Letter to Planning Inspectorate re Queens College Appeal – Owlstone Croft

Date: 7th August 2023
Subject: APP/Q0505/W/23/3323130 Queens’ College Appeal – Owlstone Croft
To: <alison.bell@planninginspectorate.gov.uk>

Dear Ms Bell,


The Federation of Cambridge Residents Associations ( FeCRA) strongly objects to Queen’s College’s appeal re Owlstone Croft on a number of grounds and wishes to endorse the submissions that Friends of Paradise Nature Reserve, Newnham Croft Residents Association and the South Newnham Forum have made and to reiterate the points and objections that many other residents have made about the detrimental impact on the setting and amenity value of Paradise Nature Reserve and Newnham Croft Conservation Area of this application to build next to the Nature Reserve.

I attended the long planning meeting on behalf of the FeCRA committee and like many residents was delighted when, after wide-ranging discussion, Cambridge City Council took on board all the concerns that had been raised and rejected Queens College application.

It seems very wrong that Queens College is determined to ignore this democratic decision which reflected citywide concern and press ahead with an appeal to the Planning Inspectorate knowing that this will put further pressure on a cash-strapped council and an overstretched planning department.

Paradise Nature Reserve is a rare green amenity in a fast growing city which the City Council should be prioritising ways to safeguard and enhance as a valuable amenity, not least in view of its biodiversity goals.

The development’s overbearing height, massing and location of the four blocks of accommodation would result in a detrimental impact on the setting and amenity value of Paradise Nature Reserve and the Newnham Croft Conservation Area. It would blight and diminish this treasured public green space whose informal and “wild state” makes it unique and so attractive to wildlife and visitors.

Cambridge’s river corridor spaces, with their famously rural vibes, are world famous. They are the equivalent of the city’s family silver – the environmental commons, the Cam’s green spaces, loved and shared by all ages and by both town and gown.

The river and its unique corridor of green spaces is the heart of Cambridge connecting the city with the countryside and enabling access to nature. These tranquil and informal green spaces with their bats, otters, kingfishers, voles, ducks, swans and fish are a life saver to many residents, young and old. As the landscape architect Kim Wilkie highlighted in his popular FeCRA talk in 2017, attended by over 200 people “How to make Cambridge a ‘happy city’, ‘maintaining green spaces’ is the key to making Cambridge a happy city’. He said: ‘The spaces in the city are very crucial. It is very important to have quiet tranquil spaces in the middle of a growing city’.

The nature reserve hosts over 600 named species with many more invertebrate species not yet surveyed. It is already under pressure from heavy footfall from the many visitors who enjoy the riverbank path on a daily basis. It needs less footfall not more and above all to have careful conservation management. Queen’s College have tried to mitigate their light spillage, but the plans show that the amount of light falling into the reserve would increase and disrupt bat feeding and roosting habits.

In 2018 the wildlife journalist Patrick Barkham writing for the Guardian described Cambridge’s nocturnal punting safaris as ‘the best bat experience in Britain’ and more recently the nature reserve as ‘A small slice of Paradise’. He wrote: ‘Cambridge remains a bat hotspot, with a plethora of cavernous old college roofs to roost in and plenty of insects on the river and the Cam’s preserved water meadows’.

Eight species of bat have been recorded in Paradise and Sheep’s Green and several species are resident including the rare and endangered barbastelle, along with the reserves’s voles, herons, kingfishers and otters.  Donna L Ferguson writing in the Observer last week wrote ‘Dusk is falling over Paradise nature reserve on the banks of the river Cam. Half a dozen bats burst out from their hiding places in the rare wet woodland, dipping and diving merrily through the darkening evening sky…Renowned locally for its muddy paths past canopies of mature willow and alder and poplar trees, and rich marshland and unique riparian habitats, it has been popular with Cambridge students, college dons and the town’s nature-lovers for centuries’.

Footfall and noise is likely to impact the Nature Reserves’ water vole population. Cambridge is incredibly lucky to have water voles ( like bats, another listed species) which, with the culling of the mink population, have started to return to the Cam to the great joy of residents and visitors. Cambridge City Council recently revised its proposals to protect the water vole population on the Jesus Green ditch and enhance the available bankside habitat for the population so as to ensure those elements of the plans, which represented a risk to the water vole population were removed.

This development’s increases in footfall and noise and predators such as domestic cats would be detrimental to local water vole survival.

The current open nature of the proposed development site and its undeveloped nature comprising lawn and hardstanding means that it does not impinge on Paradise Nature Reserve and it forms an important and very valuable buffer zone for this small, vulnerable nature reserve. It is also part of the same green corridor that runs from Silver Street to Grantchester Meadows and beyond, which is recognised to be an important wildlife corridor that is essential for the movement of insects, birds and animals and fish.

The existing buildings on this site are already the nearest to the line of this corridor and at is narrowest point. The proposed extension of the buildings with buildings encroaching on the rear of the reserve would introduce development close to the boundary with the Nature Reserve which, with another 60 residents on the site would introduce noise, disturbance and light pollution, all of which would have a big impact on the reserve wildlife and in particular the bats for which this Cam Corridor green space is so famous. The trees to be felled for the development include a line of poplars that are the flight conduit and foraging ground for the bats colonies.

In summary the setting and enjoyment of Paradise Nature Reserve benefits from the undeveloped nature of the application site, which forms part of the River Cam green corridor. This development impacts that amenity. It contravenes policies 61 (Conservation and enhancement of the Historic Environment), 67 (Protection of Open Space) and 69 (Protection of sites of biodiversity) and should be refused.

  • Policy 61(b) requires the retention of spaces, the loss of which would cause harm to the character or appearance of the conservation area. The Nature Reserve is an important part of the Conservation Area, and its character would be harmed by this development.
  • Policy 61(c) requires development to be of an appropriate scale, form, height which will contribute to local distinctiveness. The introduction of 3 storey blocks detracts from the distinctiveness of the local nature reserve.
  • Policy 67 protects open spaces. The proposed development will harm the character of the open space of the nature reserve and its enjoyment for recreation.
  • Policy 69 resists development which will have an adverse impact on sites of biodiversity. The proposed development will have a detrimental impact on the character of the nature reserve.


For all these reasons we hope that the Planning Inspectorate will uphold the Council’s decision to refuse planning permission and reject Queens’ College’s Appeal.


Yours sincerely,
Wendy Blythe
Chair of FeCRA
On behalf of the FeCRA Committee

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