What happened to people-friendly planning publications?

Summary: Cambridge’s local councils used to publish many useful things in paper form – including summary guides to major policies. Given the scale of the changes and developments to Cambridge & surrounding areas (Greater Cambridge if you will), is it time to revisit this tradition?

I discovered this publication today:


I’ve not found the Cambridgeshire version – noting that the above publication pre-dates the 1974 restructure of local government, so the planning functions will not align with present day county councils.

It got me thinking about the new local plan for Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire – do we have any summary guides for residents?

As former city councillor Clare King states above, the issues in the Essex design guide of the early 1970s is now covered in the local planning process.

The Cambridge Local Plan

The fact that the two councils now run a joint planning service is for me an indication/example of the case of Cambridge needing its own single unitary council, rather than having a situation where our ‘city with a global profile’ has a large number of its policies decided by representatives that do not represent city wards or divisions inside Cambridge City. The problems of Cambridge were highlighted in a recent article by Ben Hatton here. Mr Hatton refers to a document called Making Space for People, item 5 appendix 2 of this meeting.

The map from the Cambridge Local Plan illustrates how Cambridge has already expanded beyond its administrative boundaries to the north, and has communities that fall within the remit of South Cambridgeshire District Council.

190720 Cambridge Local Plan_north-map

As the map below shows, South Cambridgeshire District Council is responsible for an area that surrounds Cambridge City like a badly-formed doughnut. It can’t be easy for Lib-Dem-run (and previously safe-as-houses Conservative-run) SCDC to govern with a city in the middle of it whose policies it cannot influence, and it cannot be easy for both Labour-run Cambridge City and SCDC to influence a Conservative-led Cambridgeshire County Council. Thus we’re in a situation where we have three councils run by three different political parties, and all of the fun that entails. Why have three councils when you can have just one?

190720 South Cambs DC Area Map

From G-Maps – the area that South Cambridgeshire District Council is responsible for. The settlements ending in -bourn according to various etymology sources indicate origins of small chalk streams. 

Cambridgeshire 1945

As an historical note, there have been numerous attempts over the past century to turn Cambridge into a unitary/county borough council. All of these have failed. The above is a map dated from 1958 which shows the 1944 proposals for reorganising Cambridgeshire. You can read the full history of local government in and around Cambridge 1834-1958 here.

Long reads

Including appendices, the Cambridge Local Plan main document is over 500 pages thick. Furthermore, the recently published Making Space for People document is 100 pages thick. This is all combined with the consultations for the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Local Transport Plan which county mayor James Palmer is consulting on over the summer. At the same time there is the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Local Industrial Strategy too. Are all of the people working on these things talking to each other, let alone co-ordinated with each other?

“What did summary documents and publications look like?”

Derek Senior was the author of a guide for citizens to the Cambridge Plan, published by the old Cambridgeshire County Council in 1956.


Five shillings? Bargain! Senior’s introduction sets out what I think is missing in the planning documents of today as far as local residents and the general public are concerned. See his introduction in Chapter 1. (The link to the full digitised document is here)


A print on demand public library of local publications?

Given that there are a number of firms all over the world that now offer this on legacy/out of copyright books, I’d like to think it wouldn’t be beyond a place like Cambridge to have something set up covering both the history of Cambridge the town and also its future plans.

Furthermore, given what’s happening with the future of Cambridge & Cambridgeshire, I can’t help but think the authorities need to be doing far more to engage not just the educated and ‘time-affluent’, but also young people (it’s their future) and those who didn’t go to university. Dense planning documents are hard work as it is even for those who are used to wading through large documents. How much of an extra barrier is it for people who struggle with reading? Cambridge is their city too.

Coffee table books and waiting room reading

One thing I’ve pondered about all things local democracy and community action is where the best places to put notice boards are. My general conclusion is to have them in places where people are naturally waiting for something – a health or dental clinic, a bus stop, a cafe. That’s where some of these publications (if published) should be deposited. But then for that to be successful it would need the consent of a whole host of organisations. Hence the onus on councils is to come up with not just a one-off series of actions, but an agreed system and process of what gets sent out/distributed, and where. Otherwise it risks becoming a community spamming operation!



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