Complex background to ‘Call for Sites’ process
Since Cambridge City Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council resolved to run a joint planning service under the banner of Greater Cambridge, the preparation of a new joint Local Plan has commenced, writes Colin Brown, Partner, Carter Jonas, Cambridge.
The new collaborative approach adopted – formalising some of the joint workings on the recently adopted Local Plans prepared by the two authorities – has been welcomed by many and reflects the need to further develop coordinated ways of working through local co-operation across administrative boundaries.
The recent Call for Sites exercise, which closed on March 26, marked the first key milestone in the process of preparing the new joint Local Plan and created a heightened sense of purpose for many of those involved across the business and property industries.
Marking the initial stage of the plan-making process, a Call for Sites exercise is a chance for landowners and developers to highlight potential sites or broad locations for development.
Each site or broad location is assessed based on suitability, availability and achievability with local planning constraints taken into account.
The process provides an early opportunity to promote land for development across Greater Cambridge, aimed at not only ensuring that the new Local Plan allocates sufficient land to meet identified needs but also crucially selecting the most appropriate sites from a large number of potential alternatives.
Whilst no firm decisions have yet been taken about the likely overall level of growth that is to be planned for, it is likely there will be an increase in the rate of planned supply compared to the recently adopted Local Plans.
In aggregate, these plans propose nearly 1,700 new homes each year to 2031, alongside employment land capable of supporting 44,000 new jobs.
The purpose of Local Plans is to set out a vision for the future development of the area, addressing needs and opportunities in relation to housing, the economy, and infrastructure – but also identifying how best to conserve and enhance the natural and historic environment, to mitigate and adapt to climate change, and to achieve well designed places. These objectives should not be mutually exclusive.
At this stage of the process, those with land interests are merely putting possible sites forward. However, it is a little like putting the cart before the horse.
We will only begin to see real momentum once the councils provide clarity over how much growth should be planned for, and where – e.g. city fringe locations, new settlements, extended settlements, or elsewhere – while also addressing the progress of key infrastructure projects needed to help deliver that growth in an acceptable way.
Reassuringly, we are beginning to see some positive news in regard to infrastructure. In the Chancellor’s Spring Statement, it was announced that the Government is to provide funding of over £200 million to relocate the city’s sewage works from the north-eastern fringe of the city, so unlocking the provision of a new low carbon community which could deliver land for over 7,000 new homes and 7,000 new jobs.
In addition, on March 19, a new study was published that concluded there is a compelling case for moving forward with the proposed metro system for Greater Cambridge and the wider region, known as the Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro (CAM) at a likely cost of over £4 billion.
These announcements, alongside the Call for Sites process, serves as a timely reminder of the opportunities, challenges and needs of the region and brings to the fore some major issues.
In the Combined Authority area of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, the southern part of the region has benefitted from sustained growth. Whilst much of the impact of this has been positive, such as the generation of significant new employment opportunities, there have been some inevitable less positive consequences.
Congestion has increased, and house prices have exploded. Conversely, the more northern and eastern parts of the Combined Authority area have experienced steady growth, but issues remain such as lower incomes, poorer educational achievement, lower skills and inadequate transport links.
According to a separate review, The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Independent Economic Review (CPIER), published in 2018, the situation is likely to become more pronounced without the right financial support through investment in infrastructure – especially if the aim to double UK Gross Value Added (GVA) in the area by 2040 is to be achieved.
The CPIER report concludes that success will only be achieved if there is more ambition with regard to the development of new housing, matching employment growth and delivered alongside the careful prioritisation of infrastructure projects.
It will be interesting to track which sites emerge from the Call for Sites process against this complex background.