Urban Planning Strategies in Cambridgeshire, UK

Charlotte Miller

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South Cambridgeshire and Cambridge City are both rich and diverse parts of the United Kingdom. It is a challenge to cater to all needs in a multicultural city like Cambridge when planning for its future.

 The relationship between Cambridge City and South Cambridgeshire is an important aspect of the area’s functionality. By using the right tools for planning and implementation, the outcome should serve the different needs.

 City and rural life are quite different in nature. So, developing and implementing a shared vision for Cambridge City and South Cambridgeshire requires participation from both the public and private sectors.

 There is an outline for an urban plan for Cambridge including the city and the South Cambridgeshire areas.

 Cambridgeshire lies in the southern part of England, with Cambridge forming a triangle near London, Oxford, and Milton Keynes.

 South Cambridgeshire District predominantly consists of rural villages and small market towns. It wraps around Cambridge City, together forming Greater Cambridge, with a total population of 283,277..

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Cambridge in Context

Cambridge is built around the River Cam and it enjoys its reputation for education, research, successful tech industries, knowledge-based activities, and preserved historic environment.

 According to Visit Britain, Cambridge is the 8th most visited city in the UK with 4.5 million visitors a year. Its historic, cultural, and natural heritage attract people from all around the globe, not only to visit but to live in Cambridge.

Due to the continuous population growth in the area, Cambridge faces problems that give the planners and urban designers a great challenge to accommodate everyone.

Due to restrictions on development and economic growth throughout the 1990s, house prices rapidly rose. Growth in South Cambridgeshire increased the number of commuters causing severe congestion on the roads.

The population growth in Cambridge has resulted in urban sprawl, with new developments swallowing up open land on the fringe of the city and in South Cambridgeshire.

Citizens who choose to live on the fringe and work in the city center have a longer commute time with many complaining about the traffic situation. The existing plans for Greater Cambridge propose new developments on the Cambridge City boundary extending into South Cambridgeshire.

The political situation is further accelerating the difficulty of decision-making. Cambridge City and South Cambridgeshire District fall under different councils with different political rulings.

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Cambridge, a Compact City

Cambridge is aiming to become and maintain the advantages of a compact city. Yet, the compact city is the opposite of urban sprawl.

The compact city has a high population density. It is more energy efficient because city dwellers are closer to their workplaces and amenities, and they can walk, cycle or use public transport.

Moreover, Neumann (2005) suggests that the relationship between a compact city and sustainability might not actually be significant at all. As Neuman (2005) mentions, sustainability includes health and well-being, but high-density urban areas can negatively affect the residents and can cause emotional stress.

In contrast, the urban sprawl is controversial because Cambridge is surrounded by the Green Belt, where it is not appropriate to build on. Therefore, to meet the housing needs of Greater Cambridge, it is important to develop a vision. It is one where more people, businesses, and new infrastructure can fit while protecting and enhancing the natural environment.

Decentralization would be one solution to cut traffic and commuting time for people by living in the outer parts of the city. However, there is a significant difference between life in the city center or the rural life in South Cambridgeshire.

The most pressing issues in Cambridge are the new residential developments and new infrastructure. Housing in the Greater Cambridge area is a hot topic because house prices and rent are skyrocketing. University students take up a large portion of rooms and flats available in the city which push families out.

This situation leads to an affordability crisis. Especially people who work in the public sector and whose income is not as competitive, they need some form of assistance to be able to remain in the area.

Policies in the Cambridge Local Plan (2018) are focusing on development strategies. For example, on residential developments around the urban area of Cambridge, creating mixed-use communities to make the most out of the previously developed land.

Also, an additional 14,000 dwellings are planned within the city boundary until March 2031. New developments will only be approved within the Green Belt if it is in line with the 2012 National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) Green Belt Policy. Yet, the 2012 NPPF Green Belt Policy is trying to prevent urban sprawl and protect the open characters.


Policy 10 is also concentrating development around the city center to cater to people’s retail, leisure, cultural and other needs. Working with the existing policies in the Cambridge Local Plan, South Cambridgeshire Local Plan, and the updated 2021 NPPF underpin the vision, objectives, and targets for Cambridge.

Bright Future Ahead

Cambridge is a diverse place where people of all ages live. Therefore, it is important to ensure sustainable growth to secure a safe and bright future for all users. However, as it was concluded above, urban form alone will not solve sustainability issues.

While Greater Cambridge will serve as a platform for great opportunities as a livable place, city users, public and private stakeholders have to take part in shaping and protecting the environment.

This joint plan aims to ease the housing pressures and encourage the Greater Cambridge citizens to live a sustainable life by offering options both on household and strategic levels. The proposed plan period is 15 years, from 2020 to 2035.

To focus on the process of turning Cambridge more sustainable, establishing a circular economy reduces unnecessary productions and enhances the uptake of locally available goods and produce.

With the closer relationship between Cambridge City and South Cambridgeshire, the two areas can rely on each other. Supporting agriculture and clean energy generation in the South Cambridgeshire area could supply the City. The City can be the service provider.

To ensure the city’s diversity, the special qualities of the different neighborhoods are supported by encouraging small independent retailers and enhancing the mixed-use functions. This increases jobs in the retail industry.

Allocating residential development in the city by refurbishing existing buildings could be one way of regenerating neighborhoods and it also helps to reduce using new building materials.

 In this case, the urban sprawl could be managed as it is unavoidable in the future, and it would prepare the region for further growth. Refurbishing historic buildings to be habitable is another way of historic preservation and it does not take up additional land.

Infrastructure for Growth

Planning for growth makes it inevitable to plan for new infrastructure. An adjusted bus system would make it possible for people to access the city center from outer areas.

 Accessibility attracts employers to open their business in the city, setting job trends for the future. A connected area would mean an available workforce. In addition to encouraging people to change their behavior and opt in to a more sustainable lifestyle, support is provided to the cycling and public transport infrastructure.

 Widening roads and planning longer routes for safer cycling encourages more people to leave their cars behind, especially if they can get all necessities closer to their homes.