An architect's model of the North West project's first phaseRichard Chivers

The University Council is seeking to raise £600 million of external finance for “income-generating projects”, one of which is the construction of the next phase of a controversial real estate development.

Between half and two-thirds of the funds will be used to pay for the next phase of North West Cambridge, a £350 million project that has been heavily criticised for budget overruns. The rest will primarily be used to fund the redevelopment of the Royal Cambridge Hotel and the commercial development of the old Cambridge Assessment buildings and the Old Press Mill Lane site.

North West Cambridge, the University’s largest ever single-location investment, is a housing development expected to eventually become a £1 billion project. It was constructed to ensure that the university maintains its position as one of the world’s leading universities by providing affordable facilities to University staff and income to fund University activities.

The development is expected to include 3,000 homes, some of which will be subsidised housing for University workers. The first phase, which is called Eddington and was completed in phases between Autumn 2015 and Spring 2018, has seen the construction of 700 homes for University staff, 450 homes for the open market, 325 postgraduate rooms, a primary school, a community centre, retail units, and a number of key facilities.

The £350 million first phase came under fire in 2015 for projected budget overruns of £76.2 million, and that track record has spurred two University Councillors to oppose the Council’s aim to raise an additional £600 million.

The councillors explained their reservations in a note of dissent, which raised concerns about the track record of the North West Cambridge development and cautioned against risking the University’s AAA credit rating and burdening future generations with debt.

Dr Ross Anderson, who gave a speech to the University Council in 2015 blasting the North West Cambridge project for “haemorrhaging millions of pounds a month” was one of the two dissenters. He told Varsity that he opposes the new bond for the same reason he criticised the development before.


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“The reality is that we’re not much good as a property developer and there’s a grave risk that the money will be wasted, leaving future generations with a mountain of debt.

“Our priority should be to tackle what’s wrong with the existing Northwest Cambridge development. The grad students and postdocs who live there have many complaints. Some are about problems with facilities that can be fixed. The deeper problems are about cost. The flats there were very expensive to build and the current rents aren’t going to repay the first bond that we took out.”

Darshana Joshi, Graduate Union President, has similarly spoken out against the Council’s recommendation. Speaking to Varsity, she cited the track record of the first phase of North West Cambridge, and added: the University should instead “pay attention to the well-being of those students who have traditionally been sidelined and support them better to achieve their true potential,” particularly students with families.

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