Proposals for development at Netherhall Farm will lock in a car-dependent future

decrepit cut-through in the existing estate

Sometimes a planning application comes along and you can see just how little developers actually care about sustainable transport, despite bold claims. The absurdity here is captured by this pair of photos above (inset photo courtesy of Sam Davies).

Once built out, 400 more homes from this and another green belt site will depend upon this tiny, decrepit cut-through in order to access everyday community needs such as local shops and schools. The path is narrow and deteriorating, and lacks dropped kerbs on either side. The inset photo (taken from the other direction) shows that the paved area of the path is barely larger than a single pram.

To make matters worse, many people will have to walk or cycle at least an extra kilometre on every journey to the local community facilities. They will have to go all the way south to Worts’ Causeway in order to go north at all. All because the developers and the city could not complete the effort to establish a decent walking and cycling link via Almoners’ Avenue or Beaumont Road, despite the policy commitments of the Cambridge Local Plan and despite the fact that there are available points of access that were intended for precisely this kind of expansion.

The Netherhall Farm application (20/01972/OUT) goes to planning committee on 3 February, where it is currently recommended for approval and will be finally decided by a selection of city councillors. We advise writing to the councillors that new developments must not be so badly disconnected from existing communities that they just become ‘driving estates’ where using a car is seen as the most convenient option by far. The need to get this right is especially important on sites that are taken out of the green belt at the expense of the wider community. More details are discussed below.

a map showing the long way around the site for walking/cycling to the community facilities
The missing walking and cycling link to Almoners’ Avenue means a long trek out-of-the-way for almost all local journeys to community facilities. At least 1,300 metres (14-17 min walking / 4-6 min cycling) are added to each return journey from this example origin.

The most important reason for our objection to this application is that it has unacceptably poor walking and cycling connections to existing community facilities and schools. For example, the site is only 300 metres away from Netherhall School, but schoolchildren will have to travel almost 2,000 metres the long way around to get there, including going through the aforementioned narrow and decrepit cut-through that even lacks dropped kerbs. The Wulfstan Way shops would also more difficult to reach than they should be. Distance is the single biggest factor in people’s decision about transport mode. Therefore, this means that many residents will turn to driving instead of walking or cycling to everyday destinations.

The Cambridge Local Plan‘s Policy 80 states that developments should be ‘conveniently [linked] with the surrounding walking and cycling networks;’ while Policy 81 states that developers are required to make investments to encourage the use of sustainable transport, including infrastructure.

Local Transport Note 1/20 (see paragraphs 3.1.3 and 3.5.1) states that there should be a ‘densely spaced cycle network’ with ‘250m – 400m’ between routes ‘so that all people can easily travel by cycle for trips within and between neighbourhoods’.

Yet, in this application there is over 1,000 metres of site perimeter with no route, and even worse it lacks a cycle route in the most desired direction.

Establishing a direct walking and cycling link from the development to Almoners’ Avenue or Beaumont Road is the lynchpin of this application. It is not good enough for the applicants to say ‘they tried’ and gave up. This alone is a strong reason to reject this application under policies 80, 81 and LTN 1/20.

Please write before 3 February to members of the city council’s Planning Committee quoting application number 20/01972/OUT. Make clear that active travel must be central to the design of new developments as an essential part of the decarbonisation this council has committed to. Walking and cycling facilities must not be treated as a minor ‘would-be-nice’ aspect of a development, and cannot easily be retrofitted. They are absolutely fundamental and, until this is properly addressed, the application must be refused.