Will the new shared Local Plan lead to improvements for cycling in South Cambridgeshire?

This article was published in 2020, in Magazine 146.

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The city of Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire have recently taken some more steps towards full integration of planning services. They have also been sharing officer resources for quite some time. The new Local Plans are being developed in a joint process, given the recognition that planning issues in each jurisdiction often affect the other authority significantly, and in some cases straddle the boundary.

However, not all is sunshine and roses. Cambridge’s current Local Plan explicitly prioritises walking and cycling; South Cambs’ Local Plan does not. Cambridge has a detailed cycle parking guide; South Cambs does not. Planning officers and councillors working on Cambridge-based applications tend to give careful consideration to cycling issues; South Cambs has a much more mixed record. While there have been some success stories, such as with the Marleigh/ Wing site, there have been some major disappointments where the developers aren’t interested in fixing problems and the planning authority doesn’t care either.

1) Several planning applications (especially at Northstowe) have insisted on using vertical cycle parking racks. This type of cycle parking rack is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for many people to use because it requires them to lift their bike, and tricycles and cargo bikes are completely excluded. When contacted, some planning officers will either disregard our objections (made under Local Plan policy HQ/1, which requires ‘safe, accessible and secure cycle parking’) or will respond that ‘vertical cycle parking is allowed’, without engaging at all with the simple fact that many people can’t use such things.

2) Two years ago we commented on a planning application for a site in Whittlesford that contains a section of National Cycle Route 11. The permission was granted on condition that the cycle route would be built using the plans that were approved in the application. Fast-forward to 2019, when we discovered that the developer failed to follow the permitted plans and delivered two car parking spaces instead of the cycle route (see below). This has rendered a portion of the National Cycle Route 11 inaccessible to many people who cannot lift their cycle over a kerb, such as those using adapted cycles or handcycles. We contacted planning enforcement, and after several months they finally responded that they were not interested in pursuing enforcement. When I pointed out that they needed to meet their public sector equality duty under the Equality Act of 2010, the officer responded that ‘it is a balance between different policies and considerations’; it seems that they didn’t think it was important enough to pursue their legal duties.

3) A recent reserved matters application dropped a walking and cycling shortcut that was part of its outline application, because the applicant couldn’t guarantee that the other side of the shortcut would be built on land outside their control. This is precisely the sort of thing that the planning authority is supposed to sort out. However, South Cambs appeared poised to let it slip due to lack of interest in protecting the future route, until there was a strenuous protest from us and the Parish Council.

4) It is quite common for pavements to be designed and constructed in a very poor fashion, with safety and usability frequently sacrificed for the convenience of uninterrupted motor vehicle movement, and/or pavements to be inappropriately designated as shareduse with cycling instead of making separate and appropriate provision. Unfortunately, South Cambs has no policies to protect or prioritise either pavements or cycleways.

A combined Local Plan could be a good thing if a more considerate approach to cycling is adopted

We’re hoping that the new Local Plan process will tackle these issues and add things like inclusive cycle parking, but these are things happening now and affecting developments in ways that will last for decades. A combined Local Plan could be a good thing if the more considerate approach for cycling (and walking) issues is adopted; however, it could make things worse in the city if the county’s bad attitude is adopted instead.