The North West Cambridge development, the University’s last major housing project, in 2019Louis Ashworth

The University of Cambridge, along with Corpus Christi College, Downing College, Jesus College and St. John’s College, have proposed a large new housing development in the south west of Cambridge.

The four Colleges, together with the University, form the North Barton Road Land Owners Group. Their proposed development follows a call by Cambridge City Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council for landowners to submit suggestions as they consider the future of the local area.

Their plans would see between 2,500 and 2,800 homes built on what is currently green belt land used for farming just south of the University’s West Cambridge site.

Real estate in Cambridge is expensive, with an average house price of around £450,000. Between October 2008 and September 2009, the University Accommodation Service received 6,780 requests for accommodation, with only 360 University units available.

At least 40% of homes in the development would be affordable housing, in accordance with City Council policy. The remaining houses would be used as accommodation for University students and staff, specialist housing for the elderly, or would be sold to the public. The development would include a new primary school, health centre and public square.

The North Barton Land Owners Group has proposed that over 50% of the site would remain as green space, with 49% being retained as green belt. They have said that “a significant among of green infrastructure” would be included in the development, including parks, sports pitches, green corridors, meadows and wetlands. The project would also involve the “rewilding” of Bin Brook.

A spokesperson for the Colleges involved told Varsity that “significant public access” would be “made available to the new open spaces being provided, including a substantial new country park”.


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“This contrasts with the existing situation with the land being in arable use with limited public access.”

They argue that the proposed location is “extremely sustainable”, easily accessible by foot, bike or public transport.

Speaking to Cambridgeshire Live, Jenny Raine, Corpus Christi’s bursar, said: “The vision for South West Cambridge is of a high-quality new neighbourhood that will provide the homes Cambridge needs in the most sustainable location.

“The new neighbourhood will also be at the forefront of environmental sustainability, both with respect to the homes that are built and the new, publicly accessible green spaces created.”

The Colleges’ spokesperson told Varsity that they understood that “development on Green Belt sites is a sensitive matter” but that Cambridge “has an acute affordability issue and development on this site will deliver up to 1,160 affordable homes in a highly sustainable location”.

The group is hosting a public webinar on 25th February for residents to speak to the developers and raise questions.

There has not yet been a formal planning application and it is unlikely that the full proposal will be agreed to by the local councils. The Colleges’ spokesperson said that, once begun, the development will take 10-15 years. However, the development must first be accepted as part of the Greater Cambridge Local Plan, which is not expected until 2024 or 2025.

The University is already heavily invested in the housebuilding industry. The North-West Cambridge Development, approved by the City Council in 2013, will involve a total of 3,000 properties, as well as accommodation for 2,000 graduate students. The development involved the University taking on almost £1 billion in debt, and has attracted criticism for cost overruns, with a possible deficit of £450 million by 2052.

The Colleges’ spokesperson emphasised that the project was in its “very early days”.

“We are confident that a high-quality development can be delivered set against an appropriate budget which will be agreed at the proper time.”

This article has been updated from the version which appears in today's (26/02) virtual edition of Varsity to include comments from the colleges involved in the proposal.