Who decides what gets built in our city? You might assume that it is the people that are democratically elected by us to make such decisions: the dedicated local politicians on the council planning committee, who give up their time on our behalf to consider what should and shouldn’t be given approval. Amongst other things, they consider the views of their constituents, that’s you and me.

But our local politicians are only a control on development, weighing up the pros and cons against a multitude of contradictory local and national policies. What gets built is usually determined by property developers.

There are some good developers who, as part of the planning process, find out the views of the council, stakeholders and local people. They bring forward a development which balances those views and local context with their profit goals. They submit their plans to a design panel to help them improve it. We might not all agree with the outcome, but such developments are likely to be approved by our elected representatives.

Unfortunately, not all developers are like this. Others are more motivated to maximise profit and see the planning system as an impediment that is to be gamed. They often know in advance that their application will be refused by our elected representatives, and they know in advance that they will launch an appeal against the council’s decision. They do this because it will result in a planning inquiry, which is an expensive legal process in which they can outgun cash strapped local councils and over-stretched council officers by buying a better legal and professional team. We have seen this on several occasions around Cambridge in recent times and sadly this strategy sometimes works.

This is the strategy being pursued by Brookgate to build a massive new development in north east Cambridge. It will loom over the meadows next to the River Cam, it will be what you see on the horizon when you walk, run, cycle, row, paddle or cruise along the river or when you are enjoying a picnic on Ditton Meadows, or a pint outside The Plough. It will change the skyline of our city, so it is a development that we should all be concerned about and want to get right, for now and for future generations.

What Brookgate is proposing will be 300 metres long and 20 metres high. Like a giant wall of ‘anytown’ architecture; it will be the Great Wall of North East Cambridge. There’s no need to imagine what it might look like, you can see for yourself because they have already erected two similar buildings (see photo), which were regrettably granted permission by our councils. All you need to do is imagine this extended by 200 metres. Then ask yourself if that is the best that Cambridge can do? Is it what you want our future city to look like?

The application will be decided by local politicians on 22 March 2023 and it is expected to be refused. Brookgate doesn’t want to wait for the outcome, they have already asked for a planning inquiry which has been scheduled for June. So, what can we do as citizens to have a say in the future of our city? You can give your views to the council, and they will also be made available to the planning inquiry. Email them to [email protected] and reference ‘Land north of Cambridge North Station’.  

You can also support charities like Cambridge Past, Present & Future which will take part in the public inquiry, arguing for a better outcome for our city. You can read our response to the application at www.cambridgeppf.org/planning-responses