Protecting Open Spaces
The Basis for Protecting Open Spaces
3.1 Existing open spaces of environmental and recreational importance in the City are protected through Policy 4/2 of the Cambridge Local Plan 2006. This policy states that development will not be permitted which would result in the loss of open space of environmental and/or recreational importance. Criteria to assess the importance of open space are set out below and the criteria for environmental and recreational importance are included as Appendix B of the Local Plan. The areas of land protected under Policy 4/2 are:
- areas designated Green Belt on the Proposals Map;
- areas designated Protected Open Space on the Proposals Map; and
- undesignated areas which fulfil at least one of the criteria for protecting open space as set out below (also included in the
Local Plan). This includes smaller sites throughout the City, which are important for environmental and recreational reasons.
3.2 A list of all the sites showing if they meet the criteria for environmental importance, recreational importance or both is included as Appendix 2. This also classifies the site using a typology adapted from PPG17. A full database has been set up which includes details of which criteria each site meets, and includes a quality assessment of each site. The database will be used in considering planning applications relating to protected open spaces and proposals for improving open space.
3.3 The categories of spaces and facilities are listed below, irrespective of ownership and the extent of existing public access, e.g. University sports fields.
- Allotments and community gardens and orchards;
- Amenity greenspace – including informal recreation spaces and greenspaces in and around housing;
- Cemeteries and churchyards;
- Provision for children and teenagers – including play areas, skateboard parks, outdoor basketball hoops, formal and informal
- Green corridors including river banks and cycleways;
- Natural and semi-natural urban green spaces including woodlands, urban forestry, scrub, grasslands (e.g. downlands, commons and
meadows) wetlands, open and running water, wastelands and derelict open land and rock areas (e.g. cliffs, quarries and pits);
- Parks and gardens including urban parks, country parks and formal gardens;
- Outdoor sports facilities (publicly and privately owned) including tennis courts, bowling greens, sports pitches, golf courses,
camp sites, athletics tracks, school and other institutional playing fields, equestrian facilities, and other outdoor sports areas;
Each site is categorised as having a primary purpose under the typology, although it may well perform a number of functions. Given the number of smaller open spaces, particularly allotments and children’s play areas, and their importance in densely developed parts of the City, no size limit for sites has been placed on the assessment. Highway verges and roundabouts have not been included in the survey as they are not categorised within PPG17. However, where highway verges are large and function as amenity green spaces used by local people, these sites have been assessed. Some private gardens have been included in the assessment, including a number related to Colleges and gardens adjacent to the River Cam. It is recognised that there is no public access to these sites. However, by reason of their location, size and quality, they are of environmental importance to the locality, and may also have recreational importance for a College.
3.4 The River Cam forms a key component of the City’s character and is of both recreational and ecological importance. Although areas of the river’s banks have been surveyed as a part of the Open Space and Recreation Assessment, the River Cam itself is protected by the Land Drainage Act and Environment Agency bye-laws. Further consideration needs to be given as to whether the River Cam should be subject to the development of a strategy in its own right.
The Criteria for Protecting Open Spaces
3.5 Historically, the Council has protected open spaces for environmental and/or recreational importance. In addition to assessing all sites against the established criteria for environmental and recreational importance, the recent audit work also includes a quality assessment of all sites. The criteria for both parts of the assessment are detailed in the following paragraphs. In visiting 354 sites over the course of three months in early 2011, the four officers involved in the site visits assessed every site against the criteria listed below.
3.6 For a site to be important for environmental reasons, it must meet one of the criteria a to c below. The questions under each are used to assess whether open space meets that criterion.
a. Does the site make a major contribution to the setting, character, structure
and the environmental quality of the City?
- Does it make a major contribution to the setting of Cambridge?
- Does it have positive landscape features and/or a sense of place sufficient for it to make a major contribution to the character
of the City?
- Is the site an important green break in the urban framework?
- Does it have significant historical, cultural or known archaeological interest?
b. Does the site make a major contribution to the character and environmental
quality of the local area?
- Does it have positive features such as streams, trees, hedgerows or meadowlands which give it a sense of place sufficient to
make a major contribution to the character of the local area?
- Is it an important green break in the framework of the local area?
- Does it form part of a network of open spaces in the local area?
- Is it enjoyed visually on a daily basis from public places (e.g. footpaths, vantage points)?
- Does it have local historical or cultural interest?
c. Does the site contribute to the wildlife value and biodiversity of the
- Does it have any nature conservation designation?
- Is it adjacent to or an important link to sites with nature conservation designation?
- Does it contain important habitats or species sufficient to make it worthy of consideration for any nature conservation
- Is it an important wildlife oasis in an area with limited wildlife value?
3.7 For a site to be important for recreational reasons, it must meet criteria d. or e. below. The questions under each criteria are used to assess whether open space meets that criterion.
d. Does the site make a major contribution to the recreational resources of
the City as a whole?
- Is it of a size, quality and accessibility such that people would travel to use it for recreational purposes, no matter where
they live, work or study in the City?
- Is it an important part of the network of significant recreational open spaces?
- Is it part of the sports provision which helps to meet demand from people throughout the City, no matter where they live,
work or study?
3.8 Recreational resources of the City include playing fields used by colleges or sports clubs, school playing fields which are also used by sports clubs, commons and other recreation grounds which people would go out of their way to visit. Sites meet this criterion if they are part of the sports provision, which helps to meet demand from people throughout the City. An assessment of the supply and demand of sports pitches was carried out in 1999. This found that the supply of pitches in secure public use to be 0.8 hectares per 1,000 population. This is significantly below that required under the adopted open space standards. The assessment was updated in 2004 and this found that there had been very little change in participation rates. There has also been little change in the supply of pitches. The significant deficit is not as problematic as would be expected due to the fact that some of the additional demand is met through the use of pitches not subject to community use agreements, particularly through the University sector. Therefore, all pitches not in secure public use, excluding those associated with primary schools which are not used by outside clubs, would meet this criterion and are still protected, as they help to meet demand from people throughout the City.
3.9 If a Protected Open Space is only important for the contribution it makes to the recreational resources of the City (criterion d), development of the site may be acceptable if an improvement to open spaces, sports and recreational facilities would be achieved through replacement provision. The new land or facility should be at least as accessible to current and potential new users and at least of equivalent size, usefulness, attractiveness and quality. Planning obligations should be used to secure the replacement provision and ensure public access to this land. It can prove difficult to achieve replacement provision within Cambridge’s administrative boundaries, due to constraints on the availability and cost of large sites. The onus is on the applicant to show that the options for acceptable replacement provision have been thoroughly investigated. This evidence should form part of the planning submission.
e. Does the site make a major contribution to the recreational resources of
the local area?
- Is it of a size and accessibility such that people who live, work or study in the local area do or could use it for
- Is it an important part of the network and hierarchy of recreational facilities in the local area?
- Is it a significant linkage between recreational areas?
3.10 Recreational resources of the local area include playing fields, which are well related to their users. This could include playing fields, which are part of a College site or school playing fields.
3.11 All the Cambridge Green Belt within the Council’s administrative area is Protected Open Space as it is important for environmental reasons. Individual sites in the Green Belt are separately listed, if they are also important for recreational reasons or have a specific nature conservation designation. Registered and other Historic Parks and Gardens and sites with nature conservation designations are also identified as Protected Open Space.
3.12 Previously unidentified sites qualify as Protected Open Space if they meet one or more of the criteria. If an application is received, which affects a site that may be worthy of protection, an assessment will be made of the site against the criteria.
3.13 There is a clear presumption against the loss of open space of environmental or recreational importance. Development may be acceptable if there will be no material harm to the character, use and visual amenity of the area, and:
- it is for ancillary recreational or open space related uses e.g. changing facilities; or
- it enhances the recreational or biodiversity value of the site; or
- in the case of school and College grounds, the proposed development meets a legitimate educational need that is appropriately met
Quality Assessment of Sites
3.14 For the first time, in addition to assessing each site for its environmental and/or recreational importance, the assessment included a questionnaire considering the quality of each site. This questionnaire forms Appendix 3 of this document, whilst quality scores are included in Appendix 2.
3.15 Although this represents a new approach for the Council, undertaking a quality assessment is in keeping with the requirements of PPG17. PPG17 expects local authorities to use the information gained from the audits and assessments to set locally derived standards for the provision of open space, sports and recreational facilities in their area. These standards will then form the basis for redressing both quantitative and qualitative deficiencies through the planning process and they can be incorporated in the development plan.
3.16 The questions were drafted so that they could be used on a wide range of sites of different typologies. Each site receives a score between 1 and 5 to a series of questions (outlined below) and an overall quality score is generated. This score is expressed as a percentage and represents the score for the number of relevant questions asked and scored. There are a number of instances where a question cannot be applied to a site, e.g. children’s playspace questions when assessing a churchyard. If the question is not relevant, that question is discounted and the final total is recalculated accordingly. Furthermore, for example, where a site has no car parking, this is not necessarily viewed as a negative feature. In the instance of no car parking being provided, the question is discounted. If, however, the site has an area of car parking in poor condition, it would receive a low quality score for that question.