Over the Railway?

This article was published in 1998, in Newsletter 16.

There are three new buildings at various stages of the planning process that have come to our attention recently, all of them alongside the railway. They are of interest to us because of the difficulties cyclists face crossing the railway – the bridges are narrow and carry lots of traffic, making the railway a barrier. Two of the proposals offer slight opportunities to do something about this, and the third reinforces the problem.

The Vector building near Coldham's Lane bridge (19k)
The Vector building near Coldham’s Lane bridge.

Firstly, we have the grey shed on the out-of-town side of Coldham’s Lane bridge, with a tube-like construction along the top. Formerly belonging to BT and known as the Vector Building, it has been empty for a while, and now Greenall’s, the pub people, want to turn it into a ‘fitness club’ (fairly exclusive, judging by the prices), using the existing building.

Aware that their clients will be clogging up the roads with their executive Jaguars and Porsches, they have offered to make improvements to the junction with Cromwell Road. That is good in itself, since many cyclists want to cross onto Coldham’s Common (and as well as difficulties on the road, the adjacent pedestrian crossing is one of the worst timed in the City). However, they have also offered a Section 106 agreement (see What is a Section 106 agreement?) to part fund a new bridge over the railway for cyclists and pedestrians alongside the old one. That has long been a dream for lots of people. But I might wake up from that dream, because the remainder of the money would have to be found somewhere else. We wrote to the developers and they confirmed the details just as we went to press. We have an opportunity to comment formally or informally if we wish.

Vector Building Area Plan (52k)

Close by is the second site. This is a student hostel for Anglia Polytechnic University, which has stirred up a hornet’s nest of local opposition. Given that its motor traffic impact would be less than that of the gym, this is a little surprising. Would I be very cynical if I saw this as prejudice against students? Anyway, the point is that, if it went ahead, many of the occupants would want to get to the University site and would have to cross the railway somewhere. If I were American, I might be tempted to say there could be some synergy here with the fitness centre proposal.

Planning permission for both of these proposals has been applied for, so they’re well advanced. The third site is at an earlier stage. This is on the old Cattle Market by Hills Road bridge and is a much bigger development. The plans here are to build a leisure complex – multiplex cinema, bowling, that kind of thing. In an attempt to limit the number of people arriving by car, it has been suggested that an access to the station across the railway could be provided, which could also serve cyclists. They are asking for lots of car parking, though.

We don’t know many details of this yet, but we understand that there will be an exhibition around the time you receive this newsletter, and the developer has promised to send us a copy of the materials at the same time.

Dave Earl

What is a Section 106 agreement?

If you were ever to attend a meeting of the City Council’s planning committee (often long and tedious, but sometimes rather heated), you would hear the phrase Section 106 agreement bandied about freely. This is planning jargon for a cosy arrangement where a developer can be obliged to pay for a public facility of some kind as a condition of receiving planning permission. This is because it is recognised that development often has a downside. Whatever the agreement pays for is supposed to reduce the impact of the new building. A whole school might be required of a developer building a big housing estate, for example. However, very often, agreements are to do with trying to reduce the impact of extra traffic the scheme would generate.

Sometimes the developer will offer such an agreement voluntarily, in order to smooth the way to gaining planning consent. At other times, there may have to be protracted and prickly negotiations, as there seem to have been over the new Tesco at Fulbourn, for example.