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Does Cambridge hold the answer to affordable housing?

28 Sep 2017

It seems like the debate surrounding the growing need for housing is never ending. Should we be building more? Should they be more affordable? Should we be building to rent? Well, according to a recent article (link to: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/10/building-trust-into-greener-housing-north-west-cambridge-development) Cambridge could hold the answers.

Normally, suggesting the possibility of building on Greenbelt sets off many strong emotions, but it could actually be a way of tackling affordable housing and sustainable communities. What’s this got to do with Cambridge? Simply this: pioneering developments on greenbelt land has already started, in the form of the North West Cambridge Development.

The Development is born out of the University of Cambridge, which seeks to turn unattractive, unused areas of farmland in the county into an urban district area. It sounds like a scalable project, but the whole area is actually smaller than the historic centre of Cambridge itself.

If it works, it could offer 3,000 homes, half of them under the Government’s affordable housing plan. There will also be 2,000 student-let accommodation, 100,000 square metres of research facilities as well as school, shops, roads, infrastructure – everything you need in a brand new residential hub.

What caused all this? And, what are the wider implications if it goes ahead? The Development was motivated by the extreme effects of growth in Cambridge, which have driven up house prices in the area, in turn pricing out many key workers and academics who live there. Yes, there is a chance that this will happen in this new conurbation too – but it is unlikely to happen very quickly. Change, by its very nature, takes time and the existing plans have already been in development for more than a decade, they have only just started to move on from Phase One of the project.

It does offer a high level of sustainability, including a large push on renewable energy, low levels of car use due to proximity of the city centre, and water recycling for use both in and out of the homes. The designs have been mastered around low-cost, again driving down the cost purchase.

There is no reason why this project will not be a success – and used as template across other areas of the UK. The basic question remains: Is it better to build on inaccessible and unattractive greenbelt land, pile the pressure on other much loved and beautiful green spaces, or simply fail to meet the now acute housing shortage?

For further advice contact Katie and the Planning team at DMH Stallard using the details below.

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