Keeping Marshall Flying at Cambridge – A Walk Around the Airport

Monday, November 16th, 2009. 1:56am

More than 50 People Joined a Walk Around Marshall Airport in Cambridge on the 15th of November to Express Support for the Company Continuing to Fly from the Airport.

More than 50 People Joined a Walk Around Marshall Airport in Cambridge on the 15th of November to Express Support for the Company Continuing to Fly from the Airport.

On Sunday the 15th of November I joined a group of over fifty people who walked around Marshall Airport in Cambridge to show support for the company carrying on flying from the airport. It was a fabulously warm and sunny day despite it being mid-November.

Marshall is a fantastic company, which I think is clearly a huge asset to both Cambridge and the UK. I find it absolutely shocking that many of our current elected representatives are pushing for the airport site to be taken over by homes, and that councils are considering things such as a congestion charge and a business rate supplement which will be damaging to this valuable organisation. I think the city needs to be working together with all businesses to make Cambridge an attractive and prosperous place.

Locally the main proponents of building homes on the airport site are the city’s Liberal Democrats, particularly Sian Reid their Executive Councillor for Climate Change and Growth (who also spearheads the City Lib Dem’s campaign against upgrading the A14). The Local Labour Party organised the walk around; they are strong supporters of the Marshall business and those who work there. All three main parties have had some role to play in bringing the current situation about, with the Labour Government’s housing policy as embraced by the Conservative County Council being a major factor in the process.

It is Liberal Democrat policy to build new homes on the outskirts of the city in developments like Arbury Park, and they appear happy to push Marshall out. The Liberal Democrat position, as expressed at the October City Council Full Council Meeting, and at a recent parliamentary hustings is that “No one is forcing Marshall to move” and that “Marshall are in the driving seat with respect to the future plans”. Marshall have in turn stated that they will act in their own interests and will not be pushed. However by including the airport site in the Local Plan the Liberal Democrats have increased the value of the land, at the recent parliamentary hustings Ian Nimmo-Smith stated that the airport site is now worth £1.5 billion. It is the opportunity to realise this potential value from the land which could result in Marshall making a commercial decision to move out of the city. Despite a century of close connections with the city the company may also decide it doesn’t want to base its operations somewhere where, judging by the actions those who residents have elected to represent them, they appear not to be wanted.

Letters between Marshall and Cambridgeshire Horizons reveal that Marshall has been conducting a UK wide search into possible sites for relocating its business.

I spotted Daniel Zeichner towards the end of the walk. Having listened to him speak at the recent hustings event I concluded he was largely in support of the current government policy on housing targets (though he has opposed, quite rightly in my view, the introduction of private companies to provide social housing). I agree with his comments on Cambridge East in that transport infrastructure needs to be at the heart of proposals for new housing developments, and that hasn’t been the case with respect to the airport site.

Councillor Dryden, City Councillor for Cherry Hinton (centre), Posed for Press Photographers.

Councillor Dryden, City Councillor for Cherry Hinton (centre), Joined A Group Posing for Press Photographers.

Cambridge East Delivery Board

A secretive organisation called the Cambridge East Delivery Board has been set up to manage the “project” of building houses on the airport site. This organisation does not meet in public, it doesn’t publish the details of its meetings and is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. As Cambridge City Council is represented on the board I used mySociety’s freedom of information site to ask the council for details of the board’s meetings. As a result papers (agenda, minutes, reports) for all meetings of the Cambridge East Delivery Board since its inauguration in June 2008 have now been made available online. The project appears to have been going slowly as only three meetings have been held despite a more rapid pace being intended.

One item revealed in the latter papers is a proposal for an Arts and Cultural centre comparable with the Bournemouth International Centre to be included in the plans. This may have been introduced in response to the Conservative party’s policy, as expressed by local ex-Candidate Richard Normington, to bribe areas to accept housing development in return for such “facilities”. The cultural centre could be intended as an attempt to keep the plans to build on the airport alive if the Conservatives enter government and enact their policies.

Marshall Debate at the City Council

Introducing a motion at the October Full Council meeting Cllr Dryden highlighted some facts about the Marshall workforce:

  • Twenty Five families have given the company a combined service of more than 100 years; with one family clocking up a combined 210 years
  • A quarter of the workforce is under 30, and 600 are under 25

Cllr Dryden also praised the quality of the training Marshall gives its staff and the work the company does in the city, for example in schools.

The whole council, including rather cynically the Liberal Democrats, unanimously agreed with the part of the motion which stated:

The Council congratulates Marshall of Cambridge on their centenary on 1st October 2009 and resolves to write to Mr Michael Marshall to thank the Marshall Group for their continued contributions to the city including operating successful Cambridge engineering businesses, providing much needed local jobs and apprenticeships, and also to pass on our best wishes for their next century as a major Cambridge employer.

During the debate at the full council meeting Cllr Ward (Arbury, Liberal Democrat), who flies private planes from the airport as a hobby, stated that should Marshall leave the airport site the elements of their operation which do not depend on the airport, will remain in the city. I wrote to him to ask:

Do you have any basis for making those comments? What fraction of jobs at Marshall do you expect to remain in the city if your party’s policies come to fruition and houses are built on the airport?

He replied :

I have heard no suggestion that Marshall intend to move either the car businesses or the aerospace design business (which consists largely of people sitting in offices doing things with computers). (Just because there’s a line drawn round an area for planning purposes does *not* mean that everything pre-existing inside the line will be demolished.)

They have already moved the specialist vehicle businesses, as I understand it, and there is a proposal to move those businesses that rely on having a runway.

There are no doubt other parts of the Marshall empire with which I am not familiar.

Queen’s Visit

During the walk the airport was swarming with police checking and sealing the drains. This activity is due to the fact the Queen will be flying into Marshall Airport on Thursday the 19th of October November to visit Cambridge University. The Queen is visiting the university as part of the 800th Anniversary Celebrations, and she will upgrade the “Professorship of Botany” to the “Regius Professorship of Botany” while she is in the city. The effect of that will be that appointments to the post will no longer be made independently within the university but will be subject to approval by the monarch. (I think the university ought be a democratic, self-governing, institution and this is a step, albeit a ceremonial step, in the wrong direction.)

More details of the Queen’s Visit..

Planes Flew Over Those Walking Around Marshall Airport in Cambridge on the 15th of November to Express Support for the Company Continuing to Fly from the Airport.

Planes Flew Over Those Walking Around Marshall Airport in Cambridge on the 15th of November to Express Support for the Company Continuing to Fly from the Airport.

My Views

Building poor quality homes on the outskirts of the city does not make housing more affordable across the city. Property at Arbury Park is currently sitting unsold but the few properties in the rest of the city which do come on the market sell rapidly, this shows the new homes at Arbury Park have not effectivly increased the supply of property in the city; two different parallel markets are in operation. Subsidising housing, as much of the property at Orchard/Arbury is has effect of artificially raising underlying property prices and making housing less accessible and affordable overall. We need to focus reducing house prices as a multiple of income. One way to do that is through education and changing individuals attitude to debt and reducing people’s willingness to take on large mortgages.

I would like to see:

  • Higher quality housing being built. There’s a need to build homes which are attractive and practical places to live and are economically and energy efficient.
  • Better financial education, aimed at changing national attitudes to debt.
  • In term of Cambridge I think high density development closer to the City Centre; say on the industrial and retail sites off Coldhams Lane (the Beehive centre) would be preferable to building on the airport.
  • Housing growth should be focused where there is an economic need for it, and ought be accompanied by central Government transport infrastructure investment.

See also

15 comments/updates on “Keeping Marshall Flying at Cambridge – A Walk Around the Airport

  1. David Vincent

    The Queen is HM. The other royals, by and large, are HRH, so there might well be the odd HRH accompanying HM (for instance, I assume, heath permitting, HRH the Duke of Edinburgh Philip will be along, given his ceremonial position within the University).

  2. Richard Article author

    The Cambridge News has an article on the event. Liberal Democrat Councillor Nichola Harrison is quoted as being in support of the plans to build houses on the site. She argues, bizarrely in my view, that those who will benefit are people already living on the East side of the city. She is quoted as saying:

    Cambridge’s eastern area is currently of poor quality with a lack of facilities and services. This development, which has been in the pipeline for years, would bring huge advantages to the area, as well as catering for the city’s desperate need for more housing.

  3. Martin

    “Property at Arbury Park is currently sitting unsold but the few properties
    in the rest of the city which do come on the market sell rapidly, this
    shows the new homes at Arbury Park have not effectivly increased the supply
    of property in the city; two different parallel markets are in operation.”

    Not necessarily; a significant factor with regards to Arbury/Orchard Park
    is the quality of what has been built, not least the obviously unfinished
    nature of the development, and other aspects, like the hugely unattractive
    way in which King’s Hedges cuts it off. Had the development been
    implemented better, it could be a lot more attractive, and there is surely
    every possibility that a Cambridge East development, if it were to go
    ahead, could have high construction and community standards, as could many
    other developments, if the policies and will are in place.

  4. Richard Article author

    Martin, I think we’re agreeing. I agree the problems with Arbury Park ought be addressed in future developments. A focus on transport and quality of life are critical.

    It is possible to build houses within and around the edge of the city which will be attractive and practical places to live, and which people would be prepared to spend their own money buying. That’s not what we’re currently seeing though. With respect to the airport site the process is in too early a stage to see what quality of homes, transport infrastructure, employment opportunities and community facilities will be included in the plans, but I don’t want to see a repeat of Arbury Park and I’ve not seen any evidence the Liberal Democrats do have the will to put policies in place to ensure the developments they’re supporting around the city are high quality practical places to live.

    In one of the sections of my article on the Parliamentary Hustings focusing on Growth where I expressed my own views I wrote:

    Building new houses can, in my view, affect market prices but only if it is good quality, both in terms of the build and location. Poor quality housing won’t affect house prices outside new developemts; high quality well located new homes will. I think there needs to be care taken with the provision of social housing and shared ownership that they are not pursued at the expense making properties on the open market more affordable. I do not think that it is good for society to have too great a proportion of social housing. In addition to their affect on market prices they reduce people’s mobility to the determent of the national economy.
    The current cost of a home as multiple of salary is a figure which needs to be brought down; housing supply is only one small variable affecting this, the easy availability of credit, and the willingness of people to take on debt is another very significant factor which also has to be tackled.

    I support placing new homes in the city. I think it would be better though if the highest density housing was in the city centre and don’t think the strategy of building blocks of flats on the outskirts is the way to go. Overall at Arbury park end result is a density less than we see in some of the very popular and desirable high density Victorian terraces of the city centre.

    Cllr Harrison has written a blog post expanding on the reasons she supports building homes on the airport. Her, and other Cambridge Liberal Democrats’, focus on social housing provision (she suggests a driver for the development is the “8,000 Cambridge people now on the waiting list for affordable housing here in the city”) is in my view a big part of the problem. I don’t think the state (or worse, public-private partnerships) ought be housing such a large proportion of the population, I don’t think that tackles the underlying problems at all and will take the country in the wrong direction.

    Cllr Harrison has ignored the fact that Marshall is looking UK wide for sites to relocate to. I think she has also either mis-understood or mis-represented Marshall’s intention with respect to the site, a site in which they are still making substantial investments.

  5. Neill Campbell

    Whilst it may well be that the City Council (whether under present LibDem or other control) would be happy for the airport to be turned over to housing *and in any event Central Government has set targets for each District Council to achieve in providing for new homes), Marshalls themselves for financial reasons are even keener and have been promoting development hard subject only to finding an alternative place from which to operate. In fact when the airfield was created (or expanded) in the 1930s it was on terms that if it ceased to be so used it would be used for housing land – at the the insistence of the Councillors then running Cambridge Council.

  6. David Vincent


    As an afterthought, what proportion of the overall housing stock do you think should be made up of “social housing”? In my own view, I think it would be valuable to return at least to the sort of proportions that pre-date the “right to buy” policy of the early 1980s (which removed some 5000 well-built homes in Cambridge City from the public sector – rather more than are likely to be included on a Marshalls’ site development).

    It seems a little too easy to suggest that social housing limits mobility of labour. Owner-occupation only encourages a one-way mobility of labour, from richer areas to poorer areas. How many owner-occupiers from the North of England can afford to sell up and buy in the South-East, for instance, except at the risk of the sort of crippling mortgage burdens that they are now trying to eliminate from the market?

  7. Richard Article author

    I don’t think the proportion of social / subsidised housing should be much greater in the new developments than it is on average in the rest of the city. ie. nearer 20% rather than the 50% which we have seen.

    More could be done to improve the ability of those in social housing to move than is being done

  8. David Vincent

    The general problem with “mobility” both within the UK and across the world, is that the population generally only wants to move from poorer areas to richer areas (such as Cambridge). Perfectly serviceable housing in parts of the north of England is being demolished, much of it council housing. Surely it be better to encourage job creation in those areas. rather than transporting the population to work elsewhere (leaving behind a workless residue). Making it “easier” for some social tenants to move to popular areas can generally only be done at the expense of delaying the housing of others who are already waiting for homes. On the more general point, I must disagree with you. I feel we need to move the proportion of owner-occupation to social renting back down to below 65%. That is bound to mean higher proportions of social housing in new developments, which will mean fighting developers. It should also mean a higher quality of property, since many of the “social” units are built to much higher specifications then the properties for sale. And the vast majority of social housing goes to those with existing connections with the area (hence the apparent tendency to discourage mobility). I am not sure the same is ever true of property built for sale. To that extent, the cohesion of the City is also better served by a higher proprtion of social housing. (Of course, as Cllr Dryden has pointed out, the cohesion of the City is also served by retaining its long-standing businesses and employers, such as Marshall).

  9. John Ionides

    David, your point about the north is valid but the difficulty is in implementing it (and I say this as someone who does not agree with cramming economic activity down in the SE). Housing is clearly an issue here. As long as you build housing to meet demand then you are just going to promote “fashion-driven” internal migration. My personal view is that overall it is better to keep new housing low in the SE and let market mechanisms rebalance internal migration , but then you have to accept that there will be people who would like to live in a place like Cambridge that can’t afford to.

    Of course, you can just try to pump cash directly into the north, but that approach has been tested to destruction (and not only by the current lot, although they have been particularly keen) and I see relatively little to show for it.

    What is unreasonable, though, is to expect to have it both ways i.e. to advocate high housing targets to meet demand in the SE and then complain that the north atrophies.

  10. John Ionides


    One of the scariest things I heard at the growth hustings was Nimmo-Smith’s description of Cambridge as an island “surrounded by agri-desert”. This suggests to me that he considers the area around Cambridge (presumably including the green belt?) to be intrinsically unproductive and ripe for development.

  11. David Vincent

    I think “agri-desert” is a very particular term, referring to over-industrialised, chemically intense forms of farming, which are not unproductive but certainly do not offer many local jobs or much by way of amenity (apart from open space). It may have been used in the context of Tony Juniper’s comments, where he was comparing organic farming, which can produce several jobs, with agribusinesses, which tend to have one chap in a combine harvester (who may just come in for the season).

  12. John Ionides

    No, it wasn’t being used in the context of Tony Juniper’s comments. I have nothing against organic farming (in fact I am quite a fan), but if you are going to take the yield hit then you have to look even more carefully at both land use and overall population – or face the fact that forest in some other part of the world is going to be cleared for your pleasure.

    And, in terms of the amenity, the “open space” element is quite considerable (well, I think so anyway and I don’t think I am by any means alone).

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