Cambridge Local Plan: the rulebook for every new development for years to come

This article was published in 2012, in Newsletter 104.

A cycle path in Assen, Netherlands, showing the type of Dutch-standard cycling provision which should be included in the plans for new developments in Cambridge.
Image as described adjacent

A Local Plan is the key document created and used by a planning authority (in our case, Cambridge City Council, and South Cambs District Council) when determining whether a planning application should be permitted. Every housing estate, large or small, every new bit of commercial or public service building, every new driveway or small set of flats, is subject to these rules.

The Local Plan provides a clear framework of rules with which applications can be shown to have complied or not complied. Developments that do not comply can be rejected. At this point the developer can either modify the application to address the objections, which is what usually happens, or, less frequently because of the cost, appeal against it. Here the reasoning for that rejection is tested vigorously by a government Planning Inspector. A robust Local Plan thus prevents unsatisfactory developments proceeding.

We have taken a keen interest in the Local Plan over the last decade. It has been a crucial safeguard against developments which fail badly to take account of the need for good cycle provision. Without this, new developments that fail to provide proper cycle parking or cycle-friendly routes and access will mean that new residents are less likely to join Cambridge’s cycling culture. The effect would be a decrease over time in levels of cycling and therefore increased congestion.

Cambridge should be aiming for 40% of trips by cycle to avoid congestion

National planning policy is rapidly being updated. The government has supposedly slimmed down over a thousand pages of national guidance to fifty or so, and introduced the presumption in favour of developments that are ‘sustainable’ (such a term being highly subjective). But the planning system has effectively always had such an assumption in favour of development unless there are clear problems, though this new policy evidently does shift the balance even further in favour of developers.

The national guidance also says that local authorities must have up-to-date Local Plans, and that if this not done, developments will be considered against national policy only, without the presence of a local perspective. Because of this, and because of existing flaws in a city with massive development taking place, the need for revision of the Local Plan is urgent, and the city and South Cambs are indeed getting on with it.

Cambridge’s Local Plan was last revised in 2006. We took part in the consultation at the time, and achieved some improvements though some flaws, which developers have subsequently exploited, remained, as we pointed out at the time.

The Local Plan is now being revised again. Several stages are involved. We have attended consultation meetings, had a briefing with officials to explain our views (as did other organisations which responded), and have taken part in the first major consultation stage, on the ‘Issues and Options Report’. This enumerates and discusses the issues on which the city council wants feedback, and provides a basis for further work which will continue into 2013.

We have submitted our response. You can view this on our website, at

By way of a summary, the key points that we make in our submission are:

  1. Cambridge should be aiming for 40% of trips by cycle. The level of housing growth in and around the city is such that any other policy will lead to even further levels of congestion. (See Representation 14949 and others nearby.)
  2. New developments must be planned to Dutch standards of provision for cycling and walking. The Local Plan should adopt this as a major new policy. (See Representation 14949 and others nearby.)
  3. Dutch-quality infrastructure, that we argue for, can be defined as follows:
    1. A network of properly segregated cycleways that are more convenient than the road, with space properly allocated to enable this. These are not shared with pedestrians; retain priority at junctions (so they are safe and quick); are wide (2-3m wide, usually on both sides of the road); are continuous (i.e. fully joined-up) and are properly surfaced with proper foundations. Major roundabouts should have tight geometries and a separate cycle ring.
    2. For minor, residential streets: a 20mph speed limit, avoiding long uninterrupted stretches, a home-zone feeling.
    3. Good quality, secure cycle parking – which is above all convenient – is also provided in residential areas and at all destination points.
    4. In other words, the kind of infrastructure that actively encourages new people to cycle rather than use the car, and which existing confident cyclists would not hesitate to use. View photos of Dutch-quality infrastructure at
  4. Improvements to the Cycle Parking Standards, to improve their enforcement and to fix various problems. (See Representation 15027 and others nearby.)
  5. The need to safeguard land for the Chisholm Trail against development.
  6. Various comments on area-specific issues.
  7. Various other points.
The Bell school saga, where a government inspector ruled that a 2.5m shared-use pavement is adequate cycle provision for the major access to a 364- dwelling development, shows the clear need for stronger, local rules

The saga of the Bell School development, where councillors have thrown out a clearly deficient access route to a 364-dwelling development but are having to battle a government inspector’s ruling that a 2.5m shared-use pavement is adequate cycle provision (which in Cambridge is clearly ridiculous), or the nonsense of Tesco/Sainsbury’s arguing that parking a lorry where it obstructs Mill Road for 40 minutes at a time is acceptable, shows the need for a robust Local Plan that gives true priority to cycling, rather than just the mere lip-service so often displayed in the decision-making processes of the city and county councils. Dedicated Cycling Officers in the planning department are needed to ensure real priority for provision for cycling.

We will continue to engage in this process, and are also working on our response to the equivalent South Cambs consultation.

Thanks in particular to Bev Nicolson for going through the massive consultation document so effectively. She was crucial in leading our subgroup to come up with its final response.

Martin Lucas-Smith