'Moral duty' to build better as Waterbeach New Town agreed

Waterbeach New Town East, artist impression. From application.

Waterbeach New Town East, artist impression. From application. Credit: LDA Design/RLW Estates - Credit: LDA Design/RLW Estates

By a majority of one the 4,500-home Waterbeach New Town East development was approved by councillors.  

South Cambridgeshire District Council planning committee voted by six votes to five to approve the application from RLW Estates on Friday (January 29). 

Waterbeach New Town artist impression

Waterbeach New Town artist impression - Credit: LDA Design/RLW Estates.

Their decision was taken despite objections from residents and parish councils. 

It is a significant milestone, but approval can only be formalised once the council’s director of planning agrees conditions. 

It is also subject to the decision being referred to Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick. 

The committee took six hours to approve the application and also heard from experts on highways and flooding. 

Waterbeach New Town East, site layout.

Waterbeach New Town East, site layout. - Credit: LDA Design/RLW Estates.

Cllr Heather Williams described the application as “not good enough” and “not high-quality design”. 

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Cllr Deborah Roberts felt it was “our moral duty to make sure we build better than this. 

“It’s just a completely, in every way round, unacceptable application”. 

Few if any comments of explicit approval were made by councillors who voted for the application. 

Waterbeach New Town East, artist impression

Waterbeach New Town East, artist impression - Credit: LDA Design/RLW Estates.

Cllr Pippa Heylings stressed that the decision was to grant outline permission; conditions would ensure “high standards” when the reserved matters application returns.  

Fen Ditton, Horningsea, Landbeach, and Waterbeach parish councils had raised concerns over the impact on traffic. 

They were also fearful of the scale of development and the risk of flooding. 

Some councillors criticised the proposed density, provision of affordable housing, and the uncertainty over transport. 

Waterbeach New Town East, site layout

Waterbeach New Town East, site layout - Credit: LDA Design/RLW Estates

It was also accepted that the viability was an issue for provision of affordable housing; the percentage was agreed at 30 per cent, 10 per cent lower than written into the local plan.  

Nearby resident, Nigel Seamarks, argued that the council should go with another developer that can deliver that minimum standard.  

Young people desperately needed housing and he said “I beg you” to support them. 

Cllr Richard Williams said the density and height of the buildings is “completely inappropriate.”  

Station area of Waterbeach New Town

Station area of Waterbeach New Town - Credit: LDA Design/RLW Estates

He added: “To put it bluntly, it seems that we are proposing to build Station Road, Cambridge, in the middle of the countryside. That’s what it feels like.  

“We are talking about five, six-storey buildings, potentially an eight-storey building”. 

Cambridgeshire County Council said that “technical matters will need to be resolved before the council are able to approve the evidence and agree to the mitigation package that will be required”. 

Cllr Roberts said argued that “the quality of life in my opinion will not be this great paradise, it’s more likely going to be paradise lost”. 

She compared the housing numbers and density to “sardines in a tin”, arguing it does not comply with the local plan policies and is “unacceptable”. 

The chair of the planning committee, councillor John Batchelor said: “This is outline at the moment, and it is inevitable that we will not get answers to everything”. 

Councillors Anna Bradnam, Martin Cahn, Peter Fane, Tumi Hawkins, John Batchelor, Pippa Heylings voted to grant approval. 

Those against were councillors Judith Rippeth, Deborah Roberts, Heather Williams, Nick Wright and Richard Williams. 

The application had been recommended for approval by planning officers. 

Chris Goldsmith, of Turnstone Estates, told the meeting Waterbeach New Town East will be “vibrant and high-quality”. 

He said RLW Estates will “seek to create a new settlement that will be seen as an exemplar for delivering homes and communities in a sustainable manner”. 

He said the development will reduce dependency on cars and give priority to pedestrians, cyclists and public transport. 

Waterbeach New Town, immediately north of Waterbeach, was allocated for a development of “approximately” 8,000 to 9,000 homes in the 2018 local plan. 

Friday’s decision follows the granting of permission in 2018 to RLW Estates to relocate Waterbeach Station to the new town, and the decision in 2019 to grant outline permission to Urban&Civic for a 6,500-home development, community space and amenities on the Waterbeach Barracks on the western half of the new town site. 

RLW Estates’ proposal for Waterbeach New Town East includes 4,500 homes, shops, and schools and brings the total number of homes expected to be built in the new town to 11,000. 

The developer could end up making around £250 million worth of contributions to community facilities and infrastructure as part of the conditions.