Creating sustainable new settlements around science cities


(Pictured above at Newnham College Cambridge - from left: Julia Foster of David Lock Associates, Anna Strongman of Oxford University Development, Heather Fearfield of Future Cities Forum, Fred Pilbrow of Pilbrow & Partners, and Emma Cariaga of British Land with Martin Dougherty, COO of Wellcome Genome Campus in foreground)



We were very pleased that Julia Foster, Managing Partner at planning firm David Lock Associates was able to join our 'Science Cities and the Arc' forum at Newnham College, Cambridge, to speak about creating the sustainable developments and housing which are greatly needed in order to support the global success of Cambridge and other centres of high value R&D. She was was able to comment on the 'loose fit' planning of Waterbeach for Urban & Civic, which has planning consent for 6,500 new homes around a lake with four new schools on 716 acres six miles to the north of Cambridge, which she has been working on.


'It's a really important point to look at the difference between a framework and a series of local plans that are joined together. A framework can be flexible and it allows the local element to evolve. We can move and respond over a longer period of time without going back for approval for amendments. It's about getting the right level of certainty at the various tiers of planning. Waterbeach is a fine example of a significant strategic development in the absence of a strategic framework. It is very much supported by the local authority. We have worked for flexible consent in order to adapt. Arguably, if we had had a better spatial framework as a guide, we would not have to have had such a flexible approach to the Local Plan. We would have known what would happen on the A10 (road improvements), on East West Rail progress and also on the water availability predictions over 10 to 15 years.


‘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.’


Julia sat on our opening panel with the Chair of the OxCam Arc Expert Advisory Panel (Emma Cariaga of British Land), Anna Strongman, Chief Executive of Oxford University Development, and Fred Pilbrow of architects Pilbrow & Partners.


Fred Pilbrow then commented on best practice in consulting over new developments with the communities that they will impact:


'My experience has been working as an architect and during a period of increased densification in London. Where there are larger scale master plans the communities that are there may not have an established way of engaging with the proposed plans. It is important that younger people have a voice. We have been working at North Acton on a development for Imperial College London with a community review panel chaired by Frame. This panel has a mix of people and it has created an inspiring level of discourse on a complex and ambitious mixed-use scheme.


'Quite often around development there is opposition to change but by structuring the conversation around the design review panel with a formal report back we can have a much more effective consultation. As architects we need to communicate better, but at North Acton we have a virtual interactive model which allows people to experience the plans. We need to be accurate and open and these efforts will bring trust.'


'One of the key challenges for the Arc and for society is sustainability. We have done well on decarbonisation of energy but it's left transport as biggest carbon maker. Looking the Arc, how we address movement is a big part of the challenge. There have been strong arguments for bringing people closer to city centres near to social and transport infrastructure. The OxCam Arc aim of 1.1 million new homes means 360 square kilometres of development - at suburban densities - equivalent to eight Oxfords (!) - but that can't be the right way forward. We should explore higher density with a blend of new communities and sensitive infill.'


Emma Cariaga, Head of Residential at British Land, opened the forum by talking about the role of the government's OxCam Arc Expert Advisory Panel, which she chairs. She noted that Covid-19 has had an impact on the approach to counselling around planning for development across the Arc:


'Things have changed and it's vital that our listening to communities, businesses and local leadership, takes account of this change - how people may now expect to live and work. As we know, prosperity across the Arc is not felt by all, and even here in Cambridge there are significant areas of inequality. As growth happens we need to ensure that there is levelling-up.'


'Local leadership is vital in leading the initial ambition for the Arc. It is your Arc, it is your community and I would encourage you all to engage with it. The first public digital consultation of three planned by the government - closed yesterday.


'The spatial framework is a long term strategic plan to 2050. It is led by government but informed by engagement with local communities and local stakeholders.. It will have sustainability at its core and guide planning and investment decisions, resting on four policy pillars - the environment, the economy , connectivity and infrastructure, and place-making. It needs personality, it needs to create excitement and it needs to be something that you can all own and share.'


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