Rapid expansion outlined for Hunts

MORE than 5,400 new homes and 13,000 extra jobs will have to be provided in Huntingdonshire in less than 20 years – on top of the 8,500 homes already somewhere in the planning system. And, because the district is so short of previously developed land, apa

MORE than 5,400 new homes and 13,000 extra jobs will have to be provided in Huntingdonshire in less than 20 years - on top of the 8,500 homes already somewhere in the planning system.

And, because the district is so short of previously developed land, apart from disused RAF bases, most of those will be built on Greenfield sites.

The strategy for controlling the rapid expansion expected in Huntingdonshire as the district takes its share of the three million new homes the Government wants to add to the national housing stock is set to go to public consultation shortly.

Huntingdonshire District Council's cabinet is expected to approve the core planning strategy document tomorrow (Thursday), including

# 2,600 extra homes in St Neots on top of the 1,250 being built at Loves Farm

# 1,800 in greater Huntingdon, which includes Godmanchester and Brampton, and on top of the 1,200 near the A14 at Northbridge, which already has outline planning consent

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# 500 in the St Ives area, in addition to around 300 already in the system for the Houghton Road approach to the town

# 300 in the Ramsey area, including some in a redevelopment scheme to be considered by planners next week as part of a Tesco and community hall site.

Sawtry, Fenstanton and Yaxley have also been earmarked for expansion, but on a much smaller scale. Buckden, Kimbolton, Little Paxton, Somersham and Warboys are also identified as areas with the infrastructure, such as shops, to accommodate modest expansion. In the district's 80 smaller villages little development will be allowed, save to enable the next generation to preserve a family tradition it would otherwise not be able to afford. Such developments are called "rural exceptions".

Where significant developments are allowed in towns and the larger villages, 40 per cent of homes will have to be provided as "affordable" to those who cannot buy or rent at commercial market rates.

In addition, both Huntingdon and St Neots should attract 9,000 sq metres of additional shopping space, with another 51 hectares of employment land in Huntingdon, 25 hectares in St Neots, 2,000 sq metres in St Ives and four hectares in and around Ramsey.

Forty per cent of the extra 13,000 jobs will be aimed at providing work for new residents. The rest will be an attempt to reduce the number of people who live here and work elsewhere, such as around 5,000 who commute to Cambridge and a similar number to London.

HDC's planning policy is a sub-set of the East of England Regional Spatial Strategy, which is expected to be confirmed in the new year. It builds on recent studies of where land might become available for housing and employment sites, housing and retail needs, flood risk and several other bodies of evidence that help planners decide what should go where.

But it is largely aspirational. HDC cannot coerce developers to build houses or factories: all the planners can do is to identify where such development would be in keeping with retaining the district's character and where it would not.

We have known for some years that Huntingdonshire would have to accept at least 11,200 new homes between 2001 and 2021. Around 8,500 of those are already either built or within the planning process, nearly 2,500 of them at Loves Farm in St Neots and Northbridge in Huntingdon. Only 2,700 of those earmarked for the next 14 years are not already spoken for. This new document goes further than that, identifying the construction industry's ability - if not its willingness - to add around 550 homes a year to the district's housing stock, which currently includes around 67,000 homes.

If all goes according to plan, the Huntingdon area expansion is likely to be in the town centre - 400 new homes are included in the "west of town centre" development proposals - as part of a mixed use development when the MOD quits RAF Brampton in 2011 and to the south-east of Godmanchester.

Retail development will be in a redeveloped Chequers Court and between the ring road - freed from half its traffic by a new link road between Ermine Street and Brampton Road - and the railway line.

Hinchingbrooke Park, Brampton and expanded business parks off the A141 are identified as sites suitable for new employment.

Expansion in St Neots is likely to come to the east of the time, with mixed developments to the north and south of Cambridge Road. But the scale of possible expansion will provide an opportunity for wholesale improvement of the town centre and educational facilities, HDC's head of planning services, Steve Ingram, believes.

St Ives has limited scope for expansion, other than westwards and some in-filling, but the arrival of the guided bus service early in 2009 could make it an attractive location for new residents and small businesses.

There is scope for westward residential expansion in Sawtry and Ramsey, which could also expand towards the north-west with the opening up of the northern gateway.

Fenstanton's expansion is likely to be towards the South Cambridgeshire border at Fen Drayton and towards Hilton when the new A14 relieves the village of some traffic in the next decade.

At the same time, planners want to preserve and enhance green space. Many millions of pounds are being spent on the Great Fen Project to recreate natural wetland by linking Woodwalton Fen and Holme Fen. The district's two other prized green areas are the Grafham Water/Brampton Wood green lung and the huge swathe of the Ouse Valley between the Bedfordshire border near St Neots and the East Cambridgeshire border beyond Earith Bridge.

"The counterbalance to the expansion of housing and employment areas is strategic green space, and we shall be looking to improve access to quiet recreational areas," Mr Ingram told The Hunts Post.

"We are trying to plan for sustainable growth of Huntingdonshire in a way that also benefits existing communities."

Or, as executive councillor for planning strategy Peter Bucknell puts it: "The district council wants Huntingdonshire to be a place where people can thrive at work and at play, at home and in the community, in a safe and healthy environment, actively taking part in decisions, and continuing to learn and develop throughout their lives."

And presumably enjoy motherhood and apple pie.

INFORMATION: HDC's Core Strategy 2007 - Preferred Options will be on the council's website soon and available at HDC offices, in libraries and elsewhere during the consultation period. Volume One (45 pages) sets out the vision for the district. Volume Two, entitled Consideration of Options, set out how the authority reached the conclusions in Volume One and validates them.