I attended a presentation / question and answer session this evening on the subject of a document entitled the “Arbury Park North Edge Design Brief”. It was reported the need for this document apparently has arisen as:
- There is an expectation among council officers that current planning applications in the north area of the Arbury Park site will be rejected by the planning inspector (central government).
- The previous design guide was not detailed enough in its treatment of the area to the north of the site.
The planning applications, described at the meeting as two commercial and four residential, which are expected to be refused presumably include:
- Erection of Commercial Units (B1 Use 5,142sqm) with Associated Parking and Infrastructure
- 182 Homes, all 171 of which are flats, many of which are in five story blocks, all right by the A14 in the North East Corner of the Arbury Park Site.
I, and apparantly many of those at the meeting, would agree with the decision if those applications were to be refused.
Key elements of the new design brief include office buildings which back on to the A14, one of which has a semi-circular element. Car parking requirements for the office buildings are to be met by a potentially “iconic” multi-story car park, as they would rather make the car park a feature than have lots of space wasted by open surface parking. A major consideration for the north of the site is to design and place the buildings in such a way so that they act as a noise barrier reducing the noise of the A14 on the rest of the site. One of the aims was to avoid the need for a noise reducing fence as the edge of Cambridge and the plan is for some of the existing fence to be removed. The fact that this is the edge of the city, and is viewed by lots of people as they travel on the A14 has been given significant importance.
The officers explained the role of a design guide – as a document which sits between the outline and full planning application and provides guidance in areas such as building heights and access for developers preparing full planning applications. Officers stated that South Cambridgeshire District Council have paid a large sum of money to Savills Urban Design in Cambridge to come up with this new document, it was not made clear exactly what Savills brief was and what information Savills had based their work on. The possibly of moving the industrial (office) area to the west of the site was discussed, and appeared to have much support from those present, but we were told this was not within the brief given to Savills.
The interesting points of the meeting came from the discussion element:
A member of the public asked about the effect of the proposed A14 widening on the acoustic profile of the area. The answer was surprising in that it was suggested it would be possible for the noise levels to reduce following widening if a quieter road surface was used. Lets hope our county councillors are on the ball enough to ensure such a noise reducing surface is specified when the time comes!
Councillors Mason and Davis were both very concerned about the prospect of residents living next to building sites, or on an uncompleted site for years. Council officers responded by pointing out planning permission expires if work is not started within a set period of time. The councillors responded by asking if developers could get around this problem by making a nominal start to development eg. by just excavating foundations then stopping there – officers indicated they could. Council officers pointed out that the major developers – Gallaghers had an interest in maintaining good relations with SCDC as they were also major developers for Northstowe – it appears officers are relying on this to maintain the pace of work on the Arbury Park Site.
A member of the public reported that he had been told by City Councillor Claire Blair that the City Council had sold the land it had owned in the North of the site. Mr Wallis of Unex and council officers said this was not the case. There had been a land swop agreed to square up sites, but no sale had yet taken place.
Asked why the new guidance was being published now, and was not included in earlier documents, SCDC officers explained that there had been a large amount of panic and hurry in the early stages of planning Arbury park due to deadlines which had to be met in order to get the central government grants required for the affordable housing elements of the project.
Following the discussion about the fence SCDC Cllr Mason explained that the current fence had been approved outside the normal planning process, and had not had been considered by local planning authorities. The fence was put up with following an agreement between the developers and the highways agency, under which the embankment was strengthened as needed for the extra lane on the A14 in return for the highways agency allowing the fence to be put on its land. This appeared to suggest that the embankment would not need moving, or making steeper during the road widening, however Cllr Mason (who claims over 30 years experience of dealing with the A14 embankments in this area as a democratic representative!) expressed concern about the lack of scale in the drawings showing the embankments.
Members of the public noted the emphasis on the commercial element of the site had now become entirely “offices”, with no light industrial units which have previously been considered. Officers did not provide a clear answer to the question of has there been a change here, and if the commercial element will now be just offices. Other members of the public questioned if there was a demand for more offices in the city. The Savills representative and council officers stressed the “flexibility” of the new commercial buildings, referring to them being on standard sized plots for example, but it was not clear to me at all what kind of uses, other than offices, they thought the buildings could be put to in the future.
The Savills representative presenting the report stated in response to a resident’s question that he was unaware that the road across the centre of the circle connecting Chariot Way and Circus Drive was accessible to traffic, he thought it was pedestrian / cycle only. Members of the public questioned the rationale of the single carriageway one way roads, all those present blamed the absent County Council Highways department and all condemned such “roads”. The safety of people in the residential area, especially roads such as the one across the circle, if they are to be used by people accessing the commercial area was a major concern raised.
I asked officers at the end of the meeting why the ‘Arbury Camp Design Guide’ (March 2007) and the ‘Arbury Park North end Detailed Design Brief’ (July 2008) were not currently available online. They blamed technical problems with SCDC’s website which meant they could not host such large documents, but said they would look into publishing lower resolution documents online. I thought the current lack of online availability was particularly appalling.
Officers reported that the next step would be to seek the approval of the SCDC executive councillor / portfolio holder for the design brief to give it some kind of official status.
Notice of the meeting was given to current residents of Arbury Park via a flyer distributed to all residents, I was sent a copy of the flyer by Nick Warren, who runs the website: www.insidearburypark.org.uk.
Officers invited comments on the new design brief to be made via email to major.developments – at – scambs.gov.uk though I’d rather trust the more widely publicised ; “planning at scambs.gov.uk” address.
Four SCDC officers including Mr John Pym (Planning Officer).
South Cambs Cllrs Mike Mason and Neil Davies
Steven Walsh Unex Technical Services – the promotor / major landowner for most of the strip of the site in question
A representative of Savills Cambridge
Around twelve members of the public.
Notably absent were any members of Cambridge City Council (Currently a Neighbouring Council, which probably take on the area following a boundary change), or Cambridgeshire County Council
My comments to SCDC following the meeting
Mr John Pym,
I attended the meeting on the “Arbury Park North Edge Design Brief” on Wednesday 30th July and as invited at that meeting I am writing to you with some comments and suggestions:
1. I would like to encourage you to make the documents distributed and displayed at the meeting available online so that they can be read more widely and you can invite more people to comment on them.
2. I would like to suggest you do not specify the stirling cycle racks listed on p.55 of the design brief as they do not provide adequate support for bikes. I would suggest instead a “simple Sheffield stand“.
3. I find stainless steel bollards hard to see while driving or cycling when against a background of a similarly colored grey road. I would suggest a prominent thick white white band be included.
4. There was talk of problems met with Arbury Park being learnt from in time for Northstowe, why not learn from the what’s been built so far on Arbury Park and make changes for the rest of the development? One example would be cable / duct provision for TV and Internet which is currently lacking. The need for better cycle friendly design is another.
5. The design brief for the commercial zone could be taken to potential commercial end users of the site for their comments, there are many associations of relevant businesses in the area.
6. I don’t think officers answered the question of if the intention is now for the commercial element (beyond the shops and hotel) of the Arbury Park site to be made up primarily of offices, rather than any light industrial units. This appeared to be a step change revealed both in the presentation given to the Cambridge City Council North Area Committee in June 2008 and this new design brief, yet officers equivocated when asked to confirm it at this evening’s meeting.
7. Could the possibility of moving some industrial (office) areas to the south west corner of the site be considered, with the aim of reducing the non-residential traffic though the residential area of the site as discussed at the meeting.
8. I think the question of: “How can the non-residential traffic be directed away from taking unsuitable paths though the residential areas?” ought be given consideration.
9. Officers stated at the meeting that it was possible for developers to make a nominal start working on a particular site so as to ensure their planning permission does not expire, but that the council has no ability to compel developers to finish building by a certain date. Is this really the case? (I don’t believe it is) Why can’t planning conditions be tightened up to include a timetable for completion?