A small village near Ely, Cambridgeshire

Wilburton - Local Housing Need

Wilburton Sign

Community Land Trusts are set up to provide truly affordable homes for local people based on local need and affordable on local wages. In a 2013 agreement with East Cambs District Council, when a pre-development loan to the SWCLT was agreed, one of the conditions made was that:

The project to be funded must be appropriate to the location and to the scale of the identified local need

That local need has yet to be properly explained for Wilburton and this specific scheme. At the Public Events in 2018 it was suggested that there are between 60 and 70 people on the waiting list for an affordable home. This figure has risen to 72 - but requests for the demographics of these have been ignored. It is highly improbable that this number could possibly be from Wilburton alone and it is far from clear what definition of “local” has been used.

The authors of these pages very much support the concept of true CLTs but are of the opinion that local in this instance should mean our own village of Wilburton, leaving the wider area (with the possible exception of Stretham – it is the Stretham and Wilburton CLT) – to be covered by others sources of affordable housing, such as Sanctuary Housing.

The most recent figures for Haddenham (a much larger village) reveal a need for affordable homes for local people was just 15. It is therefore reasonable to question why the SWCLT figures for Stretham and Wilburton are suggested to be so much higher.

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Wilburton has grown steadily for many years, via small developments and infill. This is set to continue, with a significant number of planning applications already approved or in the pipeline. There are also two larger potential developments within the village. In total, more than 100 houses could be added to the village in the next decade. This excludes the latest SWCLT proposal.

At the public events in 2018, SWCLT have cited various issues as reasons to build more houses:

  • low numbers in the school - (although Cambridgeshire County Council make a general comment in the local plan concerning the school nearing capacity)
  • low attendance at the churches - (that is a national attitude change)
  • an increasingly ageing population in the village - whilst there is a large element of "home for life" connected to any village, pursuits for young people have been flourishing in Wilburton, for example football and cricket clubs, as well as Scouting and Guiding across all ages, youth threate group, toddler group and martial arts. As young adults, children from the village are less likely these days to stay in rural surroundings, preferring instead to head for towns and cities for both work and play.

These issues do not arise from lack of housing - the housing growth of Wilburton has been relatively high compared to other villages in the area, but the jobs and some amenities are elsewhere, so any significant increase in housing will just add to the out-commuting the village already has.

The supposed housing need in this area is driven by jobs in Cambridge. New developments in the wider local area include Northstowe (10,000 in total), Waterbeach (9,500 potentially) and many thousands more houses around the Northern edge of Cambridge. The Cambridge to Oxford corridor has also been rumoured. These locations are included in the Cambridge transport plans - including the guided bus and rail network.

Within a 10 miles radius of Wilburton there are currently over 400 brand new homes available to buy - including new shared ownership from £92,000 in Northstowe, and less than £90,000 in Soham and Waterbeach - due to either get or have improved rail services.

The commuting time from Wilburton and surrounding villages to Cambridge is set to increase (Ely to Cambridge Transport Study, Greater Cambridge Partnership - Recommendations from Ely to Cambridge) as the effects of traffic displacement due to development along the A10 increases. Options to improve travel include a dual carriageway for the A10 - this has previously been rejected due to the junction at Milton where the A10 crosses the A14. Current costs estimates for this work put it at around £500m.

So - does Wilburton have a "need" for a large development?

It is often said that the UK has a housing crisis - despite houses appearing across the country. There are articles for and against whether there is a crisis - this one describes the issue well:

Britain does not have a housing shortage. We have a problem with the cost not the availability of homes. This can’t be solved by building more houses, because it is not caused by an insufficiency of houses.

Another report highlights issues such as lack of housing where people want to live (source):

It is not there are not enough homes, as far too many commentators are keen to claim. Rather, it is that there not enough places that want people to live.

There are simply not enough homes being built in desirable places.

And if there is not enough land available in those areas - as they are already too overcrowded and expensive - the Government needs to consider building new communities from scratch that are desirable.

These areas need to include a raft of infrastructure measures, from new train lines to new hospitals and schools.

Simply building thousands of new homes in a field won’t cut it. Without the amenities to go with a new development, it won’t succeed in the long term.

In addition to Cambourne, Northstowe and Waterbeach (all built, under construction or planned to serve Cambridge and supported by a much needed transport infrastructure for the Cambridge region), the ECDC Local Plan includes housing supply for many years - focusing on Ely, Littleport and Soham - where employment, transport and appropriate infrastructure are already in place or planned. The Local Plan is now in the final stages of the examination process, with two sites included for Wilburton which could bring forward 60 homes (30% affordable).

In this context, building many homes in a field, outside of the local plan and without the enhanced infrastructure to go with it, is unlikely to be successful in the longer term.

The leader of ECDC and Chairperson of SWCLT is a member of the Conservative Party - a party who believe that people who own their own house are more likely to vote Conservative - stating:

Those who own their own home are overwhelmingly more likely to vote Conservative therefore it doesn’t take a genius to work out that a declining level of home-owners does nothing to increase the number of people who are prepared to vote Conservative.

He goes on to talk about displacement (people not being able to afford to live near to where they work):

What are the consequences of this cycle? It is undoubtedly negative. Instead of spending quality time with friends and family, millions of working people are having to spend hours on packed trains and congested roads.
What is often overlooked however is the economic cost of working people having to spend more and more time travelling to work. More time and money spent travelling to and from work means less time and money to spend on cultural and leisure pursuits within the community within which they live, meaning there is a clear negative impact for local economies.

Yet both SWCLT and the trading arm of ECDC, the East Cambs Trading Company (ECTC), actively and agressively promoting the building of houses which are a long commute from centres of employment. In an interview with the ECDC Leader (also a director of the ECTC) he says:

If you replace the local folk with commuters you can destroy the very reason why people choose to come here in the first place.

And how fo local folk become replaced with commuters? By building a lot of expensive open market housing. There are some clear contradictions here.

Sadly, the motivation behind CLT branded development in the East Cambridgeshire region appears to be more political and financial (as opposed to the primary aim to provide affordable homes for local people). The East Cambs Trading Company business plan 2018 shows the increasing amount of money ECTC wish to make from developments in the guise of CLT proposals - including the massive proposal at Kennett. Furthermore, there appears to be good reason to examine the potential for conflicts of interest among those who are actively promoting and planning the Wilburton development. As things stand at present, important responsibilities are being carried out, and decisions made by individuals who hold roles at more than one level in the process, whether that be at Combined Authority, District Council, SWCLT or Parish Council level.

For Stretham, the SWCLT claimed the following:

The scale of the development has been driven by the requirement to generate sufficient funds to ensure that the community benefits in the scheme are deliverable. However, SWCLT believes that the land at Manor Farm is capable of accommodating this new development and is the most appropriate location in the village for a development of this size. This has been confirmed by ECDC planners. The proposal will create strong linkages with the existing village and will open up new pedestrian and cycle access into local countryside through the new development from the existing village. It will bring benefits to existing and future residents alike and enhance the sustainability of the village as a whole by creating new permanently affordable homes that are close to local jobs and improved local services.

So, funding generated generated by the of building open market homes will deliver the community benefits of the scheme. But much Community opposition to the scheme was ignored, and some of the supposed Community benefits (industrial units – and potentially local jobs, and the planned doctors surgery) are still awaited, whilst the number of homes being built increases.

Next: Wilburton Growth