REPORT TO: Planning Policy Committee 12th July 2000
AUTHOR/S: Planning Director



  1. To advise the Committee of the need for further joint working between Cambridgeshire County, Cambridge City and South Cambridgeshire to revise the development strategy for the Cambridge Northern Fringe. A version of this report will also be considered by the Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire Environment and Transport Joint Strategic Forum.


1995 Cambridgeshire Structure Plan

  1. The basis for the current planning policies for the Cambridge Northern Fringe (CNF) is the 1995 Cambridgeshire Structure Plan which identifies the CNF (see map) as an important reserve of development land which was excluded from the Green Belt to provide for the essential development needs of Cambridge. The Structure Plan also includes proposals for 27,900 square metres of sub-regional shopping development and in the light of anticipated difficulties of development in Cambridge city centre indicates that the CNF may provide a suitable location for such development.

2nd CNF Study and the current agreed strategy

  1. The CNF was first removed from the Green Belt and reserved for 'essential need' development as a result of policies in the 1989 Structure Plan. Early in 1990, the County, City and District Council worked together to produce the 1st detailed policy guidance for the CNF which was subsequently incorporated into the 1993 South Cambridgeshire Local Plan. In particular that work provided the detailed 'essential need' test to be applied to development proposals.
  2. A 2nd CNF study was undertaken in 1996 which investigated options for the development of the sub-regional shopping proposals put forward in the 1995 Structure Plan. The study again involved joint working by the three local authorities and was overseen by a Steering Group of members also drawn from the three Councils. The study considered the Structure Plan shopping proposals as part of a wider development framework for the whole of the CNF. The preferred option, which was agreed by the three local authorities after extensive public consultation, was for a mixed use development including housing, leisure and shopping at the eastern end of the CNF on 'brownfield' land comprising Chesterton Sidings and the Cambridge Sewage Treatment Works with the western end of the CNF kept in reserve for development after 2006, but to include high technology R&D.

Arbury Park/Chesterton Sidings

  1. Whilst the three local authorities were undertaking the 2nd CNF study, two planning applications were submitted for sub-regional shopping development at the western end of the CNF (Arbury Camp) and on the Sidings/Sewage Treatment Works (as part of a larger mixed use development) in the east.

Cambridge City Centre Study

  1. At about the same time, the government issued revised guidance on national shopping policy (Planning Policy Guidance Note 6). That Guidance clarified government policy for shopping including the application of the 'Sequential Test', with a clear preference for development in town/city centres. The 'Sequential Test' requires that any advocates of major shopping must investigate options for development beginning sequentially with town/city centres. Because of the proposals that had already been submitted for edge-of-town shopping development, the three local authorities undertook the further evaluation of development/redevelopment opportunities in the city centre required by PPG6. Working with consultants Arup Economic & Planning the study identified redevelopment opportunities at St Tibbs Row in the historic centre and Burleigh Street at the Grafton centre.

Retail proposals and Inquiry

  1. In the light of the identification of redevelopment opportunities in the city centre, the local authorities were unable to support the shopping proposals in the CNF although they did express a preference for redevelopment of the eastern end of the CNF.
  2. A public inquiry in 1997 considered the planning application for shopping development at Arbury Park. At the Inquiry, the local authorities argued that shopping development in the CNF should not be permitted unless the options in the city centre, which by that time had attracted development interest, did not come to fruition within a reasonable time

SCDC Local Plan

  1. Early in 1999, the review of the South Cambridgeshire Local Plan was placed on deposit. Its policies for the CNF included the application of the sequential test for major shopping development as follows:
    1. The city centre
    2. Redevelopment at the eastern end of the CNF
    3. 'Greenfield' development at the western end of the CNF.
  2. 'Duly made' objections to the Local Plan were received from the applicants promoting shopping and other development in the CNF.


A. Changing Circumstances

SoS decision on Edge-of-Town Shopping

  1. In dismissing the appeal for edge-of-town shopping at Arbury Park in November 1998, the Secretary of State confirmed the local authorities sequential preferences for development with the 1st preference being for the city centre, the 2nd preference being the eastern end of the CNF and last the western end of the CNF.

Grand Arcade

  1. A planning application for the redevelopment of St Tibbs Row for the 'Grand Arcade' shopping centre was subsequently submitted to the City Council on 26th May 1999. On 5th April 2000, the City Council resolved to grant planning permission subject to conditions and a Section 106 Agreement. The application has subsequently been referred to the Secretary of State as a Departure from the Development Plan. The City Council is hopeful that a letter from the Secretary of State confirming that he will not intervene in the decision will be received shortly; members will be updated at the meeting.
  2. The City Council is in the process of completing the negotiations on the Section 106 Agreement before releasing the planning permission.

PPG3 'Housing'

  1. In March of this year, the Government issued revised Planning Policy Guidance Note 3 on 'Housing'. In this guidance note the government signalled a number of important policy changes which it wants the local planning authorities to incorporate into their development plans at the earliest opportunity.
  2. Like PPG6 on shopping, PPG3 introduces a sequential test for the development of housing. Underlying this government guidance is the objective of focussing new housing development in existing towns and cities, making best use of previously developed ('brownfield') land or by peripheral expansion of existing towns and cities which are the focus for services and employment and where there is the greatest opportunity for travel by modes other than the car. The PPG countenances the possibility of the release of land from the Green Belt for housing development provided the objectives for which the Green Belt has been designated are not jeopardised and there are not more 'sustainable' locations beyond the Green Belt.

Draft RPG6 for East Anglia

  1. The Draft Regional Planning Guidance for East Anglia (RPG6) was also published in March 2000. Based on PPG3, the Draft RPG proposes a sequential approach to housing provision in the Cambridge Sub-Region. Whilst the order of the sequence may vary as a result of representations, the development strategy upon which future Structure and Local Plans will be based will include, development:
    1. Within Cambridge
    2. On the edge of Cambridge (subject to a review of the Green Belt)
    3. In a new settlement close to Cambridge
    4. In market towns, larger villages and previously established new settlements
    5. By extensions to (iv)
  2. The implications of this sequence are that development should be maximised in the earlier options in the sequence and minimised in the later options subject to development capacity and other planning considerations.
  3. The RPG could therefore signal a significant change for the CNF. Rather than being the only reserve of development land on the edge of Cambridge, the Green Belt review is likely to add an as yet unquantified amount of additional land which could also be developed. In addition, whilst meeting the city's housing needs was considered to be an 'essential need' development, it was not anticipated that it would be the major component of development owing to the 'need' to accommodate sub-regional shopping development as a high priority. However, PPG3 and Draft RPG6 now make it clear that housing in and on the edge of Cambridge will be an important part of the strategy for the Cambridge Sub-Region and could now form an important part of the strategy in the period up to 2006.

SCDC Local Plan objections focussing on PPG3 issues

  1. As indicated above, the government proposes that the issues raised in PPG3 be incorporated into development plans as soon as possible. For the County and City Councils this will be as part of the next review of their Structure and Local Plans. However, South Cambridgeshire is currently reviewing its Local Plan and although at an advanced stage (the Local Plan Inquiry having commenced on 13th June 2000) the issues raised in PPG3 can be taken into account in the finalisation of the plan. Indeed, objectors are already addressing the issues raised in PPG3 in their submissions.

February hearing of objections

  1. Objections to the Local Plan have been received from all the major landowners in the CNF. Originally those objections sought development allocations (including sub-regional shopping) in the Local Plan. In the light of the City Councils resolution to approve the Grand Arcade planning application and government policy set out in PPG3 and Draft RPG6, objectors have withdrawn their shopping objections and will be pursuing housing/mixed-use developments when their objections are heard at the inquiry. Those objections are currently programmed to be heard in February 2001, during the last week of the Public Local Inquiry.

Options: CNF Revisited

  1. These changing circumstances mean that the local planning authorities should review the development strategy which was so strongly influenced by the need to bring forward sub-regional shopping development in the CNF. Indeed, the current strategy is likely to have contributed to an apparent inability to develop the CNF for alternative less valuable land uses and should be revised at the earliest opportunity.

Re-constitute Joint Working Arrangements

  1. The earlier CNF Joint Working comprised officers from the three local authorities working under the guidance of a steering group of members also from the three councils. Although the decisions of the steering group were not binding on the three Councils, there was broad agreement which enabled them all to adopt the findings of the study. It is suggested that the Forum provides the member guidance to this review, rather than a separate steering group being set up for this purpose. The review should be based on the following principles.

Build on the earlier work

  1. The last CNF study was carried out just 3 years ago. In the timescale available any re-evaluation of the strategy can build on that work and investigate new options for bringing forward development in the Cambridge Northern Fringe which take full account of the changing circumstances. Where appropriate, make best/early use of land already released from Green Belt
  2. The land in the CNF has effectively been available for development for 10 years. In that time, the majority of development that has taken place in the CNF has been the development of previously committed sites at the Cambridge Science Park, St. John's Innovation Centre and the Cambridge Business Park. Only the Cambridge Regional College has been developed on previously uncommitted land. The remainder of the undeveloped land remived from the Green Belt continues to remain in reserve.
  3. The CNF was, however, removed from the Green Belt with the explicit purpose of it being developed. The purpose of being 'reserved' was to ensure that the supply of development land to meet the 'essential needs' of Cambridge was not used up in a short period of time for uses that did not need to be located close to Cambridge. Now that the prospect of sub-regional shopping has been removed, it is realistic to consider less valuable but no less essential development to meet the needs of Cambridge.
  4. The Draft RPG proposes that a review of the Green Belt be carried out earlier than would have normally been the case and there is now the prospect of additional land being removed from the Green Belt elsewhere on the periphery of the City.

New package of proposals and urban design/masterplan principles

  1. The 2nd CNF study identified a range of uses which would be acceptable within the CNF. These included sub-regional shopping, leisure/recreation, housing and ancillary uses, high technology R&D, general employment, emergency services, park & ride, railway station and sewage works. The development strategy which was put together from these uses was very much based on the sub-regional shopping development anticipated in the 1995 Structure Plan.
  2. The starting point for any new study will be to consider afresh the package of uses. Sub-Regional shopping will no longer qualify and the need for leisure/recreation may also need to be re-considered in the light of the proposals for the Cattle Market.
  3. It is also appropriate to re-consider the strategy in the light of findings of the Public Inquiry into sub-regional shopping development. The Inquiry occasioned a very thorough investigation of the feasibility of development in the CNF. In particular, it highlighted the high cost of transport infrastructure for uses which are major traffic attractors.
  4. PPG3 and RPG6 suggest that housing should have a higher priority than was given in the 2nd CNF strategy. However, the environment of the CNF which is dominated by the A14 poses a particular challenge for residential development and it will be necessary to work up design options in order to test whether a satisfactory residential environment can be created. Other options could include re-locating existing uses from elsewhere in Cambridge provided that any vacated sites could be redeveloped for housing or other 'essential need' uses. This would also provide a particular challenge for the CNF if the necessary quality of development on this edge of the city is to be achieved.
  5. In the context of the current review of the South Cambridgeshire Local Plan, new housing allocations in the CNF may enable the removal of less sustainable development proposals in some of the smaller villages in the District.

Work with landowner interests

  1. One of the valuable experiences of the last joint working was working with Anglia Water and Railtrack on the feasibility aspects of the emerging development strategy. That work was based on a series of officer meetings and was kept entirely separate from the decision-making process. There are skills that will be needed, particularly in urban design to assist in the testing of appropriate land use packages and it may again be possible to work with landowners on feasibility testing. Public consultation at Proposed Modifications stage of SCDC Local Plan
  2. In developing any strategy, the objective would be to consult widely before reaching any decisions. In the time available to South Cambridgeshire this will prove extremely difficult and it is therefore proposed that consultation take place in two stages linked to the development plan process. An initial consultation on the overall priorities for the CNF could take place in January to March 2001 in parallel with or as part of consultation on Structure Plan Review. A more detailed consultation on the strategy could take place towards the end of 2001/early 2002 with the benefit of its Local Plan Inquiry Inspector's recommendations at the Proposed Modifications Stage of the South Cambridgeshire Local Plan.

Develop a preferred strategy

  1. The objective will be to produce a new development strategy for the whole of the CNF. However, the CNF can still be considered in two parts, east and west of the St. Ives railway line which bisects it. East of the St. Ives railway, the remaining land available is the 'brownfield' redevelopment of Chesterton Sidings and Cambridge STW adjoining the Kings Lynn/London railway line. West of the St. Ives railway line all of the land is 'greenfield' as far westwards as Histon Road.
  2. In producing a new strategy which could be implemented at least in part by the year 2006, it will be important to balance the objective of securing redevelopment of the 'brownfield' land with meeting the essential development needs of Cambridge in the short term. It will therefore be necessary to take a realistic view of the timescale necessary to bring forward the 'brownfield' land at the eastern end of the CNF as well as putting together a suitable package of 'essential need' uses. If the package of uses for the eastern end is to consist of major traffic attractors (whether by car of by other modes such as train, bus, cycling and walking) it must be able to fund the high cost of transport infrastructure. Alternatively the package could provide for low intensity uses which will be less demanding in terms of investment in new transport infrastructure.
  3. Development at the western end of the CNF is less constrained but nevertheless similar considerations are likely to be important. However, the land in the vicinity of Arbury Camp being 'greenfield' is available for development now and in the timescale of just 6 years to the expiry of the 1995 Structure Plan and the current review of the South Cambridgeshire Local Plan, development here may be more realistic in the short-term. The Council 's should therefore investigate how this land could be brought forward for development at the earliest opportunity.

Financial Implications

  1. There is no specific budget for this project. The most significant cost will be public consultation which it is proposed will be undertaken by the County Council during the current financial year.

Legal Implications

  1. None.

Staffing Implications

  1. This project will require officers to divert resources from the 2nd Local Plan review which will begin in earnest in September. However, it is unavoidable either as part of the working on the Structure Plan review or progressing the current review of the Local Plan through the Public Local Inquiry.

Sustainability Implications

  1. Very significant indeed. In terms of the advice in PPG3 “Housing”, the Cambridge Northern Fringe is the most sustainable location for development in South Cambridgeshire.


  1. Cambridgeshire County and Cambridge City Councils have been consulted through the medium of the Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire Environment and Transport Joint Strategic Forum.


  1. Unless the local authorities are to convince the Inspector who will hear objections into the South Cambridgeshire Local Plan in February next year that the existing strategy which sees much of the CNF kept in reserve until after 2006 is robust, then re-visiting the CNF strategy is an inevitable priority. There can be little doubt that the land in the CNF is a valuable resource and it is important that the local planning authorities agree a development strategy which facilitates rather than frustrates the objective of making the best use of the CNF and provides for the essential development needs of Cambridge.


  1. That the three Council represented on the Joint Strategic Forum work together to produce a revised development strategy for the Cambridge Northern Fringe by the end of 2000 and that the Forum provides the necessary guidance for officer working and for progress towards adoption by the three local planning authorities.

Background Papers: the following background papers were used in the preparation of this report: CNF Strategy 1996. Cambridgeshire Structure Plan 1995. South Cambridgeshire Local Plan 1993, Deposit 1999, Proposed Changes 1999.

Contact Officer: Keith Miles (Development Plan Manager)