Waterbeach population could rocket to be twice that of Ely
PUBLISHED: 11:16 22 March 2012 | UPDATED: 09:55 23 March 2012
THE population of Waterbeach could expand seven-fold to around 38,000 people with a new station, guided bus link and six schools built to accommodate a population twice the size of Ely.
The village’s ‘Save Waterbeach Barracks’ campaign has morphed into the ‘Waterbeach Forward’ movement following news the army will vacate the barracks site - earmarked for development - for RAF Kinloss and RAF Wittering this year.
It is gathering pace ahead of South Cambridgeshire District Council making a decision in June as to which of dozens of sites submitted for potential development are fit for housing.
Landowners have submitted enough land to the council to build as many as 300,000 homes which will then be whittled down to a few chosen sites - with the 487 hectare site to the north of Waterbeach village expected to go out to consultation.
The site incorporates Waterbeach Barracks and the former airfield as well as agricultural land and an area to the south of Denny Abbey.
But while the council earlier forecast it would need 10,000 new homes built to serve a growing population from 2016 to 2031, excluding the Northstowe development which will grow to 10,000 homes, developer RLW Estates - whose “mission in life is to get some development on the site” - has registered the site with the council as being suitable for 12,750 homes.
To support the housing Chelmsford-based RLW Estates says the already busy Waterbeach Station would need to be relocated to the north of the village with a ‘rapid bus service’ - thought to be an extension of the guided busway - linking Waterbeach and Cambridge.
There are also plans for new schools - with five primary and a secondary school thought to be needed - as well as a town centre, sports facilities and other community facilities.
While there have been previous attempts to build on the Waterbeach Barracks site, they have failed before the planning stage in favour of Northstowe.
But villagers were forced to come to terms with a more real threat of a new town in July when former Defence Secretary Liam Fox announced the closure and sale of Waterbeach Barracks in a bid to bolster the Ministry of Defence’s budget.
With RLW Estates saying the site is suitable for 12,750 homes and an average of 2.6 people per household, it could be home to 33,150 new people in addition to the village’s existing population of 5,000 which could see Waterbeach boast a population of 38,150 - twice the size of Ely.
But villagers and members of Waterbeach Forward have questioned why it is hoped more homes than the council predicts it needs before 2031 should all be built in Waterbeach instead of modest developments being scattered across the district.
They answer their own question by speculating that as the onus would be on the developer to upgrade the A10 to cope with an influx of traffic, a more modest development would not be in the developer’s interest.
Sara Barnes of Cambridge-based Turnstone Estates, a 50 per cent shareholder in RLW Estates, which is dealing with the Waterbeach project, confirmed RLW had been looking to develop the site for some years.
She said: “Its [RLW Estates] mission in life is to get some development on the site.”
But while Ms Barnes said members of her company would be happy to meet with members of Waterbeach Forward to discuss the future of the site, Cllr James Hockney, Conservative member of South Cambridgeshire District Council for Waterbeach and chairman of Waterbeach Forward said: “Our position is we’re not looking to meet with them at the current time.
“We want to see something that benefits and complements the existing community.”
Cllr Hockney said Waterbeach Forward had leafleted 600 households in the village about proposals for a new housing estate.
One of the questions asked to residents was what they wanted to see on the barracks site following the army’s imminent departure.
He said villagers had responded with a number of ideas including a nature reserve, country park, seeing the land returned to farmland, leisure facilities and small-scale housing developments.
“It’s very important that the community is able to shape the future whatever happens and to keep the community in the driving seat,” he said.
Liberal Democrat member of Cambridgeshire County Council for Waterbeach Cllr Michael Williamson, however, was more outspoken.
He said: “We’re not prepared to work with them at all until the thing goes through South Cambridgeshire District Council.
“We want to have no contact with them at all until it at least becomes a prospect because the proposal is completely out of proportion to the area.”
Author and mum-of-one Guin Glasford-Brown was one of more than 100 Waterbeach residents taking part in a ‘No New Town’ rally on Waterbeach village green on Friday.
She said: “It’s the size of the development and the impact it’s going to have.
“There are real worries about safety on the A10 and there would be problems even if they made it a dual carriageway as it would still lead down to Milton roundabout which is such a point of congestion and a very large housing development would only exacerbate that.”
When asked whether the railway could cope with a steep influx of passengers at Waterbeach, a Network Rail spokesman said: “We are aware of this proposed development.
“If and when a formal planning application is submitted we will consider its implications along with other interested parties including Cambridgeshire County Council, Department for Transport and the train operators.”
South Cambridgeshire District Council confirmed it was their final decision as to whether a large-scale housing development would go-ahead at Waterbeach.
Although it would need approval by the independent body the Planning Inspectorate, central Government could not impose that a development must be built on site.