The new Wort’s Causeway housing estates: what now?

The full proposals for the two huge new housing estates on Wort’s Causeway have now both been revealed, and it won’t surprise anyone to know that they leave a lot to be desired.

Housing developers are in business to make a profit, so they’ll only offer the minimum amount of amenities and infrastructure that their eventual house-buyers will expect. If they can offload any requirement for provision of local facilities to the rest of the neighbourhood, they’ll do so.

The developers will therefore be expecting our council to demand better, and we need to make sure it does. Indeed, I understand that the first of the two proposals (GB2) is already having to be re-thought.

As a reminder, here are the two new estates. I’m not sure anyone’s ever tried to show the actual proposed layouts in place before, but I’ve given it a go. Click on the illustration for a bigger version.

The main problems arise with the inherent unsuitability of the location for new housing. Back in 2013 and 2014, when some bright spark came up with the idea of building on Wort’s Causeway, a large group of Queen Edith’s residents got together to put forward an irrefutable list of the site’s deficiencies. As so often happens, the clearer their case became, the more defensive the council became about its Bad Idea.

Inevitably, objecting was pointless anyway. When the ‘Local Plan’ that included the idea of 400 new homes on Wort’s Causeway was eventually ‘debated’, the councillors just voted on party lines – as they always, always do. The plan had been developed on the Liberal Democrat councillors’ watch, so the two Liberal Democrat councillors from Queen Edith’s voted for it, against the wishes of so many of their residents. Queen Edith’s had a Labour party councillor back then too, but the Labour party line was to abstain on the plan, so even she didn’t vote against it. Only a lone independent councillor from the other side of the city was as aghast as local residents and voted to reject the plan.

We can divide the problems of the Wort’s Causeway housing estates’ plans into three.

1. Inescapable deficiencies of access

Despite Wort’s Causeway splitting the combined site down the middle, the road itself is hopelessly inadequate to provide access. It has therefore been agreed from the outset that vehicle access into Wort’s Causeway should not be permitted at busy times, and therefore a separate entrance to the estates must be provided. So at busy times, the only permanent vehicle access will be this single entrance, on the south side of GB2, onto the busy and usually congested Babraham Road. Any GB1 or GB2 resident travelling into the city or to Queen Edith’s by car at those times will therefore have to head south through the estates, then turn right on to Babraham Road and proceed up to Addenbrooke’s roundabout. At least that tortuous journey should dissuade some people from doing it! However, be prepared for the new residents of GB1 and GB2 to start campaigning from day one to be given 24-hour motor vehicle access to Wort’s Causeway.

The developers are able to claim that the closest ‘local centre’ (Wulfstan Way shops) and primary school are under 1km away, by measuring as the crow flies. In reality, by road, these places may be 2–3 times that distance.

In order to gloss over the inescapable deficiencies of access, the developers have had to make much of the open pedestrian and cycle access to Wort’s Causeway, but even with this, to get to Queen Edith’s, hundreds of pedestrians and cyclists each day will need to wind their way through quiet, residential Field Way and one of two wholly inadequate alleyways to Rotherwick Way or Almoners Avenue. For some residents, even on foot, Wulfstan Way shops will still be a 2km journey.

2. Lack of amenities

As mentioned above, no developers are going to offer to build a properly liveable neighbourhood unless they’re forced to. It’s expensive to do that. So the plans just assume that the new estates will use the area’s existing facilities, such as Wulfstan Way shops, the Queen Edith Medical Practice, Queen Edith Primary School, Netherhall School and buses on Babraham Road. They’re even cheeky enough to mention the shops at Addenbrooke’s hospital as if these were designed to be a neighbourhood amenity. Have we learned nothing from the Ninewells development?

The school situation is worse than it seems, with the closest existing schools currently unable to provide what may be a requirement for 90 pre-school places and 135 primary school places, as this article points out. Cherry Hinton schools are up to 3km away.

Local eyes will surely roll heavenwards at a fall-back statement for GB1 that “in the event that those development proposals do not include an on-site community facility, all monies received shall be expended toward the provision / improvement of facilities at Nightingale Recreation Ground Pavilion”. That would be the pavilion that we’ve already been promised for over four years, would it?

3. Poor design

As you’d expect, the developers spend a lot of time talking about how they want to put sustainable transport first. Nothing demonstrates progressive credentials more than great facilities for pedestrians and cyclists. But the reality of these plans, like almost every other modern development, is that movement and storage of motor vehicles still takes priority. We shouldn’t be seeing shared foot- and cycle-paths, speeding-inducing 5.5m wide carriageways, or non-segregated footpaths that are almost begging to be parked on by inconsiderate drivers. Any developer can do so much better, and should be forced to do so.

So what now?

As a community and via our council, we need to insist on improvements. And, it should be said, the developers will expect us to do so. That’s the way the game is played, isn’t it?

I would like to see an investigation into the possibility of direct access from the estates to Netherhall School on Queen Edith’s Way by creating a footpath and cycleway around the back of Beaumont Road. I know several residents have raised this, but we don’t know if anything was ever done about it. I’d like to see better amenities on the sites, with an insistence on shops and takeaways, and a better explanation of the proposed school arrangements. I’d like to see the designers use the Manual For Streets and listen to suggestions from the likes of the Cambridge Cycling Campaign and Smarter Cambridge Transport. And I’d like to see more reaction to the many other good ideas submitted at public consultations which so far appear to have been ignored.

Finally, the City Council may no longer be run by the Liberal Democrat party which gave us this plan, but in Queen Edith’s we still have Liberal Democrat councillors who I hope will take responsibility for it.

Next steps

  • The full design documents are at the top of this page – you may want to download and read them.
  • Local community activist Sam Davies has already published her own interesting take on the proposals. Have a read, and sign up to get her blog.
  • Raise any concerns you may have with our local councillors, whether they’re to do with the amenities, the access, the design or anything else, and ask the councillors how they’ll pursue your concerns. You can email them here.
  • You can read other comments from residents and add your own to the council system here (GB1) and here (GB2)

Note that there are currently no closing dates for comments.

4 Replies to “The new Wort’s Causeway housing estates: what now?”

  1. Not just Nine Wells. Cambourne too. Leaving aside the inadequacy of the transport links, the suggestion of using Addenbrooke’s shops as a local amenity seems particularly tin-eared at the moment. There will be times again in the future when the hospital has to restrict people coming in.

    1. To state that Addenbrookes is a shopping centre is so wrong ,totally misleading there is very limited shopping in Wulfstan Way also
      The GP practice in Queen Edith way is already at capacity
      And so it goes on .

  2. There _has_ to be connectivity for foot and bike into Beaumont Rd and Almoners Avenue for GB1 to be a viable development. Then kids can get to school and people to town/Cherry Hinton/Wulfstan way (just about anywhere, really) without having to go uphill and miles round. No-one should be allowed to build a new development if the cycle and pedestrian connectivity isn’t direct and convenient. And this isn’t.

    It’s not even hard to do – there is room on the ground. This must be a minimum fixed requirement. No pathetic excuses about ‘it’s outside our planning permission line’. Councilors need to show some spine and vote this down until this is fixed. It’s the bare minimum.

    It’s also insane to let anyone build new houses that aren’t passivehouse spec or damn close. These houses will be here for at least 50 years, _long_ past the time when we have to be completely carbon neutral. That’s not possible without good fabric standards for insulation and airtightness. We already have millions of existing houses that are going to have to be upgraded; building new ones that will need it too just makes it impossible to deal with the problem. They can do it for social housing in Norwich so we damn well ought to be able to do it here. It’s almost like everyone is just looking about 5 years into the future and ignoring the totally obvious outcomes of not getting this right. Cambridge has declared an emergency, so needs to back that up with building standards that mean something.

    I don’t actually object to putting yet more housing here (much). But yet another car-centric, poor-fabric set of buildings is just not acceptable, never mind the issues about amenities and schools.

  3. The article from Chris Rand is excellent and relevant.
    Worts Causeway residents have been let down by the Queen Edith elected Lb Dems.

    Wookey’s comments are spot on too, the developer has to build appropriate environmentally friendly houses. Access to appropriate cycle ways and shopping facilities ought to be top priority.

    Access and exit to both developments should not be via Worts Causeway ( a quiet country road). To take the traffic onto an already busy Babraham Road defies logic. The expansion on the Biomedical site with thousands more staff ( and cars) ought to warn the developers and planning committee to THINK AGAIN.

    Come on Cambridge you could and should to better.

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