Northstowe update – everything grinds to a halt

Alex Rileyfrom SCDC Councillor Alex Riley
At the most recent meeting of the Northstowe Joint Development and Control Committee (NJDCC) on 29 July, consent for the Outline planning application for Northstowe Phase 2 was granted. We were told that our next meetings were scheduled for the end of August and end of September, but given to understand that the August meeting would probably be cancelled. As indeed it was, and so have those scheduled for September, October and, recently, November. In fact we are now being told that the NJDCC is intended to be abolished. (The meeting due on November 25 was cancelled when the key officers announced they were unable to attend it.) This does leave us in the curious situation that the minutes of 29 July, granting the outline consent for Phase 2, will not get the chance of being agreed by the committee. Also, I believe we had been promised that the Phase 2 S106 agreement was to be submitted to the NJDCC for approval.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that the NJDCC is deemed by some to have served its useful purpose, now that it has granted outline consent for Phases 1 and 2.

Trying to piece together what is actually currently going on requires the skills of a sleuth as much as anything.

On 17 October there was a meeting of the Northstowe Community Working Group which received a detailed report from SCDC’s Jo Mills. She explained that Gallagher Estates had tried to sell three plots of Phase 1 to major housebuilders (I presume in chunks of 500). They had then divided Phase 1 into 6 – 8 plots and tried the next tier down (in size) of builder, similarly with (as yet) no takers. The timetable has a closing date of 11 December for housebuilders to respond and selections are due to take place before Christmas. She also mentioned that “there had been a proposal from politicians to wind up the NJDCC but this has yet to be discussed. This would mean that bits that would have gone to the NJDCC would go to a planning committee. Jo also confirmed that there is still interest in accelerated delivery of the project.” (I am quoting from the draft minutes of the meeting. I am not clear how to square the last sentence with everything else.)

What was not made clear was whether the reason there were no takers for Phase 1 plots was that the price being asked was too high, whether builders have already sated their needs for Cambridge developments with the multitude of other sites locally, or whether builders are put off by Northstowe’s dependence on the A14 upgrade.

In the mean time, the word within Longstanton is that Phase 1 is heading for a complete shutdown. We always knew that there would be no activity from December to March on account of the weather, but casual talk from those working on site indicates that the project is being mothballed.

There is currently work going on to tidy up the mess around the B1050 where it adjoins the Phase 1 site. At present pedestrians are required to cross this busy road in two places. Originally we were told that this dangerous state of affairs would only occur for a month or so during high summer. It now appears that it might be allowed to continue for some time during the depths of winter. All local representatives have made clear that this would be an entirely unacceptable situation.

And then, this Wednesday, there was a meeting of the Northstowe Parish Forum. The published agenda for this workshop meeting was all about how we could work on future member engagement in the Northstowe project and such like, but since it gave a group of us an overdue opportunity to try to find out just what is going on in the project, that is what nearly all the time was spent on.

We were given copies of a Northstowe project plan. This shows the A14 due to start construction at the beginning of 2017 (having possibly slipped slightly from “late 2016” which was the original plan.)

As regards Phase 1, we were given a much more upbeat assessment than the one on 17 October. House builders are apparently due to be appointed between now and February with planning applications coming in from June. First house occupations due in May 2017.

Now for those of you without perfect recall, I sent out an email on 27/11/2013 which referred to the then Gallagher project plan in which first occupations would take place in summer 2015. So in 2 years the project would appear to have slipped 1 year and 9 months.

The Phase 1 primary school is on target for its scheduled completion for September 2016, as the result of a project driven by the County Council. It will then await the first children due a year later. I understand that the police have expressed the view that it is quite impossible to keep a building like this empty, away from occupied housing, for a year without it being totally vandalised.

Work on Webbs Hole Sluice and the huge Hatton’s Road balancing ponds is considered to be on schedule, though the design of the latter is currently being changed. However, any such work would depend on the Phase 1 project becoming active again.

Then there is the question of the Northstowe Secondary School. The plan has been for some time that children, who live in Longstanton, currently in year 4 would start at the Northstowe secondary school. However Swavesey VC has always maintained that if the new school slipped to a 2019 opening, they would have the space to take the Longstanton children. There is a public meeting at 7pm on Tuesday 24th November at Hatton Park Primary school: if anyone wishes to discuss this directly, they will be welcome at this meeting.”

Then there is the matter of the now-public negotiations to sell Gallagher Estates, the company which owns all their Northstowe interests (as well as others):

Now clearly, if Gallagher are trying to sell their interests then they will be playing up the imminence of land sales to developers.

A member of the meeting said that he had heard a rumour that the reason no Phase 1 land sales had taken place was that Gallagher had suddenly considerably increased the asking price on the basis that the Guided Bus will in a couple of years’ time or so provide access to the new Cambridge North station (with its direct connection to London). I try not to publicise rumours, but this one has the key requirement of a good rumour, which is that it has “the ring of truth”. Leave aside that the guided bus currently struggles to convey its rush-hour passengers from Longstanton into Cambridge without a single Northstowe house being occupied.

One of the options for Northstowe, if Gallagher ducks out of the frame for now, would be that Phase 2 takes over. There was a Phase 2 “plan” as well on the sheet, but all it had was “Design Code Drafting” starting about now and going on until October 2016. No proposed building or construction of the Southern Access Road, without which. I do not know whether this is the consequence of Government cut-backs in the forthcoming Autumn Statement implying that no money is available to build this road.

I didn’t expect this update to be so lengthy but it has brought you up to speed on everything I currently know (or surmise) about the project.

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