Permission granted for Bell School development

This article was published in 2008, in Newsletter 79.

To our dismay, outline planning permission has now been granted for the Bell School development. The development will provide 347 dwellings and accommodation for 100 students on the Bell School paddock and sports pitch behind the houses along the west side of Babraham Road between the junction with Worts’ Causeway and the junction with Granham’s Road. It will extend the residential area of the city into the attractive countryside to the south towards the Gog Magog hills.

Map showing the area of proposed development on the west side of Babraham Road.
Image as described adjacent

The application for planning permission (06/0795/OUT) was submitted two years ago and has been amended several times. From the start we have campaigned against the development and subsequent amendments to it. We have participated in a number of meetings with council officers, have submitted three detailed formal letters of objection and have spoken at two Development Control Forums and at the recent meeting of the Joint Development Control Committee (JDCC). All has been to no avail so far: the JDCC approved the outline application. In November last year I set out a summary of our main objections in Newsletter 75. Additional detail is given in our letters of objection which are available here.

The main problem is the proposed narrow access road and the associated highly unsatisfactory road junction

From our point of view the main problem is the proposed narrow access road and the associated highly unsatisfactory road junction on Babraham Road. Transport consultants working on behalf of the Bell School and transport officers of the County Council have from the start of the process attempted to agree a design for an access road and a junction that accord with national standards and government guidance and which fit into the very limited space available. They have failed. All three options produced so far are acknowledged by the County Council to have serious flaws. The Cambridgeshire Police Road Safety Unit and the Cambridge Road Safety Advisory Council have also made serious criticisms. Normally access arrangements are defined at outline planning permission stage but in this instance a case was made for approval of a junction and access road at this location without showing how the shortcomings of the existing designs could be overcome. We have the worrying situation that the presentation of an acceptable design for the junction is deferred until the reserved matters stage of the planning application process.

The shared-use path on the east side of Babraham Road is much used. At the proposed junction, the grass verge by the path will be removed and the shared-use path moved over to the garden boundary. This means that there is unlikely to be anywhere to put the posts apart from the shared-use path and there will almost certainly be no space to widen the path.
Image as described adjacent

We believe that the position is clear: there is insufficient space at this location for a safe junction and access road which accord with government guidance and which meet the needs of pedestrians, cyclists, motorists and of the existing residents on both sides of the proposed access road. For cyclists, any possible junction design is likely to involve a choice between intimidating on-road pinch points not unlike those on Kings Hedges Road and a narrow off-road shared-use path cluttered with posts for traffic lights, street lamps and road signs. We will continue to insist that such provision is completely unacceptable.

At the JDCC meeting which approved the application Geoffrey Heathcock, County Councillor for the ward but not a member of the JDCC, came and spoke against the application. Alan Baker, Chairman of the JDCC and City Councillor for the ward, voted against the application. A number of other councillors who voted in favour of the application insisted that they would reject the application at the reserved matters stage if no satisfactory design had been produced by then.

Given the sharp downturn in the housing market and the continuing major uncertainty about the junction, I suspect that developers may not be eager to develop this site in the near future.

James Woodburn