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2 May, 2018 - 12:52 By Kate Sweeney

University of Cambridge breaks into housing delivery big league

Cambridge University is on track to be one of the major housing developers in the south of England this year, a Built Environment Networking event has heard.

Heather Topel, project director of the university’s North-West Cambridge development, told the event that 150 homes in the scheme’s first phase have already been built with that figure set to increase to 550 in the next three months and reach 700 by the end of the year.

Most of the accommodation has been occupied so far by post-doctoral staff working at the university with the first housing for sale ready to be lived in later this year.

The rapid pace of development meant that Cambridge University will be ‘one of the major housing developers’ in the south of England this year, she said. The university is now set to take a decision within the next year about phase two of North West Cambridge, which will mainly consist of housing with some commercial space.

The centrepiece of the scheme, which is principally designed to remedy the shortfall of affordable accommodation in Cambridge, will deliver 3,000 new properties for sale and keyworker homes.

It will also include 2,000 units of student accommodation and 100,000 sq m of academic R & D growth space, which will rival the amount available on the Cambridge Science Park.

Helen Valentine, deputy vice-chancellor of Anglia Ruskin University, said the cost of living in Cambridge for staff and for students was high, forcing ‘even quite senior managers’ out of the city. This also affects ARU’s ability to build – due to high prices of land and planning restrictions which mean that it takes much longer to secure permission than in Chelmsford, which is the university’s other main base. 

Colleague Sandy Lynam, director of Estates and Facilities Services at Anglia Ruskin, said that its original campus in Cambridge was very constricted and intensively developed. 

She said that two years ago the higher education institution had started acquiring buildings elsewhere in Cambridge after deciding it could not meet its space needs on it historic site.

The university has identified a number of development opportunities within its Cambridge estate and will soon go out to tender on the delivery of a new masterplan, drawn up by Richard Murphy architects.
Anglia Ruskin has more space to expand in Chelmsford where its new medical school is current under construction and hoping to welcome its first cohort of students in October.

Lynam added that while its contractors were currently procured through existing public-sector frameworks, the tight nature of the site where it works mean that the university’s supply chain had to be able to ‘think creatively about space’.

Nicky Robert, endowment manager at Cambridge University’s Gonville & Caius College, said its recently completed ‘Caius 48’ estates masterplan had identified 16 projects including one new residential building and scope for 220 new ensuite rooms within its existing estate.

Another element of the masterplan would be a major project to expand and refurbish its kitchens – and the college would be procuring a contractor by the end of the year.

Given its lack of a track record in developing new housing, the college was open to joint ventures, with Robert adding: “Gonville & Caius doesn’t have the skills to deliver some of these projects. Our building team is going to be extremely busy for the next few years.”

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