St Neots has once again being put forward as a potential location for massive housing expansion – this time by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.
The Liberal Democrat leader, speaking at the party’s conference in Glasgow on Monday, revealed plans for an express train route through the “brain-belt of Britain” from Oxford to Cambridge.
And these trains could stop at St Neots, an incentive if the town agrees to become one of five garden cities along the route. This, according to Lib Dem figures, would include building between 9,000 and 15,000 homes at each location.
Great Cambourne and Sandy are also included as potential garden city sites along with Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, and Ampthill and Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire. Bicester in Oxfordshire has already expressed an interest in creating a garden city.
While the incentive of fast trains to Cambridge could be seen as attractive to St Neots, the level of building necessary to gain the carrot is likely to find many supporters. And with the Lib Dems unlikely to gain power at next year’s General Election, the idea is unlikely to get off the ground, but it could spark the push to get St Neots included on the Oxford to Cambridge line.
The first section of the line is already going ahead, but the Bedford to Cambridge stretch, estimated to cost up to £1billion, will only start once the deficit has been cleared. This is expected by 2018.
Mr Clegg claimed that the Conservatives had held back development of new garden cities and pledged that at least 10 would be built if his party returns to government.
He said: “House building is stuck in the doldrums, with nowhere near enough homes being built to meet demand and keep prices affordable for those families desperate for a home of their own. Garden cities are a vital cornerstone of our plan to boost house building to 300,000 homes a year – enough to meet demand and keep prices in reach while still protecting our precious green space and preventing urban sprawl. Our plan is to build a series of high quality new towns and cities where people want to live, with green space, sustainable transport and spacious homes.”
Liberal Democrat aides denied that only building train stations for towns that agree to garden city plans was “blackmail” and stressed that “nobody is going to impose these homes”.
The view from Huntingdonshire is that while St Neots would welcome infrastructure improvements, more homes – on top of those already planned – are not on the agenda.
Councillor Jason Ablewhite, executive leader of Huntingdonshire District Council, told The Hunts Post: “On one hand I fully endorse and support an additional link which would link, in essence, St Neots and Cambridge. It would give people an alternative to get into a hugely impressive and growing city.
“On the flip side I am extremely concerned that anybody would consider St Neots as a garden city. Our policies are quite clear on sustainable growth. We have agreed to considerable development in our area – we are the highest growth area in the country at the moment – but most of our growth is on brownfield sites. Our view as a council has always been, and will continue to be, that where we have homes we have got to have jobs as well. We don’t need the additional growth that garden cities would bring – it would be catastrophic.”
Nick Dibben, St Ives town councillor and committee member for the East Anglian branch of transport campaign group Rail Future, said: “Talks about the live have been going on for a long time at a low level – it is good to know that there is now high-level interest.
“We want to have a fairly quick journey time that doesn’t have a particularly large impact on the countryside. Our view would be that we need to have this link whether more houses are built or not – we would want the line whether we have one new settlement or five.
“At the moment the people who travel along that route can’t use a train – there is no service. It would make a better choice for people and it would links lots of growing areas together.”
The St Neots garden city idea follows the recent concept of a garden city named New Abbotsley, which was submitted as an unsuccessful bid for the Wolfson Economics Prize this year. It suggested that the area could incorporate a settlement of 85,000 new homes, a population of up to 200,000 people, and the creation of 120,000 new jobs.
The proposer, who did not wish to be named, has left the information available on the internet for interested parties to view at www.newabbotsley.wordpress.com.