Campaign to save 291 Hills Road is defeated

I’m sad to report that on 11 June, the City Council’s Planning Committee finally approved the planning application for 291 Hills Road, demolishing the existing property, ‘Raylands’, which dates from 1913, and replacing it with a block of apartments. This was despite a protracted effort from a large group of local residents, who spent hundreds of hours over many months trying to defend the house from a local company, Gibson Developments, which has been systematically demolishing houses in Queen Edith’s.

The Saving Raylands Campaign Team sent this message yesterday:

“We fought a strong campaign against the development, submitting 3 lengthy reports and many other documents. We were supported by over 200 written objections, professional advisors (architects, surveyors and planning experts), the Cambridge Independent, and both Labour and Lib Dem councillors. We also organised two Development Control Forum meetings, which allowed us to present our objections in detail to the Planning Committee.

“Gibson Developments submitted their first planning application in August 2017 and it took 22 months before the development was finally approved, after numerous changes to the application. These changes and delays have cost the developer a considerable sum, including additional building costs, professional fees, interest charges and the replacement of one apartment with cycle parking. Gibsons claim they will make a profit of only £55,000, which is just 1% of costs. Furthermore, the City Council will ‘claw back’ any profit which is higher than this figure. We will be interested to see how this works.

“The final design looks considerably better than the first application. NP Architects have made an effort to relate the development to surrounding properties, as illustrated in this document. The complex roofscape has been replaced with conventional pitched roofs. Metal balcony balustrades will reduce the large glazed area, as seen from the street. The ramp to the basement and the bin storage area will have green roofs. There is a landscape plan, with 12 existing trees being retained and a formal tree protection scheme to limit damage during construction.

“Changes have been made to reduce the impact on the adjoining properties. Balconies and terraces have been repositioned to avoid overlooking neighbours. The drainage plan has been revised, to reduce the risk of flooding. The large bin storage area, which originally backed onto 289 Hills Road, has been moved to a less obtrusive location. The formal path is now at the front of the building, to avoid disturbing neighbours.

“Future residents of the development will benefit from improved disabled access, better parking for vehicles and bicycles, and less cramped accommodation.

“Throughout our campaign, we highlighted the failure to provide affordable housing, as required in the Cambridge Local Plan. This was one of the main reasons the application was refused twice, in April 2018 and August 2018. The development should have included 25% affordable units. However, the developer was able to avoid this responsibility by exploiting a clause in the Local Plan and demonstrating that they weren’t making enough profit to fund affordable housing. Ward councillors and the Planning Committee are now very aware of this weakness in the Local Plan, and we hope to see cross party discussions to resolve this.

“Many residents are concerned about the speed and nature of change in Cambridge. Some neighbourhoods are changing fast, losing character, over-developed. Queen Edith’s Ward, which was largely developed in the early years of the 20th Century, with many houses of character surrounded by trees and greenery, is a special part of the city. The most important lesson for us in this campaign has been that almost all these properties could be demolished, and there is nothing the planners can do to prevent it. There are already 6 Buildings of Local Interest and 6 Grade II listed buildings, in this area. Listing offers some protection and more could be listed. There are 17 conservation areas in Cambridge, but none in this part of the city. That is something else to explore.”

The history of 291 Hills Road can be found here at the Capturing Cambridge website. I’m sure many of you will join me in regretting its passing.

3 Replies to “Campaign to save 291 Hills Road is defeated”

  1. A sad end to a sorry tale. Well done to the Saving Raylands team for achieving the improvements which they have; but their comments really do emphasise how important it is that everyone in QE makes their voices heard as the next Local Plan is drawn together.

    In the meantime, I look forward to seeing where the S106 payments from this development – to mitigate its impact – will be spent. I do hope City Council officers and elected members ensure that QE does squeeze whatever benefit it can from the project.

    As for Gibson Developments, I am playing the world’s tiniest violin that this self-described “small, local firm” (?11m in assets) was frustrated in its ambitions for so long

  2. As well as proposing a conservation area, we need more tree protection orders which might be easier to achieve. I (sadly) see squashed hedgehogs in this area, which means the gardens must have some biodiversity (squashed hedgehogs must mean there’s a population to get squashed). While waiting at the traffic lights at Hills Road/Long Road in spring I hear birdsong. Fewer trees = many fewer birds.

  3. The new buildings should be a great deal more efficient and dense than the old one. I count that as an improvement overall. It should have been a passivehouse of course – all new buildings should, and no doubt it’ll be miles off that. Well done to all for various planning improvements like decent cycle parking. What would be really good is getting 2m of extra land off the corner of the plot so there was room for a proper left-turn cycle lane at the junction without impinging on pedestrians. Sadly I don’t think that made it it into the conditions.

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