A plan to redevelop part of the Cambridge station area has been rejected, with one reason cited being a failure to live up to the city’s status as the UK’s leading cycling city.
The “Devonshire Quarter” proposal would have seen a new aparthotel and multi-storey car park built on the current car park area adjacent to the Ibis hotel and cycle park. A new office block would have replaced the car park across the road.
Cambridge City Council’s planning committee voted on Friday (October 16) by five votes to two to refuse the application, having decided that the applicant failed to address concerns raised at an earlier meeting in June.
The committee gave two grounds for refusal, both very similar to their criticisms when considering the application at the previous meeting, arguing against the scale and impact of the proposed hotel on the Carter Bridge and nearby homes, and saying the wider layout “fails to provide high quality cycling infrastructure commensurate with Cambridge as the leading cycling city in the UK”.
Councillors added that it fails to demonstrate compatibility with safety and prioritisation objectives for pedestrians and cyclists, including aspirations for the Chisholm Trail.
‘Come back with plans that will serve the city well for the next 50 years’
The planning application was submitted by Brookgate CB1 Limited, which has been behind the wider redevelopment of the station area.
The application was recommended for approval by the council’s planning officers both in June and again this time around.
If approved, it would have transformed the approach to the station from the north, via Devonshire Road, and included a new streetscape between the proposed buildings.
The 125-suite aparthotel would have been six storeys high, with a multi-storey car park underground and on the first floor with space for 206 cars.
Brookgate changed the design following councillors’ criticisms in June, by recessing the ground floor of one building to allow for wider pavements, altering the entrance and exit arrangements for the mutli-storey car park, and making other adjustments.
The earlier proposal also included an option to change the road layout directly in front of the station, so that Station Road could cut into Station Square between Cafe Nero and the station’s entrance – but that aspect of the plan was dropped.
The application was objected to by the South Petersfield Residents Association and the Cambridge Cycling Campaign.
Edward Leigh of the volunteer-run group Smarter Cambridge Transport argued against the application and said it threatened the future development of the Chisholm Trail.
Both he and the Cambridge Cycling Campaign made the case for segregated cycling routes.
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‘We have responded to those criticisms’
He said: “The applicant and Network Rail must review the long-term transport requirements for the station area, which have changed dramatically since the project was conceived, and together come back with plans that will serve the city well for the next 50-plus years”.
Speaking for the applicant, head of planning for Bidwells, Mike Derbyshire, said following the indication of a refusal in June, “we listened and we have made changes to the scheme”.
“We have responded to those criticisms as a responsible developer,” he said.
He said the professional advice compiled in the planning officer’s report was “unambiguous and clear” in favour of permitting the development as proposed.
He also made the case that the application would provide much-needed jobs during the difficult economic period created by the pandemic.
He said: “Cambridge is not immune from this, and this committee has the opportunity to reduce those job losses in the city with this application. These are real jobs, jobs for real people. If permission is granted today, we will be on site in six months building this, and there will be people working in real jobs in a couple of years time”.
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‘The two reasons for refusal are still there’
Defending the scheme’s commitment to cycling and the Chisholm Trail, he said “CB1 has now paid £994,000 to the county council to fund the trail.
“It is an enabler, not a barrier to the trail, and I think that’s been forgotten in this discussion”.
He also said that when the developer first started drawing up plans for this area in 2015 that the council advised it not to include a segregated cycling route.
Councillors argued the latest guidance is in favour of greater provision for cyclists.
Councillor Kelley Green, who ended up voting against the decision to refuse the application, said: “It does seem a bit unfair on the developer after a five-year protracted process of this planning application going through our department, that right at the end new guidance comes in.”
But the council’s planning delivery manager, Nigel Blazeby, said: “Not withstanding advice we may have given several years ago, you do need to consider it under current policies.”
According to the Greater Cambridge Partnership, the Chisholm Trail will provide a 26 kilometre route from Trumpington and Addenbrookes to St Ives, running past both Cambridge Station and Cambridge North Station.
A key criticism made against the proposal for the Devonshire Quarter development was, objectors argued, its potential to “prejudice” the future delivery of the Chisholm Trail’s route through the area.
But, as the city council’s planning officer, Toby Williams said: “the difficulty really with this application is not knowing how the Chisholm Trail is going to come into the site”.
A highways engineer for the county council, Jon Finney, said the proposal did prioritise pedestrians, but when it came to cyclists he described it as “borderline acceptable. It’s not excellent”.
Referencing the earlier meeting in June, the chair of the committee, councillor Martin Smart, said: “The two reasons for refusal are still there basically”.
He added: “We do thank the applicant for the work they have done to bring this item forward in such a way that it could be approved, but I’m afraid just not enough has been done”.
After considering the applications for over three hours, councillors voted against, by five votes to two.
An existing outline planning permission for development on the same site was granted in 2010 but lapsed in 2017.