North West Cambridge

Cambridge, United Kingdom

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Occupying 150 hectares of university-owned greenbelt land, the new £1 billion urban district and extension to the city is centred on a mixed academic and urban community. Contemporary in style, it will create two new college clusters, academic and partner research, walkable residential neighbourhoods and generous public realm. It will be a place that is sustainable and long-lasting, and that will enhance the city and the university. It will accommodate the growth needs of the university, enabling it to attract and retain staff, and provide vital accommodation.

Along with 1,500 homes for its key workers, accommodation for 2,000 postgraduate students, 1,500 homes for sale and 100,000 square metres of research facilities, plans also include a local centre with a primary school, community centre, health centre, supermarket, hotel and shops. There are also parklands, playing fields, sustainable transportation and an extensive cycle network. The scheme has attracted a raft of well-respected architects with proposals from Mecanoo and MUMA, among others, now entering the planning phase.

Our design and planning team contributed its masterplanning experience — which also includes the sustainable regeneration of central Doha in Qatar and London’s 2012 Olympic Park — to develop a scheme that reflects the collegiate urbanism that is Cambridge’s trademark. This new scheme is rooted in and reflects the city’s urban character and qualities, its layout, streetscape and green spaces.

Connectivity, community, character and climate

The project represents the largest capital development the university has undertaken in its 800-year history. The robust brief was to address connectivity, community, character and climate, while being mindful of the UNESCO-listed town centre and unique university setting.

The development will be an exemplar of sustainable living. Homes will be built to the Code for Sustainable Homes Level 5, and other buildings will be BREEAM Excellent. The scheme is the single largest Code for Sustainable Homes Level 5 development in the country. The site also makes use of water management, energy and waste systems, and a green travel plan encouraging residents and neighbours to lead sustainable lives through the built infrastructure as well as through community-building activities.

We are developing a pioneering rainwater management strategy to capture and treat stormwater runoff from the site, using an integrated network of sustainable drainage systems (SuDS). Naturally filtered water is then stored and redistributed to homes to flush toilets and water gardens. This is the first stormwater recycling scheme in the UK and one of the largest in the world. Other key initiatives include an innovative waste collection system and a site-wide district heating network powered by a centralised low-carbon combined heat and power system. We are also advising on how behaviour change can help residents to live more sustainably.

More than a decade in the planning

The planning process has been a lengthy one. The site was proposed for development in the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Structure Plan back in 2003. After this, the university and the two local planning authorities, Cambridge City Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council, set to work to satisfy the necessary planning and sustainability requirements that allowed the development area to be removed from its designation as green belt (the UK policy for controlling urban growth).

In autumn 2009, planning inspectors published their report on the Area Action Plan (AAP) that has been jointly promoted by Cambridge City Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council. This established the planning policy for this site. For two years, the university revised the strategic plan for the area to support the framework laid out in the AAP. After a period of consultation, the masterplan formed the basis of the university’s outline planning application. Permission was granted in 2013, and phase one of construction is currently under way. This phase helps to set the sense of place for the entire development and will provide more than 1,300 homes, plus the central community amenities including the school, community hall, shops, health centre, a hotel and the key primary infrastructure.