The UK housing crisis and lessons from Cambridge



Eddington accommodation for university key workers, North West Cambridge (Photographed by Greg Holmes for Mecanoo Architects working for Cambridge University)



Future Cities Forum will be discussing the housing crisis at our Cambridge 'Science Cities' event this October.


The pausing of the UK government's planning reforms in England following criticism from Conservative MPs and the move to replace Robert Jenrick with Michael Gove as Minister for Housing, is creating a re-think on how to tackle the need to build 300,000 new homes a year.


Science cities such as Cambridge are under pressure to build new homes to accommodate the influx of new research talent moving in to the area as well as key workers who the country has relied so heavily on during the pandemic.


LDA Design's Director for Cambridge, Tom Perry, told Future Cities Forum that the city has been good over the decades for protecting its green belt land and restraining development, and now there will be a positive approach through design codes to concentrate on building community within developments as well as introducing natural habitats.


Julia Foster, Managing Partner at David Lock Associates, has been working on the Urban & Civic development six miles north of Cambridge – Waterbeach - where Urban & Civic are the hands-on developers alongside the Defence infrastructure Authority, who decided to re-purpose the former military base.


She joined our previous science cities discussions in Cambridge and told us:


'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. We do need a supra regional development authority to make it happen (across the Arc) – a strategic plan between developers and councils is missing at the moment and development is floundering across the east west corridor in the UK.


‘However, I am very enthusiastic about the creation of the new town Waterbeach that we are working on. The interesting thing is that we haven’t ‘master planned’ 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 – 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.’


Future Cities Forum interviewed Cambridge University's Head of Estates, Graham Matthews about an exemplary development at Eddington. Cambridge University has established a strategy to tackle the problem of housing shortage for university staff and key workers and has built a new community at Eddington, north west of the city but with transport links to the centre. Director of Estates, Graham Matthews told the forum that the mission of providing key worker housing was at the centre of its plan:


'When market housing is broadly out of reach, how do we attract talent, operational staff and researchers to work for us when most accommodation is quite a long way from the city.?


'We established a strategy to tackle this problem, to develop significant volumes of key worker housing. When the metro system is built, Eddington will only be a couple of stops to the centre. Three thousand small housing units are available with a substantial number for key workers and facilities for a complete community. It is built on a greenfield site with over 100,000 square meters of research space and graduate rooms, a community centre and hotel, a large care home, retail, a school and a nursery.


'The university adopted a carbon zero strategy for 2038 in its design. How to reduce carbon emissions from the 700 buildings that make up the university is a challenge but at Eddington, there were proposals from the outset for a low carbon estate. At the moment, all heating is on a district heating system and over the next 18 months we will move to a water heat pump solution. '


'The Eddington model can be transported to other cities. It is based on our research from around the world. But I would stress again that the important key here is community and place and integration of industry with commerce. Deriving our masterplan depended on community - otherwise it would have failed. Facilities must be put in ahead of the housing. We want to attract people out onto street and attract buzz.'


Join our discussions at our next 'Science Cities' forum in Cambridge next month.



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