as zero carbon measures. 

 Cllr Dr. Tumi Hawkins, Lead Cabinet Member for Planning at South Cambridgeshire District Council, said: “These are very interesting findings, and they will help us develop the best planning strategy for all our communities. We need to find the right sites for homes, jobs and local services, so that we minimise carbon emissions and improve the natural environment, while enabling communities of all sizes to be affordable and vibrant places to live.  

The process of developing a Local Plan is complex and has to meet a very high bar – at independent examination we have to show that we have been led by the evidence and that our strategy is completely sound. We are delighted to have such a thorough and well-researched set of interim findings, to help us progress the Plan on a sound footing.”  

Cllr Katie Thornburrow, Executive Councillor for Planning Policy and Open Spaces at Cambridge City Council, said: “These findings demonstrate some of the big challenges we face as we progress to a net zero carbon future. We want the new Plan to show that we can live within our environmental limits at the same time as meeting the needs of all our communities, in terms of jobs, affordable homes and equal access to opportunities in the area. 

We need to build new homes in our area, and not just because the government sets us a minimum target. The local economy supports lots of jobs, and those families need homes to live in that are affordable, and that aren’t so far away that they have to commute long distances, contributing to our carbon emissions and raising living costs. It is in everyone’s interest for the right amount of development to be achieved in a carefully planned way – and this evidence all helps to ensure that’s exactly what we are able to do.” 

Next steps 

The Councils will be developing a preferred option for the Local Plan and this will be published for full public consultation in summer or autumn 2021. More evidence and research is also being produced, and will be published in due course. 

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