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UK’s Silicon Valley set to see explosion of property investment

The government is pushing ahead with controversial plans which, if they come to fruition, will make Cambridge the so-called Silicon Valley of the UK.

This week the Housing Secretary Michael Gove announced that the Government would unblock the bottlenecks in the planning system “that are choking and slowing down development” by launching a £24m Planning Skills Delivery Fund to clear backlogs and get the right skills in place.

He also said he was setting up a new “super-squad” team of leading planners and other experts charged with working across the planning system to unblock major housing developments. 


“The team will first be deployed in Cambridge to turbocharge our plans in the city” he pledged.

Those plans, called Cambridge 2040, involve a jaw-dropping 250,000 new homes in the area, along with new rail lines, a possible tram or bus network, and other infrastructure projects. 

The proposed 250,000 are believed to be in addition to the far smaller number of homes already planned by Cambridge City Council and the South Cambridgeshire district council. 

A statement from Gove’s office says: “Rather than concreting over the countryside, the government will focus on prioritising building in inner-city areas where demand is highest and growth is being constrained. This includes a new urban quarter in Cambridge which will unlock the city’s full potential as a source of innovation and talent. Working with local leaders and communities in Cambridge, a new quarter will create new beautiful homes, supported by state of the art facilities with cutting-edge laboratories and green spaces.”

Big-hitting companies already involved with Cambridge have welcomed the news.

Sir Mene Pangalos of AstraZeneca says: “This announcement offers the potential to help Cambridge continue to develop as a leading global centre for life sciences and healthcare, enhance its infrastructure, and deliver further growth locally and nationally.”

Caspar Herzberg, chief executive of AVEVA, comments: “We welcome this investment in Cambridge’s future as a global science and technology hub. From AVEVA’s origins as a research joint-venture between the government and University of Cambridge, the city remains a major R&D centre for our global software business.  We’re committed to continuing to invest in Cambridge as an innovation centre for the development of the next generation of industrial software, using AI to drive productivity and decarbonisation for our customers around the world.”

And Steve Bates, chief executive of the UK Bioindustry Association, adds: “The UK life science sector needs speedy decisions on new labs and homes to grow. Today’s announcement about Cambridge  is a welcome boost to scaling companies like Alcamab and Bicycle, competing for global investment.”

‘Cambridge 2040’ also includes identifying large swathes of land for business parks, laboratories and science hubs alongside proposals for sustainable public transport. 

If fully implemented, it could effectively treble the size of the city, bringing its population, currently at 145,000, in line with that of Bristol or Manchester. With the average Cambridge house price over nine times the average salary, the need to address supply and demand in the housing market and increase the availability of homes for key workers is long over-due.

Property consultancy Carter Jonas also backs the proposal.

It says Cambridge is currently home to over 26,000 businesses and generating total revenues in excess of £48 billion annually.
Carter Jonas planning and development chief Colin Brown, who has overseen much of the city’s growth in recent decades, says: “Cambridgeshire and the surrounding area is well placed to deliver on the growth agenda provided that it is coordinated and supported by necessary critical infrastructure. To deliver an additional 250,000 homes alongside commercial development, transport and community infrastructure by 2040 is however ambitious in the extreme, and would mean development proceeding at a wholly unprecedented rate. 

“To my mind delivery of anything even approaching that level of ambition would require a development corporation with wide planning and land assembly powers to be established quickly and for the vision to take into account significant known constraints, including the already over-stretched demand on roads, the need for major public transport infrastructure, and water availability. 

“It would mean substantial revisions to the local plans already in place and effective coordination between the public and private sectors and critically, Central Government. I do not doubt the potential of Cambridgeshire to work towards this considerable ambition, but a strategic approach is imperative to delivering growth effectively and one suspects it will take well beyond 2040 to do so.”


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