News & Views


blog: As it turns out, it is possible to deliver great new sustainable communities here in the UK...

Author: Ed Ducker

ITP’s Policy & Strategy team recently took a day away from their desks to satisfy some collective curiosity and visit two ‘exemplar’ developments in Cambridge we’ve heard a lot about over the years - Great Kneighton and Eddington. Through the study tour we wanted to...

  • Look beyond the hype and consider these two communities in the context of interactions between land-use planning, placemaking, sustainable transport network and service provision, and private vehicle demand management.
  • Challenge our recent graduates to reflect on what we consider makes a ‘great place to live’, and wonder aloud whether we would choose to live in these new communities.
  • Reflect on how the transport and planning processes we work with daily can deliver more sustainable communities... and ponder whether this is this only possible in places with higher housing values.

Here's what we thought...

First impressions start with how you (and others) travel

Arriving in Cambridge, the first thing that struck us was the number of cyclists – visible both on the roads, and through the sheer quantity of parked bikes. It’s no great secret, but in Cambridge 29% of adults cycled at least three times a week in 2021 compared to an average of 5.3% for England! The confidence in ‘normalising’ cycling through ‘strength in numbers’ was apparent, albeit offset by the disproportionate impacts that motorised vehicles (both moving and parked) seem to have upon the sense of safety for those on bikes in such a constrained, historic urban environment.

The bus we took from the Cambridge train station to Great Kneighton was quick - albeit a little pricey for such a short hop - but easy to find and use. Looking at the route map, it felt like the service’s commercial sustainability could be linked to the number of University facilities and key destinations served across the city – perhaps a lesson for other cities in the UK?

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How great is Great Kneighton?

It's a totally new community located to the south of Cambridge city centre, close to the village of Trumpington. Once complete, it will have 2,300 dwellings alongside a new school, allotments, convenience retail facilities and a community library, café and health centre.

A community centre sits at the heart of the development and is close to the guided busway that runs from a new Park & Ride site to the city centre, via the Addenbrookes Hospital and Bio-Science campus and Cambridge rail station.

The overall impression was of a place that had been designed primarily around people and one that not only looked attractive but appeared to function well as a sustainable development.

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Our key observations were:

  • The proximity to the guided busway and parallel cycling / walking route provides excellent choices for travel and faster-than-car links to places in Cambridge beyond the ‘red-line boundary’ of the development area.
  • Bin storage and cycle parking for houses was located away from the street but still accessible.
  • Parking for residents was designed in a way which didn’t adversely impact on the movement of pedestrians. Enforcement didn’t appear to be a particular problem (albeit a Monday morning is probably not ‘peak time’ for local parking demand).
  • The quality and scale of landscaping and sustainable urban drainage was impressive. We wondered whether maintenance could become an issue in the future, given the extent of planting and vegetation, if not correctly managed.
  • We discussed the merits of ‘shared space’ on mews streets and what the impacts could be on different users, particularly people who experience visual impairment and may not be able to detect they were mobilising along a streetscape where vehicles could be encountered.
  • The allotments provide a sense of community; a place where we saw people interacting, even during the time of our visit on a late Monday morning.
  • There were two distinct character areas of the development, either side of where the site was split by the busway, and with greater emphasis on ‘low-car’ living closest to the Community Centre and bus stop.

Next stop, Eddington

From Great Kneighton we travelled across Cambridge on the cross-city bus towards our next location.

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Future public transport services should benefit further from Making the Connections, a project on which The Greater Cambridge Partnership is currently consulting, that would result in improvements including: cheaper bus fares, improved priority for bus services to help them beat traffic congestion, new walking and cycling links, and a new Sustainable Zone that charges road users for entry into the urban area of Cambridge between 7am and 7pm from 2027/28 onwards.

Eddington is the first stage of the North West Cambridge Development. It represents the realisation of the University of Cambridge’s master plan to develop 1,500 homes for University and College staff; 1,500 private dwellings; accommodation for 2,000 postgraduates; research and development space; community facilities; and a hotel, care home, sports facilities and open spaces.

Having paused for a lunch break at Storey’s Field Centre (a strikingly designed multi-purpose community centre adjacent to a new school), we then explored Eddington. Our team’s observations were that:

  • The Market Square provides a large area for events but, on a Monday afternoon when there were few people about, its scale felt a little daunting and not quite as ‘people-friendly’ as the more compact and maturely-planted squares and courtyards of Great Kneighton.
  • Eddington is still being built out; but the segregated cycle tracks and footways adjacent to the main streets, the wider active travel links, and bus priority measures appear to offer conditions which will allow sustainable transport modes to be a realistic choice for many residents and visitors.
  • The paving, planting and street furniture installed is of a very high standard, but there is also an awful lot of it! Eddington somehow felt ‘harsher’ and made up of a large number of (high-quality) harder surfaces than the ‘softer’ and more welcoming Great Kneighton. In truth, it felt at times like walking through a paving and street furniture catalogue.
  • The underground bin system prevents footways being blighted by wheelie bins, but still demands access for a large refuse collection vehicle – exerting significant vehicular design requirements on a small number of residential streets.

What did we learn?

The team’s conclusions from a valuable day, ratified in The Old Ticket Office, were:

  • Development needs to be situated in the right place to facilitate movement by walking, cycling and public transport. Both Great Kneighton and Eddington seem to have done this reasonably well, although required locally unpopular Green Belt release to enable Cambridge to grow in scale. Their allocation has, likely, prevented thousands of homes from otherwise leap-frogging the city’s urban fringe – an outcome which in the past has resulted in thousands of additional daily car trips into employment centres like Cambridge.
  • Existing travel behaviours matter, and a new development can’t do it all on its own. Catering for patterns of existing movement and improving bus and cycle-based links means the benefits of growth can be shared with existing communities too.
  • Higher density of development is generally a proxy for lower car reliance but not a panacea. Reducing car dependency is as much about decongesting existing roads, and creating space/priority for non-car-based travel modes as it is about linear parks and parking restraint in new developments.
  • Designing the places around people, and their needs sits at the heart of both developments. Direct routes, places to linger and thoughtful landscaping help to create environments where people want to walk and spend time. Aesthetics are a highly subjective matter but using high quality materials helps to foster an environment which is cared for and is people focused.
  • However well connected and predisposed to sustainable transport a development is the car parking and refuse collection will continue to remain important design factors for some time to come.
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    ITP’s Policy & Strategy team is involved in the planning and design of sustainable transport connections for a number of Garden Community and major growth area developments. We’d love to hear your thoughts on the places we visited, or just to chat about how we might be able to help with your projects. Please Get in Touch with Geoff Burrage, Ian Stott, Ed Ducker or Nicola Siddall if you would like to know more.


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