‘Levelling up’ – can the Ox-Cam Arc achieve this?

Or is ‘Supersizing’ Cambridge the ‘Belt and Road’ to disaster?

A post in collaboration with the Federation of Cambridge Residents’ Associations

Contents:

What is the Ox-Cam Arc?

Map of the Ox-Cam Arc on the gov.uk website

The Oxford-Cambridge Arc Policy paper, published 18th February 2021 by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (formerly the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government) states:

The Oxford-Cambridge Arc (the Arc) is a globally significant area between Oxford, Milton Keynes and Cambridge. It is formed of five ceremonial counties: Oxfordshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire.

It supports over two million jobs, adds over £110 billion to the economy every year and houses one of the fastest growing economies in England.

There is an opportunity, recognised by government and local partners, to build a better economic, social and environmental future for the area. With high-quality, well-connected and sustainable communities making the Arc an even more beautiful place to live, work and visit.

Oxford-Cambridge Arc Policy paper, published 18th February 2021

‘High-quality’, ‘well-connected’, ‘sustainable’, ‘even more beautiful’ – what’s not to like? Or is the ‘opportunity’, no more than ‘high quality’ hot air, helping ‘well-connected’, people and PLCs ‘sustain’ high earnings?

Oxford-Cambridge arc: “Most people don’t know what it is”

Not sure yourself? This review By Ben Schofield & Pete Cooper, BBC East highlights some of the concerns. (Selected quotes below, click the link above to view the full article.)

The arc is being imposed on the residents.

The government has been thinking of the idea of an Oxford-Cambridge arc for over six years and this is first time the public has been asked for feedback.

Lara Davenport-Ray, Huntingdonshire Green Party

We’re getting good feedback from a wide variety of people and that will provide really helpful input to the policy propositions that we will generate over the next few months into 2022

Chris Pincher, Minister for Housing

I think it’s important, if you are going to develop such a long piece of land, you don’t leave us as a housing estate for the big cities at either end.

Business owner Philippa Shoobert, of engineering and software firm Smart Control Solutions, St Neots

I’m worried the Oxford-Cambridge arc and level of development they’re proposing is going to detract from our character as a historic town, and the rural nature of surrounding towns and villages, and I don’t think building that many houses will help us achieve our zero-carbon goals.

Councillor Stephen Ferguson, Mayor of St Neots

See also The Oxford-Cambridge Arc – Government ambition and joint declaration between Government and local partners (HM Government publication).


Will this corridor ‘Supersize’ Cambridge?

Over 230 people signed up to attend the virtual Supersize Cambridge event which followed the Federation of Cambridge Residents’ Associations‘ Annual General Meeting on Thursday 7th October 2021.

Speakers examined the potential threat which they believe the Ox-Cam Arc poses to Cambridge’s residents, and discussed who stood to benefit from the proposals.

A full video of this meeting is available, on YouTube here.

The Times, Guardian, Financial Times and others have reported on the concerns about China’s growing involvement in Cambridge. Residents are asking, “Is Cambridge and the Ox-Cam Arc part of China’s Belt and Road initiative?”

Wendy Blythe, Chair, Federation of Cambridge Residents’ Associations, addressing the ‘Supersize Cambridge’ event

Ms Blythe highlighted a tweet, earlier this year, by Ant Breach, senior researcher for Centre for Cities, a think tank funded by Cambridge University Chancellor, Lord Sainsbury, in which Breach said, “I make no apologies for demanding growth and a spicy hot labour market.”

People are asking, “Who are the interests promoting this ‘spicy hot labour market?'”

Wendy Blythe [ibid]

Developers and house builders?

 The beneficiaries of such development will not be local people but shareholders of global companies and the losers will be the vulnerable across a broad range of species. It was a stimulating set of talks.

On-line participant

Who are the Arc’s ‘movers-and-shakers’?

On 21st September 2017,  the creation of a new lectureship, in Chinese urban development, funded through a gift of £1m to Cambridge University’s Department of Land Economy, was announced after a signing ceremony held in Hong Kong. The donor was Justin Chiu, a director of CK Asset Holdings, which owns Greene King, the Bury St Edmunds based brewer and pub retailer.

CK Asset Holdings, a property investment company, was founded by the Hong Kong businessman Li Ka Shing and is now chaired by his son Victor, as is its sister company, CK Hutchison Holdings. The latter is another Hong Kong based conglomerate, whose UK investments include the majority of UK Power Networks, Northumbrian Water Group, the 3 mobile phone network and Hutchison Port Holdings (a private holding company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, operators of Harwich International Port, London Thamesport and Felixstowe Port, much of the freehold of the latter being owned by Trinity College).

Writing in Cambridge University Land Society Magazine 2019 (p 108), Professor Colin Lizieri, then Head of the Department of Land Economy and Grosvenor Professor of Real Estate Finance, said:

We […] welcomed Dr Li Wan as the new Chinese Urban Development lecturer (the post funded by a generous donation from Dr Justin Chiu). Li’s expertise lies in spatial modelling of cities and infrastructure. After completing his PhD (in the Architecture department at Cambridge), he has been working in the Centre for Smart Infrastructure and developing models for cities in China, in Korea and in the UK. His knowledge of modelling and the use of large digital data sets will be very valuable for both our research and teaching and complements Dr Elisabete Silva’s work with the Interdisciplinary Spatial Analysis Lab (LISA) and with Dr Thies Lindenthal’s big data work as part of our growing emphasis on technological change and transformation of urban land and property markets.

Professor Colin Lizieri, Cambridge University Land Society Magazine 2019 (p108)

The postholder, Dr Li Wan, worked on Land Use-based Integrated Sustainability Assessment (LUISA) modelling for the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Independent Economic Review (CPIER).  The modelling work, for which he was the lead from 2017-2019, was funded by the business group Cambridge Ahead and the Cambridge and Peterborough Combined Authority. To download a high resolution version of the CPIER Final Report (PDF), click here.

It might be interesting to read (excerpts of) an article by Dr Li Wan, in Cambridge University Land Society Magazine 2019, since CPIER is cited in the government’s Local Industrial Strategy in support of the Oxford Cambridge Arc and in the Greater Cambridge Employment Land and Economic Development Strategy which justifies employment  ‘need’ for building forty-nine thousand houses. Click to read/download the Greater Cambridge Employment Land and Economic Development Evidence Study, Final Report, November 2020.

Planning for growth – the application of a new spatial equilibrium model for Cambridge and Beijing

By Dr Li Wan, University Lecturer in Chinese Urban development, Department of Land Economy BArch, MPhil, PhD (Cantab)

This short article introduces the application of a new spatial equilibrium model (LUISA) developed by Cambridge scholars for supporting the strategic planning of two fast- growing city regions – the Greater Cambridge in the UK and the Greater Beijing in China.

Greater Cambridge is an economic hot spot where growth has outpaced the rest of the UK throughout the past decade. But the economic success comes with a price: house prices have soared – the city’s average house price is now 16 times the median salary; worsening traffic congestion and air pollution is threatening the vitality of the city; and public services are being put under strain by the growing population. …

To quantify the possible futures of the Greater Cambridge city region, the modelling research started with a ‘business as usual’ scenario, assuming that the region grows according to current trends of employment growth and local plans for housing. This scenario showed that even a modest rise in jobs would lead to considerable wage pressure in Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire and an unmanageable amount of in- commuting which would choke growth. The LUISA model was then used to explore a range of alternative spatial strategies that aim to balancing (sic) the growth of employment, housing and transport infrastructure:

  • Densification – concentrating new employment and housing within the city boundaries: this can accommodate the largest amount of jobs and people around existing and new rail hubs, but could risk worsening congestion and air quality in spite of convenient public transport access;
  • Fringe growth – extending urban areas around the edges of the city: this brings the highest financial returns with more modest building construction costs, but needs to use Green Belt land and will increase car use;
  • Dispersal – encouraging growth to go to market towns or newly created settlements beyond the Green Belt: this could spread the growth and gain social and environmental benefits, but would rely on the willingness of companies to move away from current centres of high productivity;
  • Transport corridors – developing new sites for jobs and housing
    along existing and new fast public transit services that emanate from Cambridge: this offers space for continued growth of existing business clusters while unlocking potential of new sites that could attract growth, but this requires the highest infrastructure investment.
Dr Li Wan, University Lecturer in Chinese Urban development, Department of Land Economy BArch, MPhil, PhD (Cantab), in Cambridge University Land Society Magazine 2019 (pp 114-116)

Click the link in the citation (above) to read/download the publication cited.


But, the Ox-Cam Arc’s stated objective is to “enhance the area’s natural environment and biodiversity.” What’s wrong with that?

Place-making

With a strategic approach to planning for growth, we can enhance the area’s natural environment and biodiversity, ensure communities and businesses have access to the infrastructure they need, and ensure new development is more affordable and beautiful so that it enhances places across the Arc.

Oxford-Cambridge Arc Policy paper, published 18th February 2021

So what are the objections?

David Rogers, Emeritus Professor of Ecology at the University of Oxford, representing the Stop the Arc Group, gave a keynote speech on how increasing house building in the areas linking Oxford and Cambridge by 53% to 61%, when the average need, nationally, is assessed at a 13% increase, is unsustainable for our environment. Water shortages, pollution and loss of biodiversity will be the outcome, despite planners claiming that they are going to “double nature”.  It was pointed out that politicians still follow the mantra that economic growth is the gauge of societal and electoral advantage, ignoring our environment’s fitness for human habitation.

 The voices of the people need to be heard loud and clear, and the government consultation has too many “leading” questions for it to deliver accurate results. That is why the campaigning group Stop the Arc has created an alternative questionnaire to that created by the government for the stage 1 consultation. The survey is quick to complete (about 5 five minutes) so PLEASE take the time to do it, and then to pass on the link to as many people as possible.

Campaign to Protect Rural England, Cambridgeshire & Peterborough

You can take part in Stop the Arc Group’s 5-minute survey of the proposed OxCam Arc, here.

#Ecocide, adds Monica Hone…

Supersize Cambridge event, contribution from Monica Hone

‘Supersize’ resisters are in good company…

We’re abusing rivers in this country on a scale that we have never done at any point in the past. And yet, here we are, the proud possessor of 85% of the world’s total supply of chalk streams and not one of them is in good environmental health.

Feargal Sharkey, former Undertones frontman, on his love of fishing and saving chalk streams
Feargal Sharkey fishing on the River Lea in Hertfordshire where he is chairman of the Amwell Magna Fishery Credit: ITV News Anglia

ITV News Anglia reporter Hannah Pettifer caught up with Feargal Sharkey on the banks of the River Lea in Hertfordshire, on Tuesday 22nd June 2021. To read a summary and view the report on the ITV News Anglia website, click here.

Spot the ‘Undertone’ of Sharkey’s contempt for the Environment Agency…


See also, The Oxford-Cambridge Arc; An Environmental Catastrophe – with Professor David Rogers.

Anyone for Greenwashing?

As we rebuild our economic life, we should do it on green principles, averting a crisis many times greater than the coronavirus: climate breakdown and the collapse of our life-support systems.

This means no more fossil fuel-based infrastructure. Even existing infrastructure, according to climate scientists, could push us past crucial thresholds. It means an end to megaprojects whose main purpose is enriching construction companies.

Perhaps the definitive example of such projects in the UK is the Oxford-Cambridge Arc. It’s a plan to build a conurbation of 1 million homes – twice the size of Birmingham – from Oxford to Cambridge. This is far beyond the region’s housing demand. Its purpose, government agencies admit, is not to meet the need for homes, but “to maximise [the area’s] economic potential”.

But [recently], a new campaign came to the rescue. It has rebranded the project Nature’s Arc”. Apparently, with some adjustments, this massive exercise in concrete pouring “could show how development can restore nature, rather than destroy it”. Building up to a million homes, the new PR blitz tells us, is “the perfect opportunity to invest in nature, improve people’s lives and realise the green recovery.”

How did wildlife groups start collaborating in the destruction of nature?
George Monbiot, The Guardian, June 2020

Resources are under pressure

Cambridge and the surrounding area has always been a great place to live. But what will it be like in 20 years? The city is facing a period of huge change. The local population is growing and getting older. There is an urgent need for more housing. Resources are under pressure. And transport networks are becoming increasingly congested.

Peter Landshoff, Professor Emeritus at Cambridge University, speaking in 2013, as reported in Cambridge Network’s CambridgePPF welcomes launch of Cambridge Ahead.

Two of CambridgePPF’s trustees – Matthew Bullock and Peter Landshoff – are members of the Cambridge Ahead board and are helping to put together its initial projects. Matthew Bullock is a member of the project group looking to ‘Clarify The Growth Agenda’ and Peter Landshoff is involved in the body’s work to ‘Improve the Quality of Life’ in the city.

Cambridge Network, ibid

Economic Bonfire

Business, enterprise and employment are flourishing in Greater Cambridge. But housing and infrastructure are struggling to match the jobs boom, and gaps in social equality keep widening. 

University academics are connecting their insights, data and algorithms to find solutions to the area’s ‘growing pains’.

“Economic growth is like a bonfire,” says Matthew Bullock. “You can get a bonfire going and expand it as long as you keep feeding the centre. But you can’t pick a bonfire up and move it somewhere else.”

Bullock is talking about the economy of Greater Cambridge, where a staggering level of growth has outpaced the rest of the UK over the past decade. As one of the founders of the business and academic organisation Cambridge Ahead, Bullock has been helping to shape a vision for Cambridge and the people who live and work in the area.

“Growth here comes up through the floorboards,” says Bullock, who was one of the original financiers of the ‘Cambridge Phenomenon’ – the development and growth in high-tech businesses in and around the city since the late 1970s – and is now Master of St Edmund’s College.

How to tend an economic bonfire, by Dr Louise Walsh

Growth requires sustainable infrastructure

The debate about growth around Cambridge is still far from settled.

The government wants growth because it yields more tax revenues to pay for pensions, healthcare and all the other public services without raising tax rates. Why Cambridge? Because jobs here are, roughly speaking, more profitable than elsewhere in the country. In part that is because of the concentration of talent and new ideas within the university, research and start-up ecosystem.

For transport, that means planning further extensions to the rail network, giving serious consideration to creating a tram network, and building a major transport hub at the Girton Interchangetravel hubs in every large village, and hundreds of miles of new cycleways linking everywhere.

Edward Leigh, leader of Smarter Cambridge Transport from an opinion piece first published in the Cambridge Independent on 13th October 2021.

Read Edward’s full post on the Smarter Cambridge Transport website, here.

What is happening to bus services around Cambridge?

Stagecoach East is far from unique in having staffing problems – and they’re not the only operator to have been cancelling services recently as a consequence. In order to (try to) provide a little more stability for passengers, they will be implementing a number of changes to Cambridge-area services from Sunday 24th October.

Cambridge Area Bus Users – Stagecoach changes from 24th October

With passenger numbers below pre-Covid levels, some operators are reducing journeys on higher frequency routes in order to minimise the number of drivers required. This runs counter to the ethos of the Bus Recovery Grant and to the needs of passengers. In marginal and rural areas where services were already basic, the impact is particularly severe with people now struggling to access work, education, apprenticeships and healthcare.

Letter to The Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP, Secretary of State for Transport, from Bus Users UK

“We need to give people better transport choices.
And fast.”

‘Slow travel’ is all the rage in the Sunday colour supplements, but has less of a pull when balancing up how to get from Cambridge to Huntingdon on an overcast Wednesday morning in October. We know there’s an urgent need to reduce the number of journeys made by private car, which means making the change a realistic option for more people. So it seemed like a good idea to remind myself what the bus journey was like.

Unsurprisingly, the trip showed how much more investment and imagination is needed in public transport.

Sam Davies, Independent City Councillor for Queen Edith’s ward in Cambridge, update 17th October 2021. (Read Sam’s full post here.)

Interestingly, Centre for Cities hosted an event to discuss the next steps for improving the quality of bus services and their contribution to the economy, supported by bus and rail operator Abellio.

A brief summary – Centre for Cities calls for mayors to reverse outdated bus service – can be found on the Abellio website, here.

Centre for Cities’ report, supported by three bus operators, calls on England’s metro mayors to take control of bus networks to double passenger numbers. The main recommendations are:

  • All metro mayors [should] step up and use their powers to franchise bus services in order to improve passenger uptake and access to buses.
  • Government should simplify the franchising process and back this model everywhere.
  • Centre for Cities criticises deregulation for creating ‘local private monopolies’ that failed to deliver on the promise of better services and increased choice for passengers.

And what of ‘levelling up’?

[O]ne cabinet minister [of Boris Johnson’s government] told The Independent: “It will take 10 years and there will be some pain along the way, particularly in the early part.

“A lot of it depends on building infrastructure – roads and railways and so on – and it takes time to complete and time for people to feel the benefit.”

‘Levelling up’ will take a decade and there will be pain along the way, say ministers – Andrew Woodcock, Political Editor, Independent, Thursday 7th October 2021

Do we need to slash ‘planning bureaucracy’?

Levelling Up will fall flat on its face

Recent statements by the Government and Tory think tanks seek to justify their repeated attacks on the planning system as a contribution to the Levelling Up agenda of the Johnson government. [However] planning reforms will do nothing to level up or reduce glaring geographical inequalities in our country: in fact, they will make these disparities even worse.

In 2021 we are facing the challenge of possible new planning ‘reforms’ based upon […] the idea that planning is the reason for falling housing affordability so relaxations of planning will provide the solution.

[M]ore planning permissions will lead developers and land owners to develop more and bring prices down. It has yet to be explained why developers should continue to build when selling prices are falling, indeed they seem to be adept at avoiding ever doing that by trickling-out their completions slowly enough to maintain high selling prices.

But what planning reforms would support long term locality improvement for the worst hit areas? We can state six broad criteria to start with:

  • Reforms must give localities public steering strength, by withdrawing the recent rash of permitted development rights (which strip places and communities of power) and ensuring local plans can take back control of how space is used.
  • Within localities, reforms must strengthen the roles played by citizens and communities, without whose active creativity and support neither Levelling Up nor adequate response to the climate emergency will be possible.
  • Reforms must enable decisions at the right level, by creating strong strategic plans for economic development and housing with long term funding attached.
  • Planning must make public health a key objective of decisions about new development.
  • Reforms must make zero-carbon a core requirement of every Plan and every substantialplanning application decision.
  • Social housing & special needs housing should be prioritised to help reverse themechanism which makes housing worsen inequality.
Levelling Up: the role of planning
By an independent group of planning practitioners and academics, hosted on the Town and Country Planning Association website, here.

The Ox-Cam Arc and the growth of Cambridge are issues which affect us all – those living in and around Mill Road, in Cambridge, all of the surrounding villages and our nearby market towns. The post is open for contributions. You are welcome to continue the debate.

Bibimbap House – Planning update

We reported, earlier, on this planning application Planned Replacement for Bibimbap House – How Big?

We can now report that the application has been withdrawn. See the text of the letter (below) from Luke Waddington, Planning Officer, Greater Cambridge Shared Planning.

Existing building with restaurant on ground floor
Proposed building with additional storeys and restaurant on ground-floor and in basement
(Application now withdrawn)

Cambridge City Council
Application for Planning Permission

Why you have received this letter

Reference: 21/01609/FUL

Proposal: Demolition of existing HMO and construction of 7 no. replacement 1 bedroom apartments and 1 no. restaurant

Site address: 60 Mill Road Cambridge CB1 2AS

Further to previous correspondence relating to the above matter, I write to inform you that the applicant has asked for the application to be withdrawn. Accordingly, we have stopped all work on processing the application and no decision will be made. There is no right of appeal against such a decision.

What happens next?

The applicant may choose to re-submit this or an amended application to us at a future date. We will notify you again if such an application is submitted.

Tracking future applications

Through our web site you can save searches on specific criteria such as a property address or mapped area, you can then choose to receive updates by email when new applications are submitted meeting your criteria.

To use this facility you will need to register a user account on the website. Go to https://applications.greatercambridgeplanning.org for more details.

Should you wish to discuss this application please contact me.

Yours sincerely

Luke Waddington, Planning Officer, Greater Cambridge Shared Planning.

Planned Replacement for Bibimbap House – How Big?

Plans have been submitted to the Greater Cambridge Shared Planning service for the complete demolition of the Bibimbap House Korean Restaurant building and the residential accommodation above and behind it. If approved, the existing three-story building would be replaced by a five-storey building, with an additional basement.

Existing building with restaurant on ground floor
Proposed building with additional storeys and restaurant on ground-floor and in basement

What do you think of these proposals? You can check out the full details, and download all of the drawings, here.

Read the comments which other local residents have made about the application, here. You will note that there is a very thorough, detailed objection from the occupant(s) of 21 Mill Street.

If you’d like your views taken into account by the planning committee, log in to the planning portal and submit your own comment here.


This post is open for comments, but please remember that nothing published on our website can be considered by the City Council’s planning committee. You are, however, welcome to use this space to encourage others to submit their own comments on the planning portal.

Beautiful Indian stonework under threat

Former Bharat Bhavan Temple carvings in old Mill Road Library “to be taken down and skipped”

Piero, Mill Road Traders Association Ambassador, writes…

I am launching an appeal to save this beautiful carved stone being skipped.

These pictures are from the former Bharat Bhavan Temple located in the Old Library on Mill Road.

Since the County Council got it back in its possession, there has been work set in progress to restore the fabric of the building, unfortunately all this carved stone is destined to be taken down to be skipped. I feel that this a completely sacrilegious act to destroy such beautiful work.

I believe it is worth at least £80,000 as it took thousands of hours of work from many sculptors from India and was shipped all the way to Cambridge.

I am appealing to Cambridge City Council and Cambridgeshire County Council to use those carved stones in a memorial, I already have in mind three locations in Mill Road where it could be placed as a memorial.

We must protect diversity and cultural identities in Mill Road. We haven’t got much time as work begins on Monday 29th March.

The cost for it to be taken down professionally and stored is only £3,000. Mill Road Traders Association can contribute part of the cost but we’d like the community to encourage the authorities to support this project. Mill Road Traders’ Association have also set up a crowdfunding page Save Bharat Bhavan carvings on Mill Road on GoFundMe with a target of £3,250.

If you would be interested in supporting us or have any questions or concerns please email millroadtraders@gmail.com.
Or phone/text/WhatsApp 07909 611 776.

Piero d’Angelico

UPDATE 1 (Sunday 4th April 2021) We have reached the target – thank you! Every additional £ we receive now will go towards the important task of re-homing this piece of Cambridge heritage and not just safely dismantling and storing them. 

Piero d’Angelico

UPDATE 2 (Saturday 10th April) We have had so many emails and phone calls from people who want to help and we are very thankful to you all! 

The funding goal has been raised to £6000 to reflect the installation costs of the carvings, which may also include a heritage plaque telling their story, as well as lighting which changes colour for specific events such as Diwali or the Mill Road Winter Fair. You have all made this happen, with people in Mill Road, Cambridgeshire, and across the country pitching in to help – but please keep passing on our message as every £ helps! 

(It is possible that this number may rise again, but every £ donated helps us do more to save, preserve, and respect this piece of Cambridge heritage.)

Piero d’Angelico

Note: as of Friday 23rd April 2021 at 17:30 the money raised stood at £5,260 


And now, this stunning development…

Mill Road temple carvings sold for £1 ‘worth half a million’

Cambridge Independent, Friday 23rd April 2021, by Alex Spencer

Beautiful carvings from a former temple that were sold to a Cambridge hairdresser by the county council for £1 could be worth as much as £500,000.
Read the full article, here.

Piero D’Angelico with the carvings Picture: Keith Heppell, on the Cambridge Independent website

Our Web Editor adds…
For those wishing to learn more about the background to the library, the temple and its repossession by Cambridgeshire County Council please read on and explore the links below.

The library was built by Cambridge City Council, but passed to the ‘new’ Cambridgeshire County Council under the two-tier reorganisation brought in by The Local Government Act 1972 on April Fool’s Day 1974.

Mill Road Library, from the Capturing Cambridge website

For a brief history of Mill Road Library, click the image above.


For how the reasons behind the County Council’s repossession and the current work, see Debbie Luxon’s report and Frank Gawthrop’s comments.

The 5000-strong Cambridge community fighting against eviction by Debbie Luxon, Community Reporter, Cambridge News, 12th October 2019.

The Indian community organisation that took over the library were granted a 25 year full repairing lease on a peppercorn rent in exchange for maintaining the building fabric. This building which is grade 2, listed was considered a financial liability to the County so this was seen as a zero cost way of maintaining the structure.

Unfortunately the lessees did not spend any money on external maintenance in 10 years allowing water to enter the building and cause extensive damage. The City Council which is responsible in law to ensure listed buildings do not fall into disrepair served notice on the County Council about the deteriorating state and the County sent in surveyors who have estimated the repairs to be in the region of £300,000.

The community association having had free rent declined to pay so the County obtained a court order to regain possession. They may have spent a lot of money on carved statues but they have left local council tax payers with a huge bill.

The lease was held by a company limited by guarantee. This is a fairly usual way that community groups take on financial obligations as it protects the members from any personal claims.

Having cost local tax payers in the region of £300,000 I, for one, think enough public money has been spent already on this failed project. If private individuals want to contribute that is fine and appropriate. If these carvings are valuable they are the property of the company limited by guarantee which leased the building. What are the directors doing about this?

Frank Gawthrop, on Nextdoor.

Victory for Friends of St Matthew’s Piece

Image of planning proposal, with word refused superimposed
Celebratory poster. Email Friends.of.st.matthews.piece@gmail.com to request a copy of the poster to print out.

On Wednesday 24 March 2021, 10.00 am, deep in cyberspace, Super Matt the super squirrel defeated The Thing From Outer Space!

More prosaically Cambridge City Council’s planning committee held a virtual meeting, in which the application to build a block of student flats on St Matthew’s Piece by developers Federated Hermes was considered.

Planning Officers recommended refusal of the application, although there were certain aspects of the local plan and of planning considerations which the development would have satisfied. You can read/download the full officer report (PDF 3.3MB) here (pp187-240).

Of course Super Matt had help from all of the community and Friends of St Matthew’s Piece had massive support for their objection to these plans.

A shoutout to Val Neal who gave a good presentation at the online meeting!

Agnès Aubert, Sleaford Street, on Nextdoor

Would you be able to display Friends of St Matthew’s Piece’s new ‘Refused’ poster in your window?

If yes, please email Email Friends.of.st.matthews.piece@gmail.com to request a copy of the poster to print out. Or just smile and celebrate every time you pass one in the area! Thank you all for your crucial efforts to protect our park.

Of course, any further attempts from these (or any other) developers may emerge. The community would then choose its response.

Everyone’s support and active contributions to preserving, celebrating and protecting St Matthew’s Piece would be very welcome!

Val Neal, North Petersfield, on Nextdoor

As others have posted out, the developers could appeal or submit a modified proposal, so local residents will have to keep being vigilant.

What happens next?

The applicant now has a right of appeal to the Planning Inspectorate against our decision to refuse this application. The appeal must be lodged within 6 months of the date of this decision. In the event of an appeal being lodged, and if you have previously commented, we will notify you and forward any comments you may have made to the Planning Inspectorate.

The applicant also has the right to re-submit an amended scheme which may seek to overcome our reasons for refusal. We will notify you again if such an application is submitted.

Notification from Greater Cambridge Joint Planning to people who commented on the application

However, the redoubtable Roy Stamp strikes a positive note…

In Romsey Terrace, we found that fighting an appeal made residents more determined: the residents won in the end!

Roy Stamp, Romsey, on Nextdoor

It is difficult to second guess what this multi-national investment fund will do next.

It is possible that when they bought the site from Chard Robinson they were told, based on the previous scheme that was consulted on but was never actually submitted, that there was development potential.

At the planning committee their agent Bidwells claimed that pre application advice given by the planners at that time was positive, but this has little status as it is not binding on the Council. It is a very weak argument and I was surprised it was even mentioned.

The main problem, if they appeal, is the fairly new National Planning Policy Framework introduced by the LibDem Tory coalition government in 2012. This planning directive considerably weakened the power of local councils’ decision-making powers and introduced an overarching presumption in favour of development. It also gave more power to planning inspectors to award the applicants appeal costs adainst local councils.

This happened five years ago in Station Road where the City turned down plans for a massive office block. BrookGate won the appeal and the Council was forced to pay them £175,000. The reasons for refusal in this case by Cambridge City Council are, however, very robust and are taken from the approved local plan so we are in a strong position.

If Federated Hermes are realistic they will give up as, given the strength of feeling, the local Councillors will undoubtably put considerable funds into the defence of the Councils position at any appeal hearing.

Local activist and fount of knowledge on planning, Frank Gawthrop, South Petersfield, on Nextdoor

Wildflowers for St Matthew’s Piece

While many of us hit the shops for last-minute lockdown supplies this week, volunteers on St Matthew’s Piece were stocking the larder for insects.

Bees and other pollinating insects are essential to the life cycle of plants. But their numbers are plunging as the amount of open land dwindles and their sources of food disappear.

Volunteers from On the Verge Cambridge and Friends of St Matthew’s Piece came together on a sunny November morning to plant the Piece with hundreds of wildflower bulbs. On the Verge Cambridge works with schools and community groups to plant wildflowers in suitable spots, so insects don’t have to fly long distances in search of food.

Ben Greig and Jo Scrivens from On the Verge Cambridge, with volunteers from Friends of St Matthew’s Piece setting up their banners before planting wildflowers

The group planted anemones, bluebells, winter aconite, wild garlic, crocuses and snakeshead fritillaries, each in a different part of the park. When the flowers bloom, they will provide a rich supply of nectar.

Ben Greig from On the Verge Cambridge, planting wildflowers on ST Matthew’s Piece

St Matthews’ Piece is currently threatened by developers who wish to build a large block of flats on its northern edge.

Artist’s impression of the student flats hovering over the former Howard Mallett Centre like an alien spaceship

“It’s such a beautiful place, with all its stately trees – but developers want to cut some of them down,” said Janet Wright, of Friends of St Matthew’s Piece.

“So many people come here with their children or just to take a walk. From next year on, they’ll be spotting flashes of colour as various flowers start coming up. I just hope they won’t have a block of flats looming over them.”

“Quite a few people walking through the Piece were pleased that we were planting flowers and hoped the planned development wouldn’t be allowed.”


Friends of St Matthew’s Piece can be contacted by email at friends.of.st.matthews.piece@gmail.com or followed and liked (here) on Facebook.


Ben Greig and Jo Scrivens from On the Verge Cambridge

Find out more about On the Verge Cambridge, here, or email Ben Greig, Alice Willitts and Jo Scrivens by email at onthevergecambridge@gmail.com.

Peace campaigner now speaks up for the Piece

She defended her country in the Second World War — now Dorothy Runnicles is defending St Matthew’s Piece. 

By Janet Wright
for Friends of St Matthew’s Piece

Dorothy Runnicles

Developers who want to build a large block of student flats on the edge of this small but well-used Petersfield park slipped a consultation document out in April, while most people were preoccupied with lockdown.

“As a former local resident, now 95, I totally reject the proposed centre,” Dorothy wrote to developers Federated Hermes, along with more than 100 local residents who also sent in their objections. Though confined to her present home in Gloucester by the pandemic, she sent her support to Friends of St Matthew’s Piece.

After her wartime service in the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm, Dorothy became a pacifist, trained as a social worker and is still active in numerous community groups. In recent years she has advised the government, NHS and national charities on issues around inclusion and ageism. Due to represent the navy at the 75th anniversary of VE Day, Dorothy was instead phoned by the Princess Royal when all events were cancelled. 

A founder-member of Petersfield Area Community Trust, she has studied the results of increasing inequality, 20 years after a survey found that 10% of the Petersfield population lived below the poverty line. 

“The statement ‘We’re in it together’ has to be challenged,” Dorothy told Friends of St Matthew’s Piece. “The private business world is achieving what it wants. This area has a long history of continuous development, and of losing community assets.”

Petersfield, though densely populated, has less public open space than any other ward in Cambridge.

Artist’s impression of the student flats hovering over the former Howard Mallett Centre like an alien spaceship

“There are lots of people in Petersfield without gardens, some occupying one room in a house,” says Dorothy. “If people haven’t got gardens and haven’t got much money, they need free access to some open space. That’s being deliberately taken away from Petersfield.”

Click the image to learn about Super Matt’s campaign

The proposed student flats would be built above the former Howard Mallett youth centre – Dorothy notes that rates of youth offending increased after the centre was closed. Developers would also fell at least two of the mighty plane trees that are a feature of St Matthew’s Piece.

“Trees are extremely important,” says Dorothy. All the evidence shows there’s something important about the function of trees. Loss of trees is a health problem. Losing the big trees that are protecting our environment is extremely risky.”


Friends of St Matthew’s Piece can be contacted by email at friends.of.st.matthews.piece@gmail.com or followed and liked (here) on Facebook.


And see the Friends of St Matthew’s Piece campaign video…


Learn more about Dorothy on the National Development Team for Inclusion website, here.

Watch video recordings of Dorothy on Legasee – The Veterans Video Archive, here .


Super Matt says Save St Matthew’s Piece!

Friends of St Matthew’s Piece have a new supporter – Super Matt the Super Squirrel in their campaign to protect their small Petersfield park.

Super Matt the Super Squirrel says, "Help! It's landing on the Piece! Your park needs you!"
Click on Super Matt to visit his Facebook page

Developers want to build a block of student flats that will crouch over the former Howard Mallett Centre like a spaceship landing.

Image of the proposed development.

The campaign’s new character Super Matt the Super Squirrel lives in one of the trees that will be destroyed if the developers get their way. He is warning neighbours in Petersfield about the threat.

And he’s urging them to sign up for the Friends of St Matthew’s Piece supporters’ email list. This will help co-ordinate community action when the developers put in their planning application.

“We want our beautiful trees, not a hulking block of flats,” says Janet Wright, of Friends of St Matthew’s Piece.

“Petersfield has less public open space than any other part of Cambridge, and very few trees. We can’t afford to lose any.”

Friends of St Matthew’s Piece can be contacted by email at friends.of.st.matthews.piece@gmail.com or followed and liked on Facebook.


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But this is not an alternative way of contacting Friends of St Matthew’s Piece!


“These images are like a nightmare”

Image of the proposal from the developers’ website

Friends of St Matthew’s Piece say, “The building is completely out of scale with its surroundings and shows no respects for the local community”

A proposed building that would tower over a Cambridge park is far more intrusive than developers’ illustrations show, say campaigners.

It would dominate the entire area around St Matthew’s Piece and throw neighbouring houses into deep shadow, new 3D images demonstrate.

“These images are like a nightmare,” says Janet Wright, a supporter of Friends of St Matthew’s Piece. “You can see this monstrosity crouching on top of the existing building, overshadowing ordinary little houses and filling the view from the Piece.”

Architectural projections skilfully woven into a newly released video [above] reveal the proposed student housing block, more than 19 metres tall, looming over St Matthew’s Piece. Local campaigners have likened the building, intended to house more than 100 students, to a ‘spaceship’ or ‘monster’.

“The building is completely out of scale with its surroundings and shows no respects for the local community,” says a local resident who has contributed key architectural skills to the production of this dramatic video. 

The video was made for Friends of St Matthew’s Piece by Mill Road TV. It marks the 122nd anniversary of the day the park was given to local residents “for ever”. Friends of St Matthew’s Piece celebrated the anniversary (23 June) with a socially distanced gathering, while calling on other local residents to join them in protecting the Piece.

Developers Federated Hermes have not yet put in a formal planning application, but have circulated their proposals to hundreds of local residents.

Press release from Friends of St Matthew’s Piece dated 6th July 2020

Friends of St Matthew’s Piece can be contacted on Facebook, by email on Friends.of.st.matthews.piece@gmail.com, followed on Twitter or Instagram.


See also Mill Road Bridges’s posts Residents object to St Matthew’s Piece development and Protect St Matthew’s Piece.


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Protect St Matthew’s Piece

Glenys and Dave from Friends of St Matthew’s Piece hold a celebratory banner

Friends of St Matthew’s Piece write:

Today (23 June 2020) marks 122 years since St Matthew’s Piece was given to the people of Petersfield “for the recreation of the inhabitants for ever.

Now the tranquillity of the small park is under threat from developers who want to build a large block of student flats on the northern half of the original Piece.  

The pandemic means Friends of St Matthew’s Piece, who oppose the development, can’t throw an anniversary party. But a small group will gather (safely) at 3pm on 23 June to mark the day with decorations and readings.

St Matthew’s Piece was opened in 1898 specifically to provide healthy public open space in a very crowded part of Cambridge. It is needed more than ever now.

Janet Wright, FoSMP

Image of the proposal from the developers’ website

Friends of St Matthew’s Piece can be contacted on Facebook, by email on Friends.of.st.matthews.piece@gmail.com, followed on Twitter or Instagram.


See also Mill Road Bridges’s posts Residents object to St Matthew’s Piece development and “These images are like a nightmare“.