Cambridge Past

How we got to where we are now

The containment of population

The Holford Report published in 1950 has been the main influence on the development of Cambridge over the past 50 years. It recommended that the population of Cambridge should be limited to 100,000 people by restricting development in the City and in the villages nearest to it.

The aim of this policy was, and still is, to preserve the special character of Cambridge as a university town within a rural setting. This policy was reinforced by the introduction of a strong Green Belt around the City and nearby villages.

The expansion of employment

The Mott report published in 1969 advocated exceptions for the development of science and Unversity research-based industries. This opened the way for the Trinity Science Park and similar employment clusters which led to the so-called Cambridge Phenomenon: a surge of high-tech firms which now employ over 30,000 people in and around the City, making it Europe’s prime growth area.

The view from 1950

The following extract  is taken from the Holford Report, illustrating the continuing nature of the pressures facing Cambridge

"We believe Cambridge is moving quickly towards a new phase of existence….. incomparably beautiful in many things, miserably defective in others, Cambridge is still one of the most pleasant places on earth in which to live……

"The question is whether it can control its own destiny in the face of a multitude of unplanned events that will certainly tend to change it…… When these changes come, can they be arranged to maintain and enhance the essential character and virtues of the town?…….

"If the probability of rapid growth is the gravest problem in the planning of Cambridge, the most urgent is that of traffic"

from The Holford Report1948

Consequences of these policies

  • The increase in the number of jobs and households within a restricted land supply have led to rising property prices

  • People employed in the City and its fringe have been forced to live beyond the Green Belt where cheaper housing more than offsets the cost of travel into Cambridge.

  • Population growth in surrounding villages and market towns has been amongst the highest in the country.

  • As a result there is a daily influx of nearly 40,000 workers from outside the City, increasingly outnumbering resident workers.

  • Congestion in the access roads has risen, increasing emissions and pollution.

Increase in housing costs

Over the years typical housing costs have doubled in real terms (i.e., after taking account of inflation). Traditional employers such as the University find it increasingly difficult to attract qualified personnel. Salaries have not kept up with rising house prices and thus with the cost of living in the area.

Population location

Middle and low income groups have been forced to locate beyond the Green Belt as property prices and the cost of living in the City have risen. Apart from those protected in Council housing, price increases have meant that it is mainly wealthy professional and managerial groups who can afford to locate in the City.

Land development

  • Most new development has been forced onto market towns within 25 miles of the City: Ely, Mildenhall, Newmarket, Saffron Walden, Royston, Biggleswade, St Neots, Huntingdon and St Ives have taken the brunt of the expansion.

  • Cambridge’s northern fringe has been developed for housing (the Arbury estate), employment (Trinity Science Park, St John’s Innovation Centre, etc) and the Regional College. Some housing has been developed to the south (Cherry Hinton).

  • New villages have been developed, such as Bar Hill, or are under development, such as Cambourne beyond the Green Belt.

  • The outline of the villages around Cambridge has not altered. This implies that a substantial infilling has taken place, providing homes for the increasing numbers of those who commute into Cambridge.


  • Within the City of Cambridge, there has been very little improvement of the transport network. Outside Cambridge, trunks roads such as the M11 and A14 have been developed to take through-traffic out of the City. In recent years these roads have become part of a major trans-European transport corridor, with substantial increases in freight through-traffic.

  • The trunks roads are now operating at capacity because of the additional commuter traffic. The A14 suffers long periods of congestion every day; accidents, emissions and pollution increase.

  • Half of Cambridge commuters come from South Cambridgeshire, and the other half from further away (East Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, Suffolk, Essex, Hertfordshire and beyond).

  • Most commuters come to Cambridge by car, as public transport is not viable for serving dispersed locations.

  • Congestion on the access roads has increased tenfold. Long traffic delays are a daily occurrence, especially during the morning and afternoon peak, wasting time and energy, increasing pollution and reducing local safety.

To Cambridge Present