How should Cambridge protect its heritage in the face of huge pressure for growth and change?

One of the things that makes the Cambridge area such a desirable place to live and visit is our nationally significant historic centre and the many architectural treasures found in the surrounding suburbs and villages.

But how do we protect our historic environment in the face of huge pressure for growth and change? This is one of the questions that the City and South Cambs Councils are asking for your views on as they start to draft their Greater Cambridge Local Plan. A document that will set out policies for future development for the next 20 years.

Our most precious buildings are, generally, well-protected by the planning system, but their setting is often not. There is also very little protection for those buildings, streets and views that are not ‘designated’ but still provide character in local neighbourhoods and villages. These are the things that help make places enjoyable to live. The protests caused by the new security barriers on King’s Parade show how much people care about protecting their heritage.

CambridgePPF sees many development proposals that will have a negative impact on the setting of our heritage, or that will damage local character. Too often these developments are approved by the council on the basis that the benefits outweigh the harm to heritage. Individually that might be the case, but cumulatively, over decades, it is not.

A major failing of the current Local Plan is the lack of an Historic Environmental Strategy, even though National Planning Policy says one is needed. For an historic and rapidly changing city like Cambridge not to have one seems irresponsible. A collection of obscure planning documents that each touch separately on the issue of the historic environment is not an adequate substitute for a comprehensive strategy which can address the cumulative impacts of new building, new infrastructure, air pollution, mass tourism, population growth, adaptations for the modern world and climate change. Neither of the councils has a Heritage Champion, which perhaps says a lot.

Our volunteers have been working with the City Council for several years to assist them in carrying out some of their Conservation Area reviews. We believe that local communities can play more of a role in identifying the buildings and heritage assets that they would like to see protected in their community. This is one practical way that we can all help to protect our heritage for future generations – but it also has to be backed up by a wider strategy for our historic environment.