The Bell School, culture and development

This article was published in 2012, in Newsletter 104.

Map of the area around the proposed development, showing pedestrian/cycle links in blue. Base map data copyright (c) OpenStreetMap contributors
Image as described adjacent

English language teaching is an industry in Cambridge. Foreign students come to Cambridge all year round, and they pay quite dearly for the privilege. The Bell School was founded in 1955, when Frank Bell’s ‘love of languages and his passion for education established his lifelong commitment to international understanding’.

Language teachers like Bell have long argued that language and culture are to be learned and taught together. It is not about linguistics, it is about cultural understanding. Sadly, the Bell Educational Trust seems to have lost the vision of its founder. Their architects and lawyers know little about cultural understanding, and probably only read the bottom line. Inappropriate advice can lead to serious difficulties, and some egg has found its way onto some faces in the meantime.

The Bell proposal does not add up to what a city with more than 50% of the population cycling deserves

Bell is planning to develop its site next to Addenbrooke’s. The plan includes 364 homes, 40% of which will be affordable, which will house approximately 1,000 people, and accommodation for 100 Bell students. Planning applications have been refused more than once because, among other reasons, the plans do not offer the kind of quality cycle/foot access that the Local Plan demands. They propose a shared-use path, which is far too narrow, on one side of the access road. There is not enough room for a pavement on the opposite side. Other routes across the site are planned as unsegregated, too narrow and requiring awkward diversions for some users. Bell do not want to consider the alternative of an access road opposite Wort’s Causeway. Intersections are designed poorly, pedestrians and cyclists are to share one single pavement, the proposal just does not add up to what a city with more than 50% of the population cycling deserves.

Such a development might be appropriate in Grand Junction City (the largest city in western Colorado) or Detroit. Mr Bell himself would have understood that without doubt. His ‘vision to promote intercultural understanding through language education’ would have been aware that our local transport culture is very different from that of Grand Junction City. All those bikes make Cambridge attractive, they give Cambridge charm, and every local language school profits from this.

On the Bell website, we read about Maria Vittoria, 19, from Italy, who is pictured on a bike and says: ‘Everyone cycles in Cambridge, so I bought a bicycle too; it takes me five minutes to get to Bell and I also cycle to the city centre and my friend’s house’.

Little wonder that Cambridge expects the Bell Educational Trust to engage with local culture, and contribute to supporting what makes Cambridge special and sweet, and so superior to Grand Junction City.

Local councillors have again rejected the application. Now it is time for the Bell Educational Trust to reflect, to talk to its advisors, and come forward with a plan that takes sustainable transport much more seriously. More information about the application and the Campaign’s objections is available at

Michael Cahn