Policy J/VA: Visitor accommodation, attractions and facilities

DRAFT version for various committee meetings.

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What will this policy do?

This policy will state where hotel and other types of visitor accommodation development will be supported in Greater Cambridge and how the loss or gain of new hotels/visitor accommodation will be managed.

Proposed policy direction

The Greater Cambridge Local Plan will respond to the need for new visitor accommodation such as hotels and aparthotels. This will be informed by new assessments of visitor accommodation needs that will be completed to inform the draft plan stage.

Proposals for new hotels and other types of dedicated visitor accommodation within Cambridge (including its urban area extending into South Cambridgeshire) would need to be focused on accessible city centre locations, other mixed-use and large employment areas, on public transport corridors and where they assist with place-making.

Where planning permission is needed, the conversion of residential properties to permanent visitor accommodation use within Cambridge (including its urban area extending into South Cambridgeshire) will be allowed only in exceptional circumstances where it does not adversely affect:

  • the supply or affordability of local housing including rental values;
  • residents' amenity and sense of security; and
  • the local area's character or community cohesion.

Existing visitor accommodation in Cambridge will be protected from conversion subject to evidence on the viability of the current use.

Proposals for visitor accommodation within settlement boundaries in South Cambridgeshire will be supported where the scale and type of development is directly related to the role and function of the centre and supports its vitality. Outside settlement boundaries new visitor accommodation through the change of use / conversion / replacement of suitable buildings and by small scale new developments appropriate to local circumstances will be supported.

New visitor attractions in Cambridge City Centre and South Cambridgeshire’s countryside subject to criteria such as sustainable travel.

In Cambridge, due to the level of visitors that come into the city each day, the visitor attraction policy is intended to focus on helping the following areas:

  • Extending the length of visits
  • Supporting visitor management
  • Reducing the pressures on existing attractions within the city centre.

As such, new attractions would need to be limited in scale, to complement the existing cultural heritage of the city and assist the diversification of the attractions on offer, especially to better support the needs of families.

Proposals for new or extended tourist facilities and visitor attractions (excluding accommodation) in the countryside of South Cambridgeshire should utilise and enhance the area’s existing tourism assets, and show an identified need for a rural location.

Why is this policy needed?

Tourism is important sector for the Greater Cambridge economy. It is estimated that the total value of tourism to the area in 2018 was over £1 billion and that in the same year it provided over 20,000 jobs. For Cambridge, employment in the tourism sector was estimated to be 22% of total employment.

The National Planning Policy Framework explains that, in order to provide the social, recreational and cultural facilities and services a community needs, planning policies and decisions should plan positively for the provision and use of shared spaces, community facilities (such as local shops, meeting places, sports venues, open space, cultural buildings, public houses and places of worship) and other local services to enhance the sustainability of communities and residential environments.

Applying this positive approach, prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, plans were in place to commission a review of the demand and supply of visitor accommodation in Greater Cambridge to include recommendations on future provision which could be incorporated in the First Proposals consultation. With the disruption and uncertainty caused to the hospitality industry by COVID-19, this evidence will now be prepared to inform the Draft Plan. It is expected that the position in respect of the tourism market for Greater Cambridge will be clearer at this stage.

Where potential opportunities for new visitor accommodation are recommended in the study, these will be allocated at Draft Plan stage. During the plan period, applications for visitor accommodation may also be submitted on sites not already identified. The policy direction above captures how the assessment of these sites would vary according to their proposed location within Greater Cambridge.

In recent years, the use of online platforms for short term lets such as Airbnb to rent out either whole or parts of a residential unit as temporary accommodation for a variety of occupiers has increased in popular tourist locations and areas close to large employment centres.  This is particularly the case in Cambridge, including areas close to the main railway station and Trumpington Meadows where these activities are clustered together.  Although these services provide opportunity to support good growth in cities, the widespread and concentrated prevalence of this activity can have negative effects on housing supply and on the amenity of surrounding local residents. These include:

  • Loss of amenity space, privacy and enjoyment of their home resulting from patterns of behaviour of short-term tenants.
  • Continual disruption caused by visitors moving in and out of the premises, disruptive occupants and associated servicing of the unit(s).
  • Frequent rotation of unknown, neighbouring occupiers undermines residents' sense of security of living in their own homes.

Whilst the use of residential premises for short term lettings does not always require planning permission, where there is a material change of use from residential to visitor accommodation, permission would only be given in the exceptional circumstances described in the policy direction.

What consultation have we done on this issue?

In our First Conversation consultation we received a range of views, some of them conflicting.

There were those that suggested the adoption of policies to constrain the numbers of tourists visiting Greater Cambridge. Others wanted us to restrict tourist coaches to park and ride sites (and expand these sites where appropriate) so that coaches do not come into the centre of Cambridge. Concern over trade-off between hotels and residential accommodation was highlighted and restrictions in the use of houses as Airbnbs were requested. 

There was some concern over the impact of increase car journeys of a growth in tourism in rural areas. There was support for improving sustainable transport options to visitor attractions; for new attractions where they are accessible to or incorporate sustainable methods of transport; and for assessing the sustainability of tourism.

We were encouraged to support an increase in visitor facilities and attractions, for example, hotels, conference facilities, skateboarding, and to support and protect existing facilities. The social value and well-being benefits of visitor attractions was highlighted. Waterways were seen as a key tourism asset. The need to increase overnight stays was highlighted and there was support for more budget accommodation on the edge of Cambridge. Cambridge East was identified as a potential location for new tourism opportunities.

The creation of a tourism plan/strategy to support the Local Plan was suggested as was an assessment of the need for any further hotels in the future and a Water Space Strategy.

What alternatives did we consider?

No policy – Not considered a reasonable alternative as the sustainability and amenity impacts of visitor accommodation, and the significant role of tourism in Greater Cambridge, mean policy guidance is required.

Supporting evidence studies and topic papers

  • Greater Cambridge Local Plan: Topic paper 6: Jobs

Existing policies in adopted 2018 Local Plans

South Cambridgeshire Local Plan 2018

  • Policy E/19: Tourist Facilities and Visitor Attractions
  • Policy E/20: Tourist Accommodation

Cambridge Local Plan 2018

  • Policy 77: Development and expansion of visitor accommodation
  • Policy 78: Redevelopment or loss of visitor accommodation
  • Policy 79: Visitor attractions

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