The thousands of people who took part in a recent consultation on the future of Greater Cambridge are being thanked by councils – as a report published on Friday (22 May) sets out that the consultation ‘reached more residents than ever’.
This ‘First Conversation’, or Issues and Options consultation as it is formally known, ran from 13 January to 24 February and marked the start of a lengthy process to develop the new Greater Cambridge Local Plan – the first joint Local Plan between Cambridge City and South Cambridgeshire District councils.
Once finalised, the Local Plan will set out where in Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire development is allowed to happen – where homes, business space, community facilities, shops and leisure facilities can be built and where green spaces can be protected or created – while also providing policies to guide how development should help address current and future environmental, social and economic issues and help people to lead happy and healthy lives.
During the six-week consultation residents were able to comment on a number of proposed elements of the Plan, from where they think development should or should not happen, to how many years the Plan should be in place for. Seven big themes were also set out and organised into two groups. First, the overarching ‘how’ of the Local Plan: climate change; biodiversity and green spaces; wellbeing and inequality; and creating great places. Second, the underpinning ‘what’ of the Local Plan: jobs, homes and infrastructure.
From the circa 7,000 comments received, which the councils are still in the process of analysing, the Initial Feedback from the Consultation identified some key areas to be explored during the development of the Local Plan:
- On where to build, it appears there is support for densification of existing urban areas, along with development along public transport corridors. Views on development around villages were polarised and, on green belt development, it appears there is some support for locations which are sustainable in transport terms, to reduce car travel from locations further away
- Most people agree that the right seven themes have been identified for the Plan, but there was a range of views about which themes should take priority
- Infrastructure – which can refer to road and cycle networks, education and health provision, and more – was the theme that attracted the most interest, by a substantial margin, with transport being the most commented on topic
- The second most popular theme was homes, followed by climate change, which prompted a wide range of views – from those who felt it was a high priority, to those who felt that other issues should take precedence
- Many responses said that continuing economic growth was important, although many also raised questions around whether growth was desirable. Some stated that wellbeing was a priority over growth, while others expressed the view that economic growth was the means to raise quality of life.
The report, published for the meeting of the Joint Local Planning Advisory Group on 2 June , also outlines a proposed timeline for the next stages of the Local Plan process, which takes into account the comments received and the clear aspiration for continued involvement by communities in the early stages. The new programme outlined in the report makes arrangements to do so, and includes:
- publishing emerging evidence from commissioned external experts in October 2020, followed by stakeholder engagement workshops to debate these in November/December
- the first key milestones for public participation in the plan in summer 2021, when members of the public will be asked to input into the proposed approach. This will be the ‘Preferred Options’ stage, which sets out specifics such as proposed levels of development for jobs and homes; sites allocated for development; and the preferred approach for key policy topics such as climate change targets, affordable housing thresholds, and approach to development in villages.
The proposed timeline is subject to approval by councillors during June 2020.
Cllr Dr. Tumi Hawkins, Lead Cabinet Member for Planning at South Cambridgeshire District Council, said: “Thank you so much to everyone who got involved. 300 people came to The Big Debate in February, 5,000 people visited our dedicated Local Plan website where they could read about the topics that interested them, we met 6,000 people at our pop-up roadshows around the area, and over 300,000 people saw our posts online encouraging them to get involved.
“We really wanted to put community engagement at the heart of this process because it’s so useful for councillors and planners to hear directly from residents on your experiences of development where you live and work. We know this is a lengthy process so, for now, we just wanted to update everyone who took part earlier in the year on what happens next. We’ll make sure to let everyone know in the autumn once we have more to share.”
Cllr Katie Thornburrow, Executive Councillor for Planning Policy and Open Spaces at Cambridge City Council, said: “The First Conversation engaged far more people than previous consultations, and over 7,000 comments were received, giving us vital insights into the issues people care about. Understanding what matters to residents, based on people's experience living and working in Greater Cambridge, is vital as we decide where new homes, facilities and parks should be built, and how we will help to create jobs.
“Lots of people are rightly concerned about transport infrastructure, and while Cambridge City and South Cambridgeshire District councils aren’t the transport planning authority, we recognise the need for a transport plan that is joined up with the emerging Local Plan. We hope that we will see the same sort of engagement in the Plan as we move to the next stage, and that residents will talk to friends, family and colleagues about the themes we've set out, so that we can get an even better understanding of what really matters to local residents. I hope that we'll see even more responses next time around!”
The report can be viewed on the website. The Greater Cambridge Planning Service is a partnership between Cambridge City and South Cambridgeshire District councils, and updates on the Local Plan process will be available at www.greatercambridgeplanning.org