How dishonest is ‘planning’ in Cambridge?

I am thinking about the ‘planning system’ here, those elements, some open, some hidden, that combine to plan for us the unsustainable growth which many residents clearly don’t want. Are we really getting the future Cambridge we want, recognising the impact of climate change, pollution, on our quality of life?  Are the people who are supposed to protect the City and its residents’ interests actually doing that?

Are we really getting the future Cambridge we want

I have used the word ‘dishonest’, but some people have said ‘corrupt’ when talking about this subject.  I think they mean the classic English corruption, when it is not what you know but who you know that ‘oils the wheels’, and respectable people think laws and regulations are probably excessive and ‘there to be gamed’.  In planning there is a whole profession of chartered surveyors and valuers whose very existence is based on gaming the planning system for developers, with, it appears, few ethics applying to their conduct.

few ethics apply to their conduct

Pity the lowly planning officers up against these people, and the councillors severely constrained by Government restrictions on planning powers: how far would you go if you knew the professional advisers could tie you up in expensive legal knots?  And what is it like to know you are up against developers, etc. who will always over-promise and under-deliver, where the design standard is likely to be ‘aim low and miss’.   House builders, who can apparently make up to £66,000 profit per house, still campaign to build around Cambridge new housing with some of the smallest rooms in Europe, still try to avoid providing needed affordable and social housing in the right numbers.  If CB1 was proposed on the basis of what has actually been delivered, would it be approved now, with that non-existent traffic-clogged public square; would people buy the property in “Stationary Road”?

There is a lot of excitement amongst developers about the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway proposed by the Government to deliver massive housing and supposed economic growth in the “Arc” between the two cities.  Did you know this has long been lobbied for as an outer ‘Outer London beyond the M25 orbital motorway’ with the A421 and A428 effectively part of the M4 to M11 connection – all racing to the incomplete Girton Interchange?  How out of date does that concept and planning sound? But it is apparently to be embraced with enthusiasm, though Oxford City Council has voted firmly to reject it.  Read this analysis and commentary on the politics behind the Arc:

yesterday’s transport solutions delivered years into the future.

The only good part of it is that East-West Rail is also proposed for completion to close the Bedford to Cambridge gap, with a northern rail line likely to serve St Neots and Cambourne/Bourn and link Cambridge South/Central/North stations with the East Coast Mail-line and the Midland Main-line.  Consultation details here:  Their consultation sessions suggest completion mid-2020s but Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) officers suggest it will be decades later and want a southern route option so they can still justify their busway plans. Apparently the planning system thinks we are not worth rail or light rail infra-structure, so we get yesterday’s transport solutions delivered years into the future.

Residents groups when they meet together infer that the real planners for Cambridge are Cambridge Ahead and the Cambridge Network, together with all those professional advisers, enmeshed with some of the councils, with the University part of the hidden developer-oriented lobby for growth, at the expense of Cambridge’s Green Belt, heritage and landscape.  It is not clear how the individual Colleges (or their students), many of them local landowners, feel about the pursuit of growth without regard to sustainability.  It is possible that councillors, desperate for Council Tax and Business Rate income, are therefore desperate for growth.  Is this political – no party appears to be willing to act against developer interests in Cambridge?


There is a degree of ‘green-washing’ from developers keen to be seen to invest in replacement environmental activity, rather forgetting what is being lost in the first place.  Some claim this threatens local environmental bodies like Smarter Cambridge Transport and Cambridge Past Present and Future into having to work with the enemies of a sustainable future.

due diligence is non-existent

All this appears to create a mind-set where due diligence is non-existent and genuine scrutiny of the planning process in the public interest disappears.  For example, in relation to GCP some councillors have criticised members of the public for challenging officers, when the officers and their consultants have been revealed to be misrepresenting information and, in practice, depending how strongly you feel about it, either misleading or lying.  Coton Parish Council documented much of the detail of the misconduct of GCP and circulated many councillors and stakeholders; astonishingly the response in most cases was to ignore the misdeeds and argue for the need to push infra-structure development through.  So some people have determined their ends justify the means, regardless of the probity of the process or what the public thinks.

Adults now need to listen to children

But ultimately, communities depend on consensus, and our quality of life depends on working together to achieve the right sustainable future.  That means we need to change the planning system, or I suspect the degree of public objections will escalate to protests about taking away our sustainable future.  Adults now need to listen to children and pay attention to the consequences of what we decide today.

Roger Tomlinson

Coton Parish Councillor

The opinions here are my own.



1 thought on “How dishonest is ‘planning’ in Cambridge?

  1. Pingback: Update 8th Mar 2019 | FeCRA

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