A new development, 1950s style

A sketch of the proposed development from A guide to the Cambridge Plan.  Note the similarity to the as-built development

A sketch of the proposed development from A Guide to the Cambridge Plan. East Road is in the foreground. Note the similarity to the as-built development.

In a previous post I looked at some recent developments in Cambridge, now let’s skip back 50 years and compare these to a new development from the 1960s: Ashley Court between Norfolk Street and East Road in the city centre.

1952 saw the publication of the first Cambridgeshire Development Plan, also known as the Cambridge Plan, that identified some Comprehensive Development Areas, one of which was the area to the south east of East Road and north of Norfolk Road/Broad Street.  A Guide to the Cambridge Plan of 1956 claimed that in this area ⅔ of the houses were unfit or soon would be and that “It lies at the heart of what the consultants describe as ‘an area of almost continuous dilapidation'”.  It’s difficult to appreciate what the area looked like however pictures taken in the 1980s of the Kite area on the other side of East Road may give a flavour.  (Note that the Kite was suffering planning blight at the time.)

Comprehensive Development was explained as

…demolishing all the buildings (except those of outstanding architectural or historic value) in a sizable area and laying out a fresh pattern of streets and open spaces, so as to form sites convenient in size, shape and situation for new buildings of th kinds that are most needed in that area.

The Guide also includes a sketch (above) entitled ‘redevelopment scheme, East Road’ with no further explanation but it suggests that plans were advanced at the time.

Ashley Court in the 2010s. Photo: Bing maps

Ashley Court in the 2010s. Photo: Bing maps

One of the paths through the development

One of the paths through the development.

A comparison with a modern-day aerial photograph shows that the built development is very similar to the sketch.  The developed area appears to have been bounded by Norfolk Street and St Matthews Street, an area of about 7 acres/3 hectares.

The general layout of the area follows the pattern of New Town and Expanded Town planning in the UK after the Second World War: the front of houses face on to green open spaces that provide convenient, direct and safe walking routes through the development and connection to the surrounding area. We now call this filtered permeability and a look at OpenStreetMap shows the numerous path across the development.

Plan of the development showing the paths in dotted red.

Plan of the development showing the paths in dotted red. Navigable map. © OpenStreetMap contributors

There are no through roads, instead dead-end feeder roads link to garage areas.  Two large two storey car parks were built (the unnamed blocks at the north end and south east corner on the map to the right).  In addition a pub and six shops were included in the development.

There is a variety of layouts and styles of building and a large amount of open space divided in to smaller areas with a human scale.  No doubt land in the centre of the city was cheaper when this area was rebuilt, nonetheless more houses could have been squeezed in.  Overall this is a high quality development that was carefully planned with consideration for the people who would live here.

It’s not perfect of course.  Despite the good permeability of the site I have not walked through it on the way to somewhere, perhaps this is no bad thing as it provides some privacy for the residents.  The garages have proved too small for modern cars leading to the two garage areas being underused and they could be demolished.  These remote garages became unpopular in numerous developments due to the risk of crime and these days people seem to expect their car to be right outside their front door.  Some of streets in the area are therefore packed with cars (mostly off-road) and aren’t particularly pretty.

Despite being some 50 years old the development remains in good condition and appears popular: clearly high quality planning that is designed for living lasts.

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The incomplete Eastern Ring Road

Diagram of the Eastern Ring Road from the First Review of the Town Map for Cambridge 1961

Diagram of the Eastern Ring Road from the First Review of the Town Map for Cambridge 1961. The red parts are proposed.

In a city like Cambridge that sits astride a river the bridges are always key in getting around. In addition to the Chesterton Bridge Route (built as Elizabeth Way) the first post-war plan for Cambridge, the Cambridgeshire Development Plan (published March 1952), proposed to complete the eastern bypass route by crossing the river at Ditton Meadows and connecting Fendon Road to Cambridge Road.

An eastern bypass around Cambridge was being built in stages before the Second World War with the intention that traffic on the A10 could avoid Cambridge (a much smaller place at the time).  By the time the post-war plans were prepared the route was complete from Hills Road (near the current Addenbrooke’s site) as far as Coldhams Lane in the south and from Milton Road via Green End Road and Cam Causeway in the north.  A glance at a modern day map shows that Cam Causeway stops abruptly but continue on the line with your eye and it matches up with the curve at Wadloes Road.

Indicative route of the southern extension of the Eastern bypass in orange.  © OpenStreetMap contributors

Indicative route of the southern extension of the Eastern bypass in orange. Mapping © OpenStreetMap contributors

In the south Fendon Road would be connected to Cambridge Road (A10) north of Harston via a 2¼mi (3.6km) road with two railway crossings.  The estimated cost in 1950 was £150,000,[2] or about £4.5 million in 2013 allowing for inflation although today’s cost may be higher.

It was recommended that the bypass was continued between Coldhams Lane and Newmarket Road (modern day Barnwell Road) however the portion across the river and in the south were not expected to be built before 1970.  By the first review of the plan the southern part appears to have been dropped.[3] With the M11 (in the west) opening in 1980, the A14 northern bypass in 1976/7 and A11 to the east Cambridge is now comprehensively bypassed and this route is not needed for long distance traffic.

In my last post I detailed the damaging proposals for urban motorways from 1966 and this link would, not just to modern eyes, have had a substantial effect on Ditton Meadows. The road would have required “…a high embankment across Stourbridge Common and a new bridge carrying the road over the railway at a point near to where the existing railway bridge now crosses the river.”[1] In 1950 two railway crossings were needed as the Cambridge to Mildenhall railway, that ran across the top of Ditton Meadows, was still open. The bridge over the railway would have been about 10m high, substantially larger than Elizabeth Way bridge. The cost was estimated at not less than £300,000 for nearly a mile of road,[2] which is about £9 million in 2013 allowing for inflation although today’s costs may be higher.

Modern day Wadloes Road has a long sweeping curve after leaving Newmarket Road and the Eastern Ring Road was have continued across Ditton Meadows at the sharp turn in the distance.

Modern day Wadloes Road has a long sweeping curve after leaving Newmarket Road and the Eastern Ring Road would have continued across Ditton Meadows at the sharp turn in the distance.

Mashup of what the Eastern bypass may have looked like on Ditton Meadows

Mashup of what the Eastern bypass may have looked like on Ditton Meadows viewed from the path from Wadloes Road.

Cam Causeway looking south: the unusual width of this road, flanked by intra-war houses with a modern house at the end hints at the purpose being its construction.

Cam Causeway looking south: the unusual width of this road, flanked by inter-war houses with a modern house at the end hints at the purpose behind its construction.

Sources:

  1. Planners and Preservations, The Cambridge Preservation Society and the City’s Green Belt 1928–85. Anthony J Cooper, Cambridge Preservation Society, 2000.
  2. Cambridge Planning Proposals, A Report to the Town and Country Planning Committee of the Cambridgeshire County Council.  William Holford, H. Myles Wright. Cambridge University Press 1950. Also known as the Holford Report.
  3. The First Review of the Town Map for Cambridge. County Planning Department, County of Cambridge 1961.

1966 motor routes

Have you ever wondered why Cambridge largely escaped the scarring caused by large road schemes seen in so many other towns?  Yes there is Elizabeth Way bridge and the railway bridge on Hills Road (now tamed) but otherwise the city missed out on the urban motorways so in fashion in the 1960s and 70s.

In the 1960s the view was the cities were going to become engulfed by a tidal wave of cars that would suffocate them and destroy their vitality.  The video Look At Life – Living with Cars 1964 explains the mood at the time and is well worth a watch.

The video mentions the key report at the time, Traffic in Towns, aka the Buchanan Report that carefully analysed the situation and suggested solutions that involved building ring roads, controlling parking (yellow lines), car parks and the segregation motor traffic and pedestrians on two or three vertical levels, amongst other things.

The City Council had been concerned about traffic for decades and in its Future Shape of Cambridge plan published in March 1966 proposed some major road building to solve this.  Previously I detailed the cycle routes proposed, here is the Main Town Road that was described as “the obvious solution to Cambridge’s traffic problems”:

Diagram of the proposed road network in the Future Shape of Cambridge

Diagram of the proposed road network in the Future Shape of Cambridge.

The Main Town Road was designed for “very heavy volumes” of traffic at 40mph with entry and exit points at near motorway standards.  It would fly over or under main roads.

The diagram shows the proposed link between Barton Road and Brooklands Avenue across Coe Fen.  Brooklands Avenue would have had a large multi-level interchange at each end.  The area to the north of Mill Road – the York Street, Sturton Street and Norfolk Street areas – were expected to be cleared and redeveloped and would have seen this road running through it.  New shopping was to move to the now Grafton Centre.  The Chesterton Lane and Castle areas look like they would have been turned in to a traffic-filled area with a new crossing over the river to feed Park Street car park.

The diagram suggests that in addition to a (presumably) four lane road there are additional local lanes running on each side between the interchanges, bringing the width to six lanes in most places.

The west side of the city, which had been largely reserved for an enlarged university precinct, would have benefited by the demolition of Fen Causeway and the closure of Queens Road and Grange Road to cross traffic.  This would have allowed a pedestrian dominated precinct from the city centre to the western edge for the university’s use.

The impact of such a massive road is difficult to imagine so I was considering trying to mock-up what this might have looked like in Cambridge but it turns out that there is no need as Coventry provides a suitable example.  Its ring road hugs the city centre with a length of 2.5mi and was completed in 1971.  It provides distribution to the central shopping and parking area as well as long distance journeys (although this role is now much diminished through subsequent road building).

Coventry had a medieval centre although much of this was destroyed by bombing in the Second World War, leaving the ground clearer for redevelopment.  Nonetheless the traditional street pattern was swept away to build the new road network and car parks.

These two pictures of modern day Coventry show the huge amount of land taken by a four lane road designed for 40mph with grade-separated junctions – and the vast impact on the cityscape.

White Street ring road junction in Coventry, from Bing Bird's eye view.

White Street ring road junction in Coventry, from Bing Bird’s eye view. Click the image to explore all the ring road in Bing maps.

Holyhead Road junction on the ring road in Coventry.

Holyhead Road junction on the ring road in Coventry. © Copyright E Gammie and
licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Can you imagine Cambridge in 2013 with a necklace like this? Elizabeth Way was built and gives an impression of what parts of the city would have looked and sounded like if the entire road had been built.

A part of the proposed ring road: Elizabeth Way, Cambridge looking north

A part of the proposed ring road: Elizabeth Way, Cambridge looking north

Fortunately the City Council was not the highway authority and had neither the power nor the money to carry out these plans at the time.

You might also like: The incomplete Eastern Ring Road

1966 cycle routes

It’s often said that the UK is forty years behind the Netherlands in terms of cycling infrastructure – if we had just started building cycle tracks all that time ago we might have the same level of cycling.  Looking back 47 years at the development plans for Cambridge I found that a network of cycle tracks (in blue) was proposed in 1966:

Note that the location of the routes is approximate and has been transcribed from a paper document that had limited landmarks.

The Future Shape of Cambridge, Report of the City Architect and Planning Officer (March 1966) was one of a series of competing plans for land use and transport in the post war era, and I’ll look in to them in more detail in future posts.  The report recognises the role of cycling in the city:

A proper system of transportation involves a correct balance between the different methods of travel which in Cambridge are walking, cycling, motor cycling and traveling by car, bus and train.

A considerable road building programme was proposed despite the fact that 78% of journeys were within the city according to the 1956 traffic survey.  With the city being not more than 3 miles from the centre to the edges much of this intra-city travel could have been, and can be, by cycle.

Wadloes Road cycle track

Is this a part of the segregated cycle network proposed in 1966? (Wadloes Road, Cambridge)

The report mentions the network of cycleways in Stevenage where a 1964/5 traffic survey found that cycles were 20–33% of the number of motor vehicles on adjoining carriageways and 25–40% of secondary school children used cycles.  However today Stevenage’s cycling levels are only about the same as the national average (less than three percent of journeys).

The Future Shape of Cambridge proposes

The cycleways would normally be physically separated from motor roads with underpasses where necessary.  The only exceptions would be when passing lightly trafficked residential roads.

While the road network proposals considered where the traffic currently flowed and likely destinations there’s no evidence of this happening for the cycle routes apart from marking the location of secondary schools.  There seem some odd omissions from the network such as the southern portion of Hills Road and the entire east of the city.

The road network was assumed necessary yet for the cycle network the report recommended that while

…a cost benefit analysis [be] prepared before its construction became a practical possibility, it seems likely that many if not most of the routes shown will eventually prove justified.

Whilst some of the road network was built none of the cycle network was.