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Cambridge City Council

Council leaders react to ‘Case for Cambridge’ update published today alongside Spring Budget

6 March 2024

Joint news release from Cambridge City Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council 

The leaders of Cambridge City and South Cambridgeshire District councils have said communities need far more detail – and their say – on Government plans for a major expansion of the city.

Alongside the Chancellor’s Spring Budget, Michael Gove MP, Levelling-Up, Housing and Communities Secretary, has unveiled a ‘Case for Cambridge’ today (6 March 2024). The document provides further information about his vision for building up to 150,000 new homes around Cambridge by 2050, which he claims are necessary “to supercharge this scientific and economic supercluster”.

Cllrs Mike Davey and Bridget Smith have called on Government for far more detail around what housing growth is being proposed, and where – and to ensure both councils and their communities are closely involved and can have their say.

They have welcomed the Government’s proposals to help tackle the critical water supply issues which are already impacting development in Greater Cambridge, including taking forward the Fens Reservoir as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project, accelerating transfers from Grafham Water, promoting Nature Based Solutions, and trialling a water credits system; and funding to help unlock better connectivity to the Biomedical Campus.

However, they say many important questions remain unanswered - and add that the Government has not yet made the case for the use of a Development Corporation, or evidenced their aspirations for the scale of homebuilding necessary, to progress their 2050 vision for Cambridge. 

The Government announcements come after both councils warned Ministers before the Spring Budget that uncertainty about key issues outside of their control, including the Government’s aspirations for significant extra growth around Cambridge and the future of the area’s water supply, meant work to develop a new Local Plan for Greater Cambridge was being impacted.

Both councils have existing Local Plans which were adopted individually in 2018. Work on the emerging Greater Cambridge Local Plan – the first joint Local Plan for Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire – is well underway. The councils’ current evidence in the emerging Greater Cambridge Local Plan identifies a need for a further 14,500 homes between 2020 and 2041, in addition to the 37,200 homes already provided for by the 2018 Plans, as well as additional commercial and lab space to support the creation of 66,000 jobs over that period. While this is ambitious compared to Local Plans being developed by other authorities, it is still some way off the Government’s aspirations for 150,000 new homes around Cambridge.

The Leader of Cambridge City Council, Cllr Mike Davey, said: “The tax cuts the Government announced today, combined with a squeeze on spending for public services, don’t reflect the national mood and indicate that the chancellor is not listening. The case appears to be the same for Cambridge. Mr Gove has not demonstrated that he is listening either. There has been no public engagement, and the City Council has not been involved in the writing of the ‘Case for Cambridge’.

“As elected members, we are custodians of this wonderful city and therefore we have a duty to ensure it is protected and enhanced for future generations. We welcome the initial progress to address water scarcity and help address housing affordability, sustainable transport, and lab space. However, despite eight months of discussion on this project, we have yet to see any credible plan or evidence of the significant finance required to deliver it. The £7.2m to enhance connectivity to the Biomedical Campus is welcome, but we believe that significant further funding is required.

“The public will be rightly sceptical about the pace of growth the Government wants and they need to acknowledge this. Any development body that fails to do that risks a democratic deficit, so we need more information about how local voices will be heard and involved in decisions that could have a massive impact on their everyday lives.”

The Leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, Cllr Bridget Smith, commented: “There is a lot to digest here, but there are parts of today’s update we can welcome - including the focus on resolving the crucial water supply issues which we have been pushing hard on for several years. It is also useful there is an acceptance of the unaffordability of Greater Cambridge and the inequalities that skyrocketing house prices, rents, and lack of public transport causes. It’s good there has also been recognition from Government about the quality of local leadership and collaboration and shared civic pride within our area.

“However, we still need to understand what these tens of thousands of new homes and jobs would look like and where they would all go. Residents and locally elected representatives also need assurance that they will be able to have their say on all such major proposals, even those from central Government. There is so much that is special about Greater Cambridge – and what residents value so much must be protected. This is why we do remain concerned about a ‘case’ that has the potential to quadruple the size of the city, especially when the Government is signalling cuts to the very services that are needed to support our existing ambitious plans, let alone this unprecedented scale of growth.

“Finally, given all the investment made by both councils in joint working, including the creation of an award-winning shared planning service to manage future development across the area, I remain unconvinced at this time that a Development Corporation is the most appropriate means to implement these plans.”