Master-planning new towns around 'Science Cities'

CGI of proposed Waterbeach new town development sites looking south towards Cambridge

What represents a best practice approach to creating new towns around 'science cities'? Future Cities Forum recently spoke to both Managing Director of developer Turnstone Estates, Chris Goldsmith, and to the Managing Partner of David Lock Associates, Julia Foster about the Waterbeach projects that will have a major impact on housing provision in Cambridgeshire.

Chris described how his firm’s partnership – the Waterbeach Development Company - with St. John’s College Cambridge and Royal London Asset Management aims to create a new town at Waterbeach, adjacent and complementary to the Urban & Civic project with the Infrastructure Defence Organisation to transform Waterbeach barracks and airfield. The Turnstone / RLW Estates project covers the local landowners Trust ownership part of the Waterbeach plan. The site has an allocation adopted in the South Cambridgeshire DC’s Local Plan in 2018, and RLW Estates has submitted an outline planning application for 4,500 homes, following the granting of planning permission for a new railway station.

Chris commented:

‘This is a settlement that will take 20 to 30 years to create and will be around for 300 years and things are going to change. Therefore, the ability to have a blank sheet to work on as a developer and planner is helpful – it allows you to think forward, though you won’t always get it right. We won’t have the internal combustion engine and the car in the way in which we are used to in 30 years’ time so the planning of the new town should recognise this. Will we be moving by Amazon drones? Things will be different.

'One of the important concepts on the east side of our Waterbeach site is that we don’t have a conventional car-based settlement planned. We will have a car ‘bahn’ set remotely from the town – in the same vein as Freiburg in Germany (which has twice as many cycles as cars now). Residents might have to pay for car room but you can plan the spaces for houses and not be worried about where the cars go and taking up valuable space. This will discourage people from taking the kids to school by car. This is something you can only do with a blank sheet in master-planning terms.

‘Oslo went too quickly on car removal so they are having to row back a bit. But the sort of people you will attract to this new town at Waterbeach, will get it. If they want a house with car attached, they might go to Cambourne instead.’

‘It’s a very long-term plan, with the value in the long term and we have created a development corporation partnership between Turnstone, St John’s College and Royal London. Others will join.

The house builder model of development since the war has sort of worked but it needs lots of separate levels of participation with profits taken along the way at each stage. We did some work in 2008 on how a development corporation could work and we realised that you could derive a superior net present value if you have an umbrella organisation at the top and then use house builders for what they are good at – making houses. LDA Design did an excellent master-plan as they don’t just start with the buildings, but the green spaces. We may well have architectural competitions in due course.

‘If it’s set up properly successive generations will continue to have ownership at Waterbeach – and that would be a form of success. It would be nice to work more collaboratively with the MoD - we worked jointly to promote the site up to 2014 and it was marked for comprehensive development. It has to be seen as one site. In time I think the whole lot will merge together, but it will require the government to change its land ownership approach. We have just completed the financial viability for planning application and it will go to committee in December 2020 and then we hope to move to delivery stage. We have full planning permission for a relocated rail station as it enables movement in a sustainable manner, good for the immediate locality and connecting to the new Addenbrookes and Biomedical campus at Cambridge South station, Cambridge Central, Cambridge North and further afield to new housing at Ely.

Julia Foster, Managing Partner at David Lock Associates, has also been working on Waterbeach. She is concerned by what she is beginning to hear about the new government planning suggestions in terms of preserving a certain quality of lifestyle in developments:

‘There may be serious implications to these new planning ideas, there is a lot to be concerned about and we need proper control over development. Quality of life should not be set aside in trying to meet the housing need. Homes, communities, education – this is the role of the public sector and it needs to put those things in place.

‘However, I am very enthusiastic about the creation of the new town at Waterbeach that we are working on. The interesting thing is that we haven’t ‘master planned’ the Urban & Civic part of Waterbeach in minute detail. We have illustrations and the key locations have been fixed. The parameter plan promotes what it needs to protect, in terms of noise control, local ecology and biodiversity and so on. We only have loose idea of where centres will be and connections. This is a good thing because the outline plan makes it flexible and simple. Behind it all is the work about impacts of this development – ecology and noise impact for instance – and all that work guides us into which parts can be developed in what way.

‘It is one of the most exciting projects I have worked on – a spectacular site with a lake so close to Cambridge with potential for density because the (residential and commercial) values are so great.’

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