Analysing Cambourne’s contemporary history

On the day the Census 2021 headline data is released, there is value in analysing what the plans for Cambourne stated in its early days vs what has actually been delivered, and what the further plans are.

Have a look at South Cambridgeshire’s results here. You can also see the results of other areas at https://census.gov.uk/census-2021-results

“In South Cambridgeshire, the population size has increased by 8.9%, from around 148,800 in 2011 to 162,000 in 2021. This is higher than the overall increase for England (6.6%)”

UK Census 2021

Cambridge City, Bedford, and Peterborough showed some of the largest population increases over the past decade.

Above – from the Census.

Cambourne’s growth meant it became a town council – see its website here. It has come a long way since the Masterplan of 1995 – which you can read here.

Above – the Cambourne Master Plan Report by Farrell & Co for McAlpine, May 1995. I was still at school at the time.

Fast forward and Dr Stephen Platt researched and wrote an evaluation on Cambourne in 2007, some 22 years later. The summary is here.

Above – Dr Platt’s summary: Lessons from Cambourne. Not sure what King’s College Chapel has to do with it.

I made my own observations in 2021 on my Cambridge Town Owl blog here – asking how Dr Platt’s conclusions could be applied to other new developments.

I noted from Dr Platt’s full report (which you can find by searching here)

There was also an evaluation event held in 2007 which was summarised here. The key themes that emerged in that 2007 workshop are ones that the residents of Cambourne might be interested in. Do the findings of each of the themes match their own lived experiences?

This matters because of the new developments in Cambourne, Northstowe, and Waterbeach Newtown.

Above – a quotation from the brochure for the western phase – which you can read here by Randall Thorp from 2018. In that document they quote the following will be delivered:

• 50 ha business park
• 6 primary schools, 2 secondary schools
• Sports centre, swimming pool
• Nursery school
• Health centre and library
• Vets and dentist
• Church, vicarage & burial ground
• Community buildings

• Care homes and assisted living

• 30% affordable housing
• Hotels and pub
• Police and fire stations
• Supermarket, local stores
• Beauty salons, pharmacy, hairdressers
• Take-a-ways, restaurants, bookies
• Dry cleaners, estate agents, building societies
• Skate board park, BMX track, MUGA
• 18 play areas
• 9 ha of allotments and community orchard

Above – Cambourne in G-Maps

Page 75 of the Randall Thorpe Brochure is particularly interesting as it lists further what will be delivered in terms of community infrastructure.

The quotation a few pages down makes for interesting reading – the actual line dating from 2010.

“Cambourne is what many consider to be a model Eco Town”

Landscape Institute Awards Nov 2010

I make no value judgement on the above because in order to do so I’d need to go there and spend time there to get a feel for it. And then do similar for other developments and make the comparisons.

It would make for a useful extended project for any young student out there: “To what extent is Cambourne a model Eco Town?” One thing to consider is what was considered a model Eco Town in 2010. (An early definition coming from Gordon Brown’s Government – one that was quietly dropped a few years later). Given the changing technologies, global and local events, and the changing political context means that what we think of as a sustainable town today won’t necessarily be the same as back in 2010. Some standards will have changed given the legislation tightening up on sustainability standards. Others things valued perhaps less back in 2010 but still incorporated, might be far more valuable now. Especially the things that get better with time – the maturing trees for example.

Documenting the changes for future generations

I often think of the old photographs regularly posted on the Fenland History Facebook Group by Mike Petty MBE and friends. At the time some of the photographs were taken, what we see as old housing was brand new at the time the photographs were taken. What was the context at the time of building those houses? Cambourne will make for a fascinating case study for future historians at a time of rapidly evolving building regulations as far as sustainability is concerned – in the same way that south of Cambridge railway station we can date the age of a community / neighbourhood by the architectural styles and the weathering of the brickwork we see. As well as looking at the old maps to corroborate what we see out and about.

What makes things interesting for me isn’t just the photographs and the maps, but the stories of the people who designed, shaped, promoted, opposed, built, moved into, and made the homes and communities.

For example, the District Council Results in 2022 for Cambourne which saw two new councillors elected for the Liberal Democrats in South Cambridgeshire – one at the expense of Labour, and one at the expense of the Conservatives, could have a significant impact on the town over the next four years. How will it be different to the previous four years? (Mindful that Cambourne did not have any representative seats on South Cambridgeshire District Council until 2018 – such has the pace of house building been that it now has three seats). Or is it the Town Councillors who will have the big impact over the next decade? Or someone who is outside party politics altogether?

Being a councillor isn’t easy. Has it gotten easier or harder over time? Have a browse through Councillors in Crisis here.

Above – Councillors in Crisis by Barron, Crawley & Wood, 1991 who analysed data from 1984-88 on the pressures of being a local councillor both as a public figure and on their private/family lives

I’m continually digitising old books to the Internet Archive that are decades and more old, keeping an eye out on what we can learn from previous generations. Most of the texts are older than me, and over half-a-century old. Yet more than a few of them have lots still to teach us. For example The Motor Car and Politics in Britain 1896-1971 tells us of the battles between early motorists and early cyclists, to the complaints from villages about clouds of dust kicked up by recklessly-driven cars, to the controversies of town planning. While the Blue Peter Green Book from 1990 allows us to compare what we knew in the last days of the Thatcher Government about the climate and ecological emergencies, and what politicians did – or did not do.

Above – never judge a book by its cover?

In the meantime, Thomas Sharp, the pioneer of modern town planning, reminds us of one of the development models – one that has been adopted by ministers for Cambridge: To protect the city by a green belt, and have housing growth in the towns and villages around it – linked by public transport. You can read it here in his book Town and Country from 1931. Fast Forward to the 1960s and we find Nathaniel Lichfield’s diagram on the right, in his Cost Benefit Analysis of Town Planning – the Case of Cambridge.

Above – did the politicians past and present forget to build the light rail? (If so, here’s one Cambridge Connect designed earlier!) And yet when we look at the Maps from the Royal Commission on Local Government in England 1966-69 (which you can download here) the possibility of having a light rail connecting Cambridge eith the existing surrounding towns looks more than enticing.

Above – you can read the Royal Commission summary attached to the map on the right, or if you want the root-and-branch overhaul of local government and can handle nearly 400 pages, have a look at the main report.

“Could we have had light rail and trams?”

The technology was there – have a look at this from 1944.

Above – the Light Rail Transport League – now the LRTA who you can find at https://www.lrta.org/

And they are still going.

Whichever mode of public transport you choose for your future, it helps to become more informed – whether your choice of public transport is trams, buses, or heavy rail.

Food for thought?

Whatever your views, do make your views known in the Local Transport and Connectivity Consultation that continues over the summer.

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


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