Cambridge-based planning, legal & financial professionals: your city needs *You*


On why our city of Cambridge needs our communities to play a much more active and prominent role in our civic life. (I’ll be making the same call for our scientists & engineers, and many others, in separate blogposts soon!)

The local branch of the Royal Institute of British Architects sparred with the dragon. We were discussing a policy brought in by Bristol City Council on requiring developers to proactively engage with local communities at pre-application stage.

The document I wanted to refer to was this one. I’ve asked a few planning professionals to see if England has the same requirements for pre-application community engagement that Wales has as a mandatory requirement for major planning applications.

Obviously the problem as far as I am concerned originates in Whitehall & Westminster. Ministers have tabled, and whipped parliamentarians into passing legislation that puts far too much power in the hands of developers. Having experienced how developers lobby ministers, it’s sobering to see the results of that lobbying delivering huge profits at the expense of communities.

Property professionals getting a bad name?

It’s something I’m hearing more and more of in political circles – and dare I say it from myself as well. The problem for the professionals and specialists in the field is that the system they work in is designed to produce the sorts of behaviours that local residents get so angry about. The investors – especially those not based in Cambridge – or the UK for that matter – don’t have to worry about what locals think. Not unless said locals go all 1917 on housing and seize them. By which point law and order would have broken down. History tells us that there are very few winners in revolutions – and many, many losers. And I’m not about to wish violence and mortality on anyone.

It’s not like the professionals in Cambridge don’t care about the city – they do

You only have to look at the high levels of participation in the various fund raisers that take place throughout the year to see this reflected. Away from the headlines, there are many who give their free time to local groups, communities and causes. Having people with legal, financial and HR backgrounds on your school board of governors, or your board of trustees for a local charity is an incredible resource to have. During my school governor days a few years ago, we had meetings and workshops in conference spaces that would normally cost a fortune to hire out, but were granted to us for free by one of the city’s most prominent law firms. Again because one of the governors was on the staff there.

“So…where’s the gap?”

As the Cambridge Architects said, we didn’t ask. But then ‘we’ is a very disparate group of community activists dotted about all over the place. That said, we’re becoming a more coherent group the more council and city deal meetings we meet each other at. That plus social media means that it is much easier now to keep people in touch with each other.

While there are a number of highly experienced and qualified people supporting the various different campaigning groups scrutinising the growth of Cambridge, the groups of people who seem to be conspicuous by their absence are:

  • Teenagers/students/young people
  • Recent graduates
  • People from minority ethnic backgrounds
  • People with disabilities

The reason why this matters from my perspective is because the life experiences of all those listed above are less likely to be taken into account when it comes to decision-making on Cambridge’s future. That’s not good.

“What are the solutions?”

I’m no longer young, and I’m not a recent graduate. That means I now have a blind spot where I don’t know what the day-to-day pressures are for young people and recent graduates, let alone having any idea of how we ‘design out’ the problems that they face.

So: here’s my request/plea for action.

Can those of you who work in the field of professional corporate services – such as finance, legal, planning, surveying and so on, get together and host a city-wide event (or events) that brings all of you together with campaigners fighting for a better city, to work out how we can all work together for the benefit of everyone who makes up Cambridge? (Remember my definition covers people who live, work, commute into Cambridge – as well as those that visit regularly).

What I’m asking for:

  • An event – big conference, smaller workshops, teach-ins – your choice

Who I’m asking

  • Cambridge’s communities of professional associations

What I’m not asking for:

  • Money
  • One or two people to take on an additional full-time job
  • Anyone to vote for a specific political party

(If you’re interested in the party politics, The Democracy Club are preparing a guide for residents on who is standing in which wards/divisions at the local elections on 04 May – have a look at

Because if Florence Ada Keynes, the Mother of Modern Cambridge can do all of this, who knows what you can do to build on her legacy and of those that worked so hard with her.

C’mon Cambridge. Let’s do this. 


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