Along with colleagues I had an enjoyable tour around the Eddington urban extension at Cambridge last Friday.
The award winning new development is being delivered by the University of Cambridge on former Green Belt land to the north west of the city. A new community of 8,500 people will eventually live at the site, including university staff, academics and private home owners.
The development felt quite unlike any I have visited previously. The combination of large apartment blocks, smartly finished in buff coloured bricks, meticulous landscaping, carefully planned road system (designed for bicycles not cars), and generous provision of community facilities (including a district heating system and music venue) made the place feel like a utopian version of Cambridge.
We marvelled at the no-expense-spared finishes – the English marble floor in the community centre, German engineered kitchens in the show apartments- and were impressed with the large scale sustainable drainage and grey water recycling systems (which will eventually incorporate a 6 million litre capacity lake, to be kept free of bacteria by solar panelled boats emitting UV lights).
In this age of piecemeal developments and conventional box-like house designs, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the ambition and forward planning apparent in the Eddington scheme.
I don’t know the planning history of the site, but assume that the desire to attract and retain the world’s best academic talent in close proximity to the university laboratories formed part of the ‘very special circumstances’ needed to justify the development of land in the Green Belt. The flexible approach taken to this otherwise unassuming piece of Green Belt sandwiched between the edge of Cambridge and the M11 motorway seems logical to me.
Overall, I was very impressed, but conscious of the fact that in delivering housing for three specific groups – university staff, university academics and those with deep pockets – the development is not serving the whole community. For a privately funded scheme designed for a specific purpose however I wouldn’t necessarily criticise the development for this fact, provided the City Council is catering for the needs of the wider community elsewhere.
Jon Millhouse, Director at Planning & Design Practice
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