Councillors reject Cambridge station blocks


City councillors voted to refuse planning permission for two new buildings at Cambridge Railway Station – including a proposed replacement for the old mill silo building destroyed a few years ago in a suspicious fire.

The run up to the case is described in my Lost Cambridge blog here.

The old mill looked like as in the black and white photo above, the 2005 plan is as the drawing in the top right, and the revamped replacement the developers wanted is the brown building in the CGI (computer-generated image) in the bottom right.

The playlist of my videos from the planning committee meeting at The Guildhall are here.

Membership of the planning committee can be found by clicking & scrolling down this page.

Papers for the meeting where this case was discussed is here – look for item 5 – 15/1759/FUL – Murdoch House, 40-44 Station Road .

See also Ben Comber in the Cambridge Independent here, and Adam Care in the Cambridge News here. Ben is on Twitter at @BenComberCI, and Adam Care is at @AdamCareCN.

“Does their refusal mean that the brown building won’t get built?”

No – Cambridge City Council has a ‘Refused planning protocol’ which allows councillors to reconsider any refusals they make when they refuse a planning application.

“What does that mean?”

It’s all explained in this document which stems from from the huge bill the council received following the Wilton Terrace case.

“Which means…?”

Councillors are going to get further advice from officials – including things like possible action the developer may take if the latter stands their grounds and decides to go to appeal to a Whitehall planning inspector.

“Who are these planning inspectors?”

These are accountable to ministers and have become unpopular in local communities across the country because they have been seen to overturn a number of council decisions against  development. This was on the back of changes to the law and of Government policy where successive housing ministers (Grant Shapps MP, Brandon Lewis MP and now Gavin Barwell MP) felt that too many refusals for planning permission by local councils was making the current housing crisis worse, so effectively ‘fast tracked’ the appeals process for developers. That plus the tightening of Whitehall rules on what councils can and cannot do means it’s harder for local councils to refuse planning permission.


This case is going to come back to the planning committee one way or another. The site is too valuable financially to be left as it is. It remains to be seen what the developers Brookgate choose to do. (Their corporate contacts are here).

Involvement of Cambridge residents

My two blogposts on this issue picked up over 1,000 hits in less than a week in the run up to the planning committee’s meeting, along with lots of mentions across other social media platforms. This included coverage from the Federation of Cambridge Residents’ Associations. They mobilised their members to contact local councillors to oppose the planning application. Furthermore, a number of residents turned up to the planning committee meeting in person to put further pressure on councillors. Furthermore, I turned up with a camera to film the whole thing. (Such meetings are not normally filmed by anyone).

Cambridge Cycling Campaign’s opposition

The incredibly well-organised Cambridge Cycling Campaign have a linked tool that you can use at which they keep track on planning applications. Anything that in their opinion does not provide for enough cycle parking they will submit an objection. That’s what they did here.

Roxanne de Beaux of the Cambridge Cycling Campaign outlines the campaign’s objection to the planning application.

Councillors miss out the historical context

Because we didn’t get our objections in on time, councillors did not discuss the historical context. Instead they focussed on four themes as grounds for refusal, as directed by former Mayor of Cambridge Cllr John Hipkin. Those themes were:

  • Lack of affordable housing
  • Lack of cycle parking provision and facilities for cyclists
  • Lack of community facilities
  • Design issues

In the end, councillors went with refusing the application on all bar affordable housing grounds.

“Can we submit new objections on historical context grounds to the follow-up hearing?”

No – Cllr Kevin Blencowe, the executive councillor for planning, who sits on the planning committee confirmed this to me shortly after the committee refused the application. Any further considerations from the council have to be based on the issues that were raised at the meeting as grounds for refusal.

However, if the developers withdraw the existing application and submit a new one, objections on new grounds can be made as it is a separate planning application that will have been submitted rather than a modified one. So it remains to be seen how many – if any – modifications are made to the building that councillors and members of the public had issues with.



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