The region’s planners have badly underestimated employment growth in the Cambridge area with drastic consequences for housing, congestion and living standards, according to research commissioned by lobby group Cambridge Ahead.
South Cambridgeshire has been particularly hard hit, the research suggests, with planners working on a 0.6% growth assumption compared to a more realistic 4.2%.
As a result, 65,000 people are now driving into Cambridge daily, inequality levels are higher than any other city in the UK and employees on lower wages – for example key workers in teaching and nursing – are being increasingly forced out.
The research was presented to local campaigning groups by member of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Independent Economic Review and Master of St Edmund’s College, Matthew Bullock, alongside Dr Ying Jin of the Department of Architecture and Cambridge Ahead Chair Ian Mather.
The group showed predictions based on models of growth that suggested 200,000 employees in the city by 2050, with the city supporting a population of half a million people.
“This is a much more stressed region than the ONS (Office for National Statistics) data shows,” said Matthew Bullock.
“We need to think spatially to create a sustainable, affordable system for Cambridge.”
“When we started Cambridge Ahead five years ago we knew there was something not quite right in terms of transport and housing costs,” said Ian Mather. “Now we know why.”
The group argued that the region faces an ‘infrastructure deficit’ and must improve how it manages growth, with substantial investment from government vital to avoid worsening stress and companies leaving the region.
Mather called for a city-wide debate on what model of spatial growth the city needed, whether through denser building within the city, development around its fringes on the green belt or along transport corridors and in regional connected hubs.
Bullock argued that companies agglomerate and so housing needs to go to employment, rather than the other way around. But this was challenged by former mayoral candidate Peter Dawe who called instead for a new town of 50,000 people taking focus away from Cambridge.
Other people argued that a greater emphasis was needed on equality and sustainability issues in planning.