At the start of the 21st Century, the site of RAF Oakington was identified as being suitable for the development of a new town. At the same time plans were put forward to convert the old railway line to a modern “eco-friendly” guided bus-way; enabling the new town of Northstowe to have good transport links. The A14, now severely congested, would be unable to cope with the increased traffic of the new town.
In the process of developing the concept of the new town, developers included much of the land in Longstanton parish and, to a lesser extent, land in parish of Oakington & Westwick. The proposed new town was no longer confined to RAF Oakington but would take much of the land of the two villages. After thousands of years as rural communities, these villages stand on the brink of being swallowed up and drawn irrevocably into an urban environment.
Why do we need a new town?
Northstowe is not just a brown-field site as the developers and planners liked to say. Much of the development will be on land that is currently being used for agriculture and horticulture. East Anglia has historically always been the main food producing region of England and we appear to be determined to concrete over it. A proposed extension to Northstowe has already been suggested which would extend the new town up behind Willingham and Rampton. Although not likely for a generation or so the town of Northstowe is not likely to have a green-belt around it so expansion is highly likely.
Other issues have had to be addressed in the planning of this new town. This region is also the driest area of the country and water issues will be increasingly important in the future, if current predictions on climate change become a reality. If you look at the link we have on our section Longstanton – Introduction to Longstanton & District – The Fen Edge you can see the impact of rising sea-levels on Longstanton. It is no accident that the Longstanton conservation area is the Anglo-Saxon Longstanton mentioned in Domesday Book. In 300 AD the climate got wetter and people appeared to move to the highest point in the parish. If sea-levels rise as a result of climate change this will have an enormous impact not only on the fens but possibly Northstowe as well. Much work has been undertaken to mitigate any flood risk to the new town and large balancing ponds are currently being excavated next to the B1050. As an eco-town in this part of the country Northstowe will need to deliver high quality water use and recycling plans so that our precious under-ground water resources are not depleted. There are a number of ponds across Longstanton which rely on under-ground water to maintain their water at levels that will support local horticulture and wildlife. The developers and planners have been made aware of the balance that needs to be made between flood risk mitigation and habitat conservation.
Government and the developers have argued that new homes are required as there is currently a major shortage of homes partly fuelled by an increasing number of single adult homes, and there can be no disputing the fact that more homes building is needed across the country. Cambridge with its booming science and technology sectors is viewed as a prime candidate to take much of the required housing growth. In December 2009 it was announced that Northstowe would be “an eco-town of the second wave”. Hopefully this means that Northstowe developers will mitigate the environmental damage that the new town will cause, provide alternative habitats and respect the heritage of the existing villages. Much work has been carries out on all the issues raised by this large development but there is still a lot more work to be done. LDHS continues to lobby the developers, planners and local government so that the environment and heritage preservation form a focal point around which the town can be designed.
The issues surrounding Northstowe really do bring together all the important issues facing 21st Century Britain. This provides the developers and government with enormous challenges but also great opportunities. Hopefully, Northstowe will be an exemplar in eco-development, leading the way with green homes and dirty water recycling. Perhaps Northstowe can be the catalyst for real progress in developing environmentally friendly building practises and eco-technologies.
You can keep up to date with all the latest developments by visiting the official Northstowe website: http://www.northstowe.com
Updated by HAE Stroude July 2016