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Michael Gove’s plan for thousands of Cambridge homes threatened by lack of water

Written by The Anand Market

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Michael Gove’s plans to dramatically expand Cambridge by 2040 with 150,000 new homes are “absurd” due to the city’s lack of water infrastructure, the leaders of three Cambridgeshire councils have warned.

The Housing and Upgrades Secretary announced plans last December to develop a new science quarter in Cambridge via a new top-down development company, armed with “good leadership and…”. . . powers” ​​to rapidly expand the city.

Mike Davey, Labor leader of Cambridge City Council, said Gove’s vision ignored the reality that Cambridge was already struggling to meet existing plans for 50,000 homes by 2040 due to a chronic lack of water supply.

“The 150,000 homes just seems insane, if I’m honest, because the infrastructure is just not there,” Davey told the Financial Times.

The combination of water shortages and the growing conflict between local leaders in Cambridge and central government highlights the challenges the UK faces in delivering major construction projects after decades of underinvestment.

The Environment Agency, the public body responsible for water conservation, friends 9,000 homes and some 300,000 square meters of research space in the Cambridge area are on hold because planners have been unable to demonstrate the existence of a sustainable water supply.

Infrastructure deadlock

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This is the third in a series of articles on the infrastructure challenges facing the UK.

Part one: Building Birmingham
Second part: Budget blowouts and delays
Part three: Cambridge project threatened by lack of water supply
Fourth part : Can the UK pay its infrastructure bill?

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Bridget Smith, Liberal Democrat leader of South Cambridgeshire district council, where new development is expected to focus, accused Gove of failing to engage seriously with local leaders.

“We are a pro-growth council, but we are running out of water. So this leaves us with many questions about how this can be achieved. Gove has to solve the water problem and the energy problem, otherwise it can’t be done,” she said.

Lucy Nethsingha, Liberal Democrat leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, added that Gove’s top-down intervention risked slowing development, not speeding it up.

“They revisit work that has already been done; once again revise the transportation programs that have been approved to allow for the current level of construction,” she said. “The extent to which we continue to reinvent things without achieving our goals is alarming. »

The National Infrastructure Commission, a government advisory board, warned last October in its five-year review of Britain’s infrastructure that “significant deficiencies” were holding the country back. These include the failure to build a single large water reservoir in England in the last 30 years.

Davey said the Government had provided £9m to fund a water scarcity group to help renovate homes to reduce water consumption to free up supply for future developments.

“It will help, and it will mean we can renovate existing housing stock, but we need faster action on potential reservoirs,” he added.

Gove revealed his plans in a speech last July, when he promised to create “a major new district for the city” with “beautiful, integrated neighborhoods” while “boosting innovation and protecting green spaces”. His department initially planned up to 250,000 new housing units, according to information at the time.

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He appointed Peter Freeman, chairman of Homes England, the government body that funds affordable housing in the UK, to lead a Cambridge Delivery Group to begin defining the scope of the work, supported by £5m.

Gove reduced the planned number of homes to 150,000 in subsequent comments last December to The Times, which described a map showing development plans on his office wall.

Smith said council leaders were still waiting to hear who was in the implementation group or whether they would have a seat at the table, more than six months after the first announcement.

She added that they had not even been able to see the map of Gove’s plans. “These plans are not shared with us. We ask to see (the map) all the time. The lack of transparency is truly extraordinary.

The Department of Upgrades, Housing and Communities recognized that Cambridge was facing water shortage issues and established the development corporation to improve implementation of the plan.

“From the start we have been open to the challenges facing Cambridge, which is why we have established an implementation group to work with local people and city councils on our vision for the city,” added a spokesperson.