Idea mooted for “monster” development between St Neots and Cambridge

The proposal suggests building a 'garden city' in the rural areas around Abbotsley.

The proposal suggests building a 'garden city' in the rural areas around Abbotsley. - Credit: Archant

An idea has been put forward that would allow the A428 to be upgraded – but it would involve building a “monster” 85,000-home development in the countryside between St Neots and Cambridge.

Called New Abbotsley, the suggestion envisages a new ‘garden city’ with a population of 200,000, the creation of 120,000 jobs and the upgrading of infrastructure in the surrounding area, including the A428.

The proposal has been created for the Wolfson Economics Prize, so does not have any formal status or backing from Huntingdonshire District Council (HDC), developers, landowners, or central government.

However, if the detailed proposals can impress the Wolfson judges, which are looking for new thinking about how garden cities could help ease the country’s chronic housing needs, the proposers stand to win £250,000 to xxxxxxxxxx.

New Abbotsley is among 279 entries to the competition, which was set up Conservative peer Lord Wolfson to look at ways of solving the housing crisis.

Should the scheme ever find favour with the Government it would make way for a development that would be bigger than Milton Keynes – it would become the 30th largest town/city in England.

While Abbotsley village is at the heart of the study area, the wider location being analysed for the garden city includes land up to the county boundary between Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire, as well as land west of Cambridge and south of St Neots.

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The proposer, who would not be identified despite requests from The Hunts Post, suggests that much-needed improvements to the A428 could be funded by the scheme, allowing any future development to sit alongside a new dual carriageway route running from the Black Cat junction south of Abbotsley and north of Great Gransden to connect up at the Caxton roundabout.

Land which is currently used as farmland would be used to build affordable homes, parks, schools and to create new job opportunities.

The principle of garden cities – such as Letchworth and Welwyn in Hertfordshire – is to be well-planned, self-contained communities with proportionate areas for homes, businesses, and green spaces.

The proposer aims for New Abbotsley to be modern and distinctive in style, incorporating new technology, and to be environmentally responsible.

It is estimated that if the scheme did find backers and approval, the A428 link and the first phases of houses should be built in about five years’ time, although the entire project would, according to the proposals, take about 50 years to be developed.

However, finding support within Huntingdonshire seems unlikely.

Councillor Jason Ablewhite, leader of Huntingdonshire District Council, told The Hunts Post that the scheme was, in housing terms, unnecessary and described it as a monster. “We are going through our Local Plan at the moment and all of the housing need for Huntingdonshire has been identified right up to 2036,” he said.

“A lot of this New Abbotsley plan – which has only just recently come to light – consumes some of our prettiest villages and those in South Cambridgeshire as well. It creates a monster right on the boundary of South Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire and Bedfordshire.

“My first impression is one of grave concern for the rural areas – it would be a monster on our doorstep.”

A spokesman for the bid said: “This is only an idea at this stage. Full and proper engagement would have to happen to make sure that any new garden city could achieve something of real quality and had sufficient support from the people who might live in or use it.

“Too often we see housing development being promoted where landowners massively inflate the value of their land, and developers maximise their profits to the detriment of properly contributing to necessary infrastructure.

“A different approach – based upon the development corporations that built the new towns – could give power to local people and ensure that value is properly captured and used to pay for high quality upfront infrastructure.”

The idea of garden cities was first developed by Sir Ebenezer Howard in Garden Cities of Tomorrow (1898), but recent governments have put forward the idea of constructing new garden cities – Communities Secretary Eric Pickles was earlier this year quoted as saying that the Government wants to build “a garden city or two”. But he also stressed that providing they were in places where people want them and the authorities express an interest.

While the proposer of New Abbotsley admits they are unlikely to win the Wolfson money, they hope the scheme sparks debate about housing supply and potential ways of solving it.

INFORMATION: For more details about the scheme visit Wolfson judges will be announcing their shortlist today (Wednesday).