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Letter to the Greater Cambridge City Deal Executive Board

posted Sep 3, 2016, 11:07 AM by Cambridge Association of Architects RIBA   [ updated Sep 3, 2016, 11:11 AM ]
To the Greater Cambridge City Deal Executive Board (by email)

Cllr Lewis Herbert (Chair)
Leader of Cambridge City Council
Cllr Francis Burkitt (Vice - chair) 
Greater Cambridge City Deal Portfolio Holder, South Cambridgeshire District Council
Cllr Ian Bates (Chair)
Economy & Environment Committee, Cambridgeshire County Council
Professor Nigel Slater
Pro-Vice Chancellor for Enterprise and Regional Affairs at the University Cambridge
Mark Reeve (temporary)
Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership

1 September 2016

Greater Cambridge City Deal Design Quality Leadership

Honourable members of the Executive Board,

The Cambridge Association of Architects (CAA) is the local chapter of the RIBA in Cambridgeshire, a charity which is comprised of local professionals who work and live in Cambridge and the region.

We warmly support the principle of the Greater Cambridge City Deal, and acknowledge the need to improve the region’s infrastructure to secure future prosperity for the people of Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire. We recognise that significant infrastructure improvements can potentially have a positive impact on improving housing provision, skills development and supporting economic growth.

However, we have serious concerns over the impact that the currently proposed schemes, particularly for Milton Road and Histon Road, are likely to have on (a) the cohesion of the city’s communities and (b) on the quality of the city’s public realm.

The CAA believe that the City Deal process is missing opportunities to improve both of these by attempting to make decisions too early, without giving sufficient consideration to design quality in the critical early feasibility stages. Moreover, that the City Deal process is squandering a major opportunity to improve the infrastructure, public realm and place-making potential in key areas of the city by focusing solely on engineering solutions to a partially formed and narrow brief. The greatest likelihood is that it will repeat the mistakes of the past and create unloved, and under-utilised spaces that fail to live up to the promise of the City Deal.

In recent months we have been observing the development of the infrastructure design process, and have completed written submissions and participated in Local Liaison Forum consultations. Furthermore, we have featured several references to the GCCD in our bi-annual publication Cambridge Architecture Gazette, extracts of which are attached for reference. Some of our commentary has attracted a great deal of attention in local news and on social media.

We agree that priority should be given to pedestrians, bikes and public transport over individual car borne transport into the city, and that congestion must be reduced.

However, the CAA has serious concerns that the process is being pushed forward without adequate regard for the wider impact the proposals will have on the urban fabric; and without a suitably qualified design team with a brief to develop coherent, considered proposals that challenge and respond to the initial engineering objectives. These concerns can be described in two broad areas: communities and design quality.

Considering communities, it is clear that there is much opposition to the current bus corridor proposals. The CAA believe that solely focusing on infrastructure in the narrow scope of roads, pavements and cycle lanes, misses a wider opportunity to improve the quality of the city and to provide consequential benefit to local residents on affected roads. We wish to see the city hold a stronger aspiration to improve our streets and communities, as these assets affect, and support, the future growth of the city in equal measure to traffic movement. This process should be positive for local as well and city wide and regional communities.

Considering design quality, it is clear that there has been very little thought as to the quality of the design for City Deal corridors beyond traffic data improvement and very simplistic rule of thumb widths for road cross sections. It may be a challenge to place trees on streets, but it is essential in a city that famously embraces its rural-urban balance. As experienced consultants we are often asked to challenge the brief and find solutions that balance the competing demands of numerous stakeholders with different ambitions, in order to develop creative solutions or at least informed compromises to such complex challenges. It is essential for the city that infrastructure design is considered in a broad multi-disciplinary design team at the earliest possible opportunity, not just by road engineers.

Therefore, the Cambridge Association of Architects now call on the City Deal Executive Board to:
  1. Make good on the City Deal mission statement which observes that Cambridge “is an attractive place and… a good place for business leaders and their families to live, not just a good place to do business.” which suggests a broader definition of city infrastructure including the public realm, streets, parks and squares, building on the long lasting qualities of our city;
  2. Broaden the discussion beyond road, bike and pavement infrastructure to include public space, materials palettes for Cambridge streets, and community benefits (i.e. seek opportunities for consequential benefit of the capital expenditure of the City Deal beyond traffic data);
  3. Make sure that all commissioned studies completed on road design will be multi-disciplinary to include urban designers and landscape architects with relevant experience of infrastructure as well as road engineers;
  4. Appoint an experienced design champion who will provide a wider unifying approach between disciplines and challenge textbook engineering assumptions of road design;
  5. Utilise the Cambridgeshire Quality Panel to review and guide the City Deal on street design;
  6. Implement immediate change to improve the design quality leadership currently exhibited in the process.
We would be happy to discuss how we, as an organisation can assist the City Deal Executive Board with achieving these goals.

Yours Sincerely,
The Cambridge Association of Architects GCCD Committee 
For and on behalf of the Cambridge Association of Architects

Cc:
MP Daniel Zeichner
Member for Cambridge and Shadow Minister for Transport
Cllr Steve Count
Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council
Cllr Kevin Blencowe
Executive Councillor for Planning Policy and Transport, Cambridge City Council
Cllr Peter Topping
Leader, South Cambridgeshire District Council
Roger Taylor
Director of Estates Strategy, University of Cambridge
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Cambridge Association of Architects RIBA,
Sep 3, 2016, 11:07 AM
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Cambridge Association of Architects RIBA,
Sep 3, 2016, 11:07 AM