01Policy priority 1: Make Cambridge more affordable for local residents
- Support strategic reviews of the green belt land. In particular, land around railway stations should be released for climate-friendly new homes.
- Advocate for the abolition of minimum space standards. Cambridge’s new flats are too big for single people to rent or buy by themselves because of space standards, which should be removed to help young residents in house-shares.
- Co-operate with the new planning reforms. Cambridge is one of the cities with the most to gain from planning reform, and a permanent increase in supply will make Cambridge permanently more affordable.
Cambridge is the UK’s star performer on housing in recent years, seeing housing supply increase by over 7 per cent from 2015 to 2019.3 But it remains one of the most unaffordable cities in the UK.4 Homes are nearly 15 times the average salary in Cambridge, the third most unaffordable in the country. Peterborough is in contrast the most affordable city in the Greater South East (including the South East, East of England, and London), with the average homes costing eight times average wages, more affordable than the UK city average of 9.9.5
To ease housing pressure in Cambridge, the mayor should advocate for the release of more green belt land near railway stations. The origins ofCambridge’s recent housing success lie in its releases of green belt land for development and repeated reviews since the 2000s.6 However, despite these breakthroughs, Cambridge’s green belt continues to impose serious restrictions on growth and to reduce local housing affordability.
Existing railway stations offer perfect opportunities for new homes, as they provide access to jobs for new residents with minimal need for cars. The progress towards building 6,500 homes around Waterbeach station shows this potential that could be further rolled out, as does the recent opening of Cambridge North station and the commercial and housing development it has unlocked. The reopening of stations such as Soham brings further opportunities for this type of climate-friendly development.
The mayor should also push to reduce or abolish minimum space standards for new properties within local plans. 7 Although these currently sit at 37m2 for one-person one-bed flats, this is actually larger than the average space per person residents of Cambridge and Peterborough currently have.8 Abolishing these arbitrary space restrictions would let developers offer a new kind of unit for single people to live, if they choose, in smaller and more affordable new flats, as opposed to being forced into sharing. A boost in the supply of small flats would also release family homes currently used for house sharing back onto the market for families.
The mayor should also work with the Government’s planning reform process to secure the new homes that the area needs. The Planning White Paper proposals (to divide land into ‘Growth’, ‘Renewal’, or ‘Protected’ areas) would remove much of the planning system’s discretionary decision-making on proposals after local plans have been agreed, and that still creates bottlenecks in Cambridge’s housing pipeline, even for projects that comply with democratically agreed plans.9 Removing these bottlenecks both in Cambridge and other expensive cities is essential for improving housing affordability for Cambridge’s residents, and will help turn Cambridge’s housing market from a seller’s market into a buyer’s market.
After the Planning White Paper is implemented, the mayor should provide certainty for the delivery of more homes, more quickly and more affordably by supporting the creation of Growth areas 800m around any commuter stations (excepting any designations for national parks, outstanding natural beauty or flooding). Within these, any proposals that meet democratically set design and sustainability codes should receive automatic planning permission.