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Policy S/SH: Settlement hierarchy

Figure 12: Map showing proposed settlement hierarchy
Figure 12: Map showing proposed settlement hierarchy

What will this policy do?

This policy will group together similar settlements into categories that reflect their scale, characteristics and sustainability. It will then set out the scale of development proposals coming through planning applications for unallocated sites that would be potentially suitable in each category of settlement.

Proposed policy direction

We propose that Cambridge will remain at the top of the settlement hierarchy as the main urban centre in . Outside Cambridge, the South Cambridgeshire 2018 identifies its two new towns next and then groups the villages into four categories of Rural Centres, Minor Rural Centres, Group Villages, and Infill Villages. It is proposed to retain this approach, and the current position of each village, subject to a number of changes:

  • The Towns category should include Northstowe and Waterbeach new town, and should also include Cambourne
  • Cottenham will be moved from a Rural Centre to a Minor Rural Centre
  • Babraham is to be upgraded from an Infill Village to a Group Village.

Windfall proposals for residential development coming through planning applications within these settlements (see S/SB on settlement boundaries) will be subject to the following:

  • Cambridge: No limit on individual scheme size.
  • Town: No limit on individual scheme size.
  • Rural Centre: No limit on individual scheme size.
  • Minor Rural Centre: indicative maximum scheme size of 30 dwellings
  • Group Village: indicative maximum scheme size of 8 dwellings, and exceptionally consist of up to about 15 dwellings where this would make the best use of a single brownfield site.
  • Infill Village: indicative maximum scheme size of 2 dwellings, and exceptionally consist of up to about 8 dwellings where this would lead to the sustainable reuse of a brownfield site bringing positive overall benefit to the village.

Why is this policy needed?

The settlement hierarchy remains an important element of the sustainable development strategy, helping to direct housing to the most sustainable locations and control the level of windfall development that takes place in the least sustainable areas of , whilst enabling the recycling of land and delivering new homes to meet local housing needs.

An updated assessment of settlements has been carried out, informed by the level of services and facilities, education, public transport and employment available at each settlement. This showed that the positioning of settlements within the hierarchy remains appropriate, with the exception of three proposed changes:

  • Cambourne is a growing centre, with a growing level of services, facilities and transport opportunities. This has been recognised by it now having a town council, and it is considered that this should be recognised in the .
  • Cottenham should be classified as a Minor Rural Centre reflecting a revision to the criteria for Rural Centres that they must all have high quality public transport in the form of a segregated public transport route such as the Partnership schemes or the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway, which is not the case for Cottenham.
  • Babraham should be classified as a Group village as it has a primary school, for consistency with other group villages.

This is a delicate balance between supporting housing development and the reuse of brownfield land, whilst avoiding unsustainable scales of development in areas where there is more limited access to services, facilities, and employment. Whilst there is a desire to provide flexibility to help meet housing needs, that has to be balanced with the evidence coming through our Net Zero Carbon Study (2021) that growth in smaller villages tends to generate higher levels of carbon than urban development. On balance, we think the indicative scheme sizes in the current policies remain appropriate, and they are proposed to be carried forward into the new .

Figure 13: Map showing existing settlement hierarchy
Figure 13: Map showing settlement hierarchy in adopted Local Plans


What consultation have we done on this issue?

In the First Conversation we asked about whether the plan should be more flexible regarding development within village boundaries. Views were mixed, although the majority of comments supported greater flexibility. Concerns included that it did not allow best use of sites if they became available, or would restrict delivery of housing. Those against greater flexibility were concerned about the impact of growth on villages, and the impact on village services.

What alternatives did we consider?

Having no limits on the scale of individual developments for all settlements – Not considered a reasonable alternative as it could lead to unsustainable levels of development in poorly served areas.

Existing policies in adopted 2018 Local Plans

South Cambridgeshire Local Plan 2018

  • Policy S/8: Rural Centres
  • Policy S/9: Minor Rural Centres
  • Policy S/10: Group Villages
  • Policy S/11: Infill Village

Cambridge Local Plan 2018 - None

Tell us what you think

Our consultation for this phase is now closed.