When I get round to writing that musical on the history of Cambridge the town, I’m having a scene with Gordon Logie, Cambridge City Council’s principal architect singing about his future plans to the tune of Year 3000 by Busted.
Above – Busted.
Ages ago I convinced myself that one of the best ways to embed the history of Cambridge town into our civic and collective memories would be to write a musical aimed at secondary schools that they could produce and perform themselves. Part of that history includes the visions that our predecessors had for what was the future for them – and now the past for us.
One of the reasons why it’s useful for today’s policy makers to look at past attempts to solve persistent problems is because we get a sense of what didn’t work and why – the benefit of hindsight. Take the map:
Above – from the Cambridgeshire Collection’s Newspaper Cuttings on town planning – folder 1, from July 1966.
It’s a multi-page supplement which you can see at the Cambridgeshire Collection in the Cambridge Central Library.
Predicting the future – especially the distant future, is very difficult. Though we try – see my previous blogposts on Cambridge 2050, and Cambridge 2065. Such things have to be regularly refreshed because of historical forks in the road that go off in unexpected directions. The EU Referendum result turned some of the Cambridge 2065 predictions from the great and the good in 2015 on their head. I went for a radical assumption of Corbyn winning a general election before being turfed out after a couple of years with my 2050 post. None of us dared to predict a global pandemic or even the climate emergency getting out of control. Which it still is.
“Where’s my Go-kart track?!?”
Possibly somewhere outside the city where the land is cheaper!
Big assumption (all predictions have them) is on present trends. His other five factors were:
- The relaxation of the city’s employment policy (which banned heavy industry from locating to the city)
- Improvement of road and rail facilities (we went in the opposite direction on rail)
- Continued growth of Cambridge University along present lines (If anything it has accelerated)
- The growth of car ownership to the maximum (which we’ve reached)
- Population growth in and around the city following its present pattern (in which he was broadly correct)
What stopped Logie?
One thing I really admire about Mr Logie was his ambition for our city. The more I read about him, the more I come to the conclusion that it wasn’t so much the civic opposition that floored him in the end – from Dr Alice Roughton and friends (on which there is a master’s thesis waiting to be written about her and the Cambridge Civic Society), but rather the utterly broken system of local government that put city, county, and University at loggerheads. No one could have succeeded in such an adversarial structure in the face of the huge economic and social changes he faced. The depressing thing now is we are repeating those same mistakes because of our broken governance structures. Note in those days Cambridge was still a predominantly Conservative city, but with a large and growing Labour presence. The Liberal/LibDem revival didn’t really begin until the 1980s.
Logie’s ambition for sports, arts, and leisure facilities
The town planning model imposed on us by central government – in particular since 2010 is one that requires most facilities to be paid for from developer contributions, lottery funding, or from charitable or private donations. It’s a model unrecognisable compared to what Mr Logie had to deal with – one where local councils had to submit lists of capital projects to be approved by Central Governments because not just tight finances but also exchange rate controls in the last years of the Bretton Woods system. That said, when your time frame is half a century, you can be more flexible.
At the time there were sites available that are not available now. These include:
- The chalk pits at the old cement works, now Burnside Lakes nature reserve/angling lake, (and subject of a major planning application) off Coldham’s Lane, which Mr Logie said could be used as a car/go-kart/motorcycle track
- The Chalk Pits on Lime Kiln Hill (now nature reserves) as a climbing wall
- A Lido for Coldham’s Common – which would have been an upgrade of the then Abbey Outdoor Pool – we put a roof on it in 1991 as Chris Elliott describes in this history of the venue.
- Large district playgrounds at Cherry Hinton (Sorry, we built houses on it), between Arbury and Histon/Impington (Sorry, The Transport Secretary built the A45/A14, and then Cambridge University built Darwin Green), and at Trumpington towards Shelford (which we got a bit of, but much depends on how far the Cambridge Biomedical Campus will be allowed to expand).
- A large yachting area/inland bathing centre along the River Cam (which sounds a lot like https://www.cambridgesportlakes.org.uk/ )
The role of the Citizen
There is a particularly lovely statement in the piece on how citizens can influence institutions.
“The public should play its full part in any discussion on the future of Cambridge. Planning is for the people. It is their future which is being decided, and everyone, from school children to septuagenarians should be made aware by every possible means of what the facts are and of the problems which must be faced in the future.”
“***How many*** main aims?!?!”
...which is far too many.
Have them as desirables but with that many you inevitably get some that are incompatible. And some have multiple objectives built in.
- Maintain and improve the amenities of Cambridge and to enhance the character as a University town
- Foster Cambridge as a regional centre for
- professional advice
- banking and commerce
- Foster the national function as an ‘ideas centre’ – i.e. R&D, innovation and so on
- Widen employment opportunities (Cambridge had a big unemployment problem at the time like elsewhere) while discouraging large, mass production industries
- Encourage a wide variety of residential environments
- Make land available for housing – council, private developer, & self-build
- To plan all new housing in the form of traffic free environments and exclude through traffic (hence cul-de-sacs)
- Raise housing standards incl accepting Parker Morris standards
- Renovate existing housing
- Improve workspaces and move badly-sited industries
- Improve shopping facilities by extending the retail centre (hence The Grafton) and parking facilities (hence multi-storey car parks)
- Establish a unified system of public and private transport, and a provision of a separate system of cycleways and footpaths
- Conserve and extend parks, commons and other open spaces, & release their full potential for sport & recreation – and link them to continual varied belts of open space (Cambridge’s Green Lungs)
- Plan new homes around a system of local open spaces, footpaths, and children’s play areas
- Provide space for schools which can be future-proofed for policy changes (anticipating abolition of 11+ and removal of gender segregation)
- Provision for all leisure activities
- Attain a high standard of urban design, architecture, and landscaping (Sorry, failed and still failing)
- Use planning to help the efficient delivery of public services
The maps are what interest people
In my experience when I’ve taken large historical maps to public events.
This is what one Cambridge Daily News Correspondent interpreted from Mr Logie’s plans. Note that northern bypass.
There’s a historical and political explanation on why the gap between Cherry Hinton and the rest of the city was not maintained. As it is, it seems inevitable on present trends that Fulbourn will be swallowed up by the expanding city. Note the road construction assumed too. Nothing allowed to stand in the way, so:
- The middle spine road linking Trumpington Road, Brooklands Avenue, ploughing through the suburbs either side of Mill Road onto East Road, over Elizabeth Way Bridge and onto Milton Road
- The Eastern Ring Road linking Addenbrooke’s to Barnwell Road (completed), then the dual carriageway flyover across Stourbridge Common and the River Cam (not completed) onto Milton Road.
- The road across Coe Fen linking Brooklands Avenue to Barton Road and Newnham
Mr Logie with a big map
In the end time ran out for Mr Logie and he retired on health grounds.
Sadly we seem to have gotten the worst of his ideas and not the best of them. We didn’t get his concert halls or leisure facilities, but we got more traffic and big car parks. Retail became a much bigger feature of the centre than originally planned.
Furthermore, his proposals for road bypasses were swept aside by much grander schemes from national government – the dual carriage way of the A45, now A14, and also the M11 formed the northern and western bypasses.
Now that we are in the era of a climate emergency, and with people’s value’s changing sharply in the face of the pandemic lockdowns, is now the time to re-examine the better ideas of Mr Logie and incorporate them into our future plans?
I’ll leave that one open for now as there is still more to discover of his work
Supporting my future research on the story of Cambridge the town
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