Cambridge’s asks its residents to make a Blueprint for Cambridge after Parry Lewis is rejected by the councils

From the town planning news cuttings files in the Cambridgeshire Collection (which you can visit to see for yourself), in May 1975 Cambridgeshire County Council (which had more town planning powers for local planning than it does today) finally rejected the Parry Lewis report on Cambridge & the Sub-region. Their vote was based on a joint report from planning officers of Cambridge City Council and surrounding district councils along with the county’s planning officers.

There are dozens of categories in which previous generations of archivists prepared news cuttings – from village and city neighbourhoods, through to subject-specific files, Have a look via the Library’s online catalogue.

Civic campaign groups come out against Parry Lewis with concerns that mirror today’s concerns on the emerging local plan.

Above – do you plan for growth/jobs and build the homes around them, or the other way around? This was discussed by Cllr Sam Davies (Ind – Queen Edith’s) at the AGM of the Federation of Cambridge Residents’ Associations. This is not the only example of local history repeating itself.

Monster meeting at The Guildhall

The whole city was invited – and the language indicates that this sort of public consultation had never been done before.

Above – the meeting advertisement also indicates a document that would have been deposited in the Collection if not the county archive now at Ely. The Library catalogue confirms this.

For those you you interested in the wider county, see their online catalogue here.

When you look at what they examined, it was comprehensive. In the run-up to the meeting, the city council published this diagram of what it would cover.

Diagram listing housing, environment, community health, amenities, recreation, civic affairs as themes

Above – this matters in the context of contemporary Cambridge given the number of consultations on the city’s future. Councillors must ensure they are co-ordinated.

Conspicuous by its absence is any attempt to push for a unitary council – this was in part due to the issue being seen as ‘settled’ by the very recent national overhaul of local government that put Cambridge City Council into an enlarged Cambridgeshire County Council that included all of the current district councils plus Peterborough City Council. The latter would be hived off as a unitary council in the late 1990s following a period of rapid housing growth due to its designation as a third generation New Town.

Turn out in their masses they did

…and all they wanted to talk about were planning and roads – despite the Mayor’s best attempts to ensure all of the other topics were covered. Again, the newspaper reports shine a light onto how things look today. One of the residents on Rustat Road (which needs its name changing now that we know more about Mr Rustat), raised the issue of lorries driving up and down that road, making it unsafe for cyclists. Fast forward to the late 1980s and through-access to Mill Road was blocked as a new cycle bridge was completed, taking thousands of cycle journeys off Hills Road Bridge.

Above – at The Guildhall on 20 February 1975. Residents had about four months to read the detail.

History repeating itself. Again.

In an era of nationalised water companies – with regional water boards, the concern at the time was the lack of capacity in the water network to cope with the increase in sewage discharge that housing growth would bring. We’ve seen similar concerns today given the state of our chalk streams. In the case in the 1970s, the impact was immediate. And it happened only five months after the Blueprint for Cambridge meeting at The Guildhall.

Above – from 17 July 1975 in the Cambridge Evening News in the Cambs Collections Planning News Cuttings File 1971-79.

Left – the Anglian Water Authority (now the privatised Anglian Water) was able to get a moratorium on developments for over two years.

Above – Environmental campaigners in Cambridge have called for similar restrictions to be put on future developments until infrastructure to bring in new external water supplies has been completed. It’s not clear today which authority has the legal competency to bring this about.

Assessing the Blueprint in detail – by the Cambridge Evening News

It’s hard to envisage a local newspaper doing something like this today – simply because of The Internet/social media, and the much smaller numbers of employees to deliver this level of coverage vs the number of readers / percentage of the city covered. Yet for the Cambridge Evening News they really went for it.

Above – in a series that ran for over two weeks, the newspaper covered different themes in a very large, wordy format but one that had covered the policy detail with the proposal and implementation plan.

Above – from 04 December 1975 – these two bypasses were being discussed at a time when ministers were planning on a new dual carriageway across East Anglia (The A45, now the A14) and the extension of the M11 motorway. What is significant is how:

  1. There were proposals to have bypasses around Cambridge that originated from before World War II – in Davidge’s 1934 report,
  2. Nothing had been done of significance to build the bypasses over the next 40 years – yet traffic levels had increased so much in that time that instead of having the single-carriage ring roads, ministers ended up commissioning the M11 and A45/A14 roads as delays and the progress of time made the previous era’s proposals rapidly obsolete.

Housing

Housing policy is a central theme in the history of Cambridge the town – yet is not really featured prominently in the histories of the city when one considers the hours of debate and huge sums expended in building and improving the housing stock. The 1970s were no different.

…and this is relevant to today given that retrofitting has to be a major policy in the response to the climate emergency. Even more so in the face of both the present fuel shortages and the road blockage protests by the Insulate Britain collective. The context may have been slightly different – as a public health issue rather than a climate emergency issue, but the policy objectives were similar.

Sometimes history can kick councils in the collective proverbials

Fast forward to today and we find that a large country park in Arbury would have been ideal in the face of the ongoing pandemic.

This proposal was separate to the Milton Country Park which was achieved

Above – a much needed large Arbury Town Park was never designated. The land to the west has already been designated for future housing developments (Darwin Green) as the two images (from GMaps, and Cambridge City Council in December 2020 site update, respectively) below show.

Above – the available green space may be enough for residents in Darwin Green, but not for the people of Arbury to access. Furthermore, the A14 dual carriageway means the noise & pollution will remain without significant mitigation.

The Concert Hall Question

It never went away. To give the councillors their due, they made a reasonable go of it by turning an otherwise large open space that was the Corn Exchange into a modified concert hall.

Above – the Cambridge Corn Exchange from the Consultant’s Report in use as a badminton court. It was also a rollerskating hall for children – both of these functions lost as the consultants successfully made the case for converting the Corn Exchange into a concert hall which re-opened in 1986.

Despite the tough acoustics which took many attempts to resolve, the venue functioned as a popular site during the Indie/Britpop Live Music trend in the 1990s – in which I saw several gigs there. The problem now is that the venue is no longer big enough to attract first tier acts or large orchestras as the capacity is not large enough to generate enough revenue for such touring groups.

Which is why Gordon Logie was ultimately proved right in the longer term when in the mid-1960s he called for a Concert Hall with a capacity of over 2,500 people (The Corn Exchange is around 1,000 less / fewer).

Not forgetting the children and young people

Outside of the colleges and private schools, it’s difficult to think of any parts of Cambridge in and around the centre that have the large open spaces that Coldham’s Common has. Furthermore, less than a decade after the opening of the long-awaited large indoor pool at Parkside, Cambridge was designated as under-providing in swimming facilities. It still is. Which makes the University of Cambridge’s decision even more infuriating with its delay in building their much-anticipated swimming pool.

Above – interestingly they also covered the service provision for future children’s services – not just the bricks and mortar.

Building new community centres, and founding the community groups to use them

Something we take for granted today perhaps, but looking at the more recently-constructed developments, the community centres built feel too small for the communities they serve. Furthermore, when you compare the variety of buildings and functions with somewhere like Mill Road, Cambridge, vs the new estates all too often built by a single developer, the lack of diversity in the latter feels all the more painful.

Visiting the Cambridgeshire Collection to view the files yourself

First of all, please do so – as the staff need to demonstrate the visitor and user numbers to make the case for maintained/increased funding! Contact them here to make an appointment or just drop into the Central Library in Lion Yard. You can also ask them on how to make financial donations or volunteer to help in some of their archival work – especially digitising cataloguing things like card photographic databases.

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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