A project that matters ...
Waterbeach is held within an open and compelling fen-edge landscape. A car-free vision reimagines what residential streets can offer. It is a first for UK housing at scale.
“Overhead the arch of heaven spread more ample than elsewhere, as over the open sea; and that vastness gave, and still gives, such cloudlands, such sunrises, as can be seen nowhere else within these isles.”
Charles Kingsley, Hereward the Wake
Within an inland sea
The landscape of the fenlands has long captured the imagination as a place caught between land and water. Deep views stretch to the horizon; ‘the sky seems larger and more beautiful’ (Charles Kingsley), the light extraordinary.
The very creation of this land is a dramatic tale, and yet the place speaks simply of itself, conjuring up lives gleaned from sod and river, a place where eel was early currency.
Once ‘the sink of thirteen counties’, the land is now the backbone of England’s agricultural production. Its soils rich with marine minerals. The marshy water’s edge provides ample habitats for species; and wildlife is diverse. It is possible to feel very close to nature.
Yet, the fens are not without their challenges, and those who might choose to settle in a new town here will have something of the pioneer about them.
Last year, RLW Estates submitted an outline planning application shaped by LDA Design for 4,500 new homes in Waterbeach New Town East and a full planning application for a relocated railway station.
In sharp contrast to the individualism that drove many early pioneers, Waterbeach New Town East promotes connected living; people who live and work here will know what it feels like to belong.
Socialable streets with the feel of linear parks are a key feature.
A new approach for a new town
For LDA Design, establishing a new town is a social endeavour. It is not about creating a place for buildings, but creating a place for people. Waterbeach, with a population of perhaps 30,000, will not be an isolated dormitory town, but rather a place for your start-up, a place alive with play, where people meet for a coffee in the mid-morning sun.
The landscape will be cherished at Waterbeach, with linear historic causeways uncovered and drainage channels preserved. The gentle meandering course of an ancient drove, which pre-dates the draining of the fens, will connect the town with an expansive new fenland park in the north. Valuable new areas of fen will be created and views to the surroundings will be framed with Ely Cathedral sketched lightly in the distance.
A relocated and enhanced train station will connect local people to Cambridge and beyond.
A sense of place
With an eye to the future, automated transport will be fully factored in to Waterbeach New Town. For the here and now, a relocated and enhanced train station will connect local people to Cambridge and beyond.
The station is being made as convenient as possible for the existing community of Waterbeach village, an integral part of the new town, which is now close to new parks as well as new schools, healthcare and sports facilities. Walking and cycling routes connecting key destinations, such as the station and town centre are designed to be more direct than vehicle routes, encouraging wider use.
The vision for Waterbeach New Town is of an enterprising, self-sustaining community, a place to work as well as to live.
The urban quarter, near the station, has a good mix of workspaces, shops, community hubs and leisure facilities, making for vibrant streets and spaces from day through to evening.
Residential density increases within easy walking distance of the station, forming the Townsteads.
Belonging at scale
Waterbeach New Town East fosters belonging through a series of small neighbourhoods, steads, which will become communities in their own right.
Each stead will comprise up to 400 homes, and have its own character, landmarks and facilities. Vehicles will be pushed to the edges, allowing residential streets to be largely car-free. These sociable streets will have the feel of intimate green linear parks with space for communal activities from children’s play, to eating together, to tending community vegetable plots.
The fenlands are among the sunniest places in Britain, and winters are often crisp and dry making walking and cycling a pleasure.
Rail will connect people to Cambridge in 10 minutes and Kings Cross in an hour. Close to the station, away from the expansive fenland parks, buildings will be taller and clustered to create enclosure and shelter for the bustling streets and spaces.
A labour of love
Our work on Waterbeach spans 20 years. It can need perseverance to steer the largest, most complex projects through the UK planning system.
We led the vision, masterplanning and co-ordination of the EIA, and provided landscape, ecology and heritage advice as part of a small strategic leadership team.
The site is allocated in the Local Plan shaping the growth of Greater Cambridge. Being willing to listen and build relationships has been key. Our early work helped shaped the new town’s relationship with the existing village, as well as the future vision for the setting of heritage assets at Denny Abbey, connectivity to Cambridge and the planning of green infrastructure links to the National Trust’s Wicken Fen Vision Area.
Waterbeach is a labour of love. It plants a flag in the ground for community and shared experience; for lives lived well in the landscape.
Waterbeach is a gem in a big sky. No other development in the UK comes close to this ambition for healthy living, at this scale.