The East Cambs District Council (ECDC) recently published their Summer 2006 news magazine - in it they have a section called "2021 Vision - The Future for East Cambs - And You". This states that:

6,000 new houses are needed, most of which can be built within or alongside existing towns and villages.

The proposed Mereham development is for up to 7500 on one site - a town larger than Ely, yet over 10 miles from Cambridge - with just one key route (the A10) having to take most of the additional traffic. The proposal is full of the required buzz-words, to tick the appropriate boxes. Environment. Key workers. Affordable housing. But how about looking at it from a different perspective?

The Need

The need or demand for housing in the East Cambridgeshire District is relatively low - but is high for Cambridge itself (South Cambs District). We believe strongly that houses should be built where the demand is as this reduces commuting distances (better for the environment), commuting times (better for employers and employees), and commuting costs (better for your wallet!). The proposed site is over 10 miles from Cambridge, so a basic commute per car would be around 5000 miles per year - equivalent to around 7.2 million miles per year for the (low) estimate of around 1500 extra cars by the developer - this could easily be doubled or higher. Even the additional bus mileage will be in around 400,000 miles per year if the run according to "plan".

Figures show that within Cambridge around 40% of people cycle or walk to work - but this figure drops to just 8% for Cambourne - which is closer to Cambridge than the Mereham site. By building where the demand is, within or around Cambridge, enhanced cycled routes and local transport can be improved easily to achieve all the goals of building for the future. Housing developments that actively discourage car use or ownership should be encouraged - why not provide cheaper "no car" housing as well as affordable and keyworker housing?

Such ideas are not restricted to Cambridge either - some 20% of properties in Cambridge are owned by people working in London. This would indicate that there is not enough housing available in or around London for people to live near their work, with a knock on effect in Cambridge and other towns feeding London.

Demand has also been increased by the influx of migrant works across the UK - but will this influx continue once other European countries open up their borders as the UK, Ireland and Sweden have already done. Will migrants still want to come in such numbers once places like Germany are accessible? Poland itself is short of workers now - and wages are increasing - so at some point they are going to be appealing enough for Polish migrant workers to return home. We could easily end up with a massive oversupply of houses across the UK if developers keep jumping on the band wagon of "the government say we need more houses" without putting enough thought and research into their proposals.

The Environment

Around the time of the public exhibitions in Wilburton and Stretham, the BBC had a series of programs where people found old, unused buildings and attempted to bring them back to life. The had a few facts and figures - which (from memory!) included:

So, if developers were really concered about the environment - instead of building over existing countryside they would attempt to renovate existing houses. A lot of these are already in towns and cities, ideally located for 'key worker' and 'affordable houses'. But the profit is not there on the same scale, so it is unlikely to happen.

Recent news stories show one problem with the South of England that is only going to get worse - that of water shortage. More and more housing developments are being built, requiring more water from basically the same resources (reservoirs, rivers and under ground). When asked about the provision for water, the developers representatives brushed off the question. The Government seem to set targets for tens-upon-thousands of houses to be built, but without answering key questions about where the resources for these houses are coming from. The same can be said for electricity supplies, gas supplies, and waste disposal. All key issues that affect the environment, but which no one seems to have answers for.

Another local concern is that of flooding. When asked about possible effects of the proposed development on flooding on the B1049 and the A10, the developers representatives had no answers. Heavy rain has been know to cause problems on both of these roads, and building over a large proportion of the local countryside could further affect this. Rain that previously soaked into the fields will no longer be able to - it'll have to go somewhere. The proposal itself includes a "wetland" area to the south - surely this has potential to flood the B1049 - a low lying road.

Key Workers

Another favourite buzz-word of the developers proposal is catering for key workers. Up to 40% of the development could be key worker housing (affordable housing and association housing). But where will these key workers be working? Presumably the majority will be in Cambridge - over 10 miles (that's 16km) away. Key workers include staff who will work at Addenbrookes - some 14 miles (that's 22km) from Stretham. Addenbrookes has well known issues with parking, and encourages staff to use public transport where possible. But when working on shifts, the transport outside of Cambridge is not always available. A round-the-clock bus service will not be sustainable to the proposed site.

Key workers need to be housed near to where they work. They often provide a valuable service - and often at lower pay levels - so even being able to afford the transport costs of travelling some distance to work is out of the question. Add to that the lengthy times taken to get to their employment if located over 10 miles (that's 16km) away, the whole prospect of the proposed development is not looking good for key workers.

The Houses - The Costs

The developers proposing the Mereham site have previously proposed (and had rejected) similar developments. They keep changes figures - last time it was 6,000 new homes with £23 million needed for the A10 proposals - equating to £4000 per house. This time it is 5,000 new homes, up to 40% of which will be afforable or key worker - and £25 million for the A10. This equates to £5000 per house for the A10 costs - or £7000 per house not including the affordable housing. This is not including costs associated with new developments - such as funding schools, roads, the affordable housing (costs have to be covered) and other aspects of the community. A hefty price tag to add on to the cost of any house.

The houses themselves will be the 'modern build style' - lots of small houses crammed into one area, with little gardens and all being the same. The existing villages have character - they have modern and old houses - some dating back as far as the 15th Century. The representative from Barton Willmore Planning was heard discussing the housing proposals - and even he did not seem inspired by modern housing requirements. But it was all blamed on Government rules on number of houses per hectare, and obviously developers have to stick to this. It results in large, sprawling housing developments with no character.

The Community

The proposal includes schools - but does not include further education. When asked about this, the developers representative said that existing colleges were sufficient. But this goes against the "sustainable" nature of the proposal. With up to 7,500 houses, and the Governments wishes to provide further education to the majority - it is reasonable to assume that several thousand youngsters will be looking for college places. This means several thousand additional journeys out of the development - to places such as Cambridge, Ely or Witchford. Hardly a sustainable community.

Health care is another major issue - Addenbrookes and Huntingdon are already busy, Ely cannot expand (due to housing developments!), so where are people going to go for treatment? This issue affects any proposals locally - with more and more demand and an already over stretched system.

With such a big development on the doorstep, despite the developers saying otherwise, Stretham and Wilburton will be swallowed up and lose their identity. A lot of people living in such villages do so by choice - they do not want to live on the outskirts of a mini Milton Keynes. A village is a safer place for children to grow up, and has a community spirit. The Stannifer representative said that he had been involved in the local area for some 20 years - yet when asked to name any of the annual events in Wilburton at the public exhibition he couldn't. A pity that his involvement has been so un-involved! He then went on to suggest to one person that they "could always move" - an amazing lack of understand of what life means to live in a village community.