What should the role of local historians be in the local planning process?

Because if expensive consultants get things wrong, the impact on future plans could be significant.

It stems from this.

You can read the full report for the city & district councils here. The quotation concerned in on p118.

What was claimed
What actually happened

Throughout the early 1980s, the continued decline in the provision of music venues and youth entertainment venues led to protests from teenagers and young people. The failure to stop the decline resulted in them literally having a riot in 1985 – one that saw police put in hospital and several hauled before magistrates.

Above – Cambridge Evening News, 02 Dec 1985, from the Cambs Collection.

What followed in the 1990s was part of my teenage history. It was my lived history, and it does not correspond with the statement of ‘Cambridge having an active night club scene meeting the needs of local residents…etc’.

Which then makes me think about the importance of oral histories – something that The Junction was trying to make something of before the pandemic struck.

The Greater Cambridge emerging local plan 2030-41

You can read my various blogposts on this here. Alternatively you can dive straight into the council’s pages here.

What is significant this time around is both Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire – working together as Greater Cambridge for planning purposes – have commissioned an extensive evidence base from third party organisations. Generally these are specialists in their fields and they go through official tendering processes in order to secure the work. There is good reason for this. With the previous local plan, developers and their expensively-commissioned representatives bombarded the first draft local plan to the extent that the Planning Inspectors found the housing supply to be ‘unsound’ – which meant they had to go back through the expensive process of hearings and more before the 2018 report was signed off. By commissioning a far greater and deeper evidence base, this risk is substantially reduced.

Getting the history wrong

By getting the history incorrect, decision-makers risk making ill-informed decisions that could have a knock-on impact later on down the line. For example if they were to assume that we had always had an active nightclub scene meeting the needs of residents and students, then such an assumption might lead to a view that we did not need any more such venues. A significant call to make if you are deciding on the planning framework of a settlement for the next decade-but-one.

That’s not to say even the next ten years are going to be easy to predict. No one really knows how society is going to emerge from the pandemic, let alone what we face this coming winter beyond the dire predictions that ministers seem to be dismissive of. We don’t know what the long term impact of the pandemic will be on the arts and leisure industries. How many will have been lost for good? Which ones can and will bounce back?

The study also made some very sweeping statements about the next generations coming up: Millennials and the new Generation Z.

I think all of these are worth further investigation and testing locally to see what if any anomalies there are. Because I predict there will be more than a few in there based on a while host of different lines:

  • Social class
  • Family income
  • Heritage/ethnicities
  • Religion
  • Neighbourhood of residence (location, geography (urban/rural etc)
  • Tenure of housing
  • Stability/frequency of house moves
  • Gender and sexuality
  • Educational attainment
  • Disabilities
  • Connectivity/internet access

….and more

What is Cambridge currently like? What are our surrounding towns and villages were like? How did they become what they are today?

This matters.

This matters because some of the proposed changes that developers have been preparing in the background might come as a surprise to the people that live there. Look at the second half of this blogpost and you’ll see links to some very large proposals that most people have not heard about.

Above – from the site submissions map here. Anything in red or purple indicates where a developer has made a bit for land to be included for building on post-2030. Note the very large plots east of Cherry Hinton, and north of Fulbourn.

Above – Cambridge North East. Below: Land north of Station Road – all of those Victorian villa? Them.

There are a number of options for the above.

…and one of them involves demolishing the lot of them to make way for Brookgate-style offices of the type currently going up on the opposite site – replacing the 1960s/1970s blocks that replaced the original Victorian villas. Some of you will remember the furore around Wilton Terrace, which was demolished because the community was (for whatever reason) unaware of the outline planning permission process that effectively granted the developers permission to demolish the building long before they had decided what would replace it. (Hence when that later planning permission was submitted and then rejected by councillors on the planning committee (due to *very heavy community lobbying* – as is their right), the developers easily won on appeal, leaving the city council with a £250,000 bill. The whole episode reflected a broken planning system and broken structure of local government for me).

If you already have concerns having browsed the maps, get in touch with your local councillors (https://www.writetothem.com/) – but don’t just ask them to do something, offer some practical help too.

Why the councils should commission local historians to produce updated histories for the villages, towns, and even Cambridge (the town side) itself

It’s worth noting that such a book would be more along the lines of what Peter Bryan wrote here, rather than what I envisage in my own work. The details of what the women who made modern Cambridge got up to in their lives and times is not relevant background information for a new local plan – unless they were involved in the planning and construction of new neighbourhoods that are scoped for demolition and major change. (It might happen in the future for the likes of Mrs Dorothy Stevenson & friends).

It’s more important for the villages facing large and sometimes speculative development bids. The local planning process has already indicated which ones they are. In particular will be how the villages have expanded over time, what amenities have come and gone, and why. This will help tell the story of how the villages got to where they are today, and what pressures they currently face beyond housing. This matters due to the climate emergency, when an automobile-based lifestyle fuelled by hydrocarbons will not be possible. Therefore part of the story might be the re-opening of village-based services which declined in the face of rising car use. But that’s up to the historians and local residents to tell that story.

Creating a new, small revenue stream for the local history community while informing residents new to the area the story of their new homes

While formal documents can be submitted to Greater Cambridge Planning, there’s nothing to stop the local history community seeking grant funding to produced published local histories – perhaps part of a formal series, that can be used to raise the profile of local history generally as well as creating a new revenue stream. Furthermore, with the creating of significant new settlements that a few decades ago did not exist, who is writing their local histories?

Food for thought?

Supporting my future research on the story of Cambridge the town

If you enjoyed this article and are interested in the history of Cambridge the town and the people who made our modern city, please support my research in bringing their records of achievement to wider audiences. Click here if you would like to make a donation or take out a small subscription to support my ongoing work.

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