A decision on plans for 291 flats, a 202-bed aparthotel, swimming pool, gym and microbrewery in Cambridge has been postponed due to lack of affordable housing.

The planning application for the former National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) site in Huntingdon Road was put forward by Vertex Living.

The plans see NIAB’s former headquarters building being retained, but all other buildings would be demolished, and their sites redeveloped.

The 291 flats are set to be build-to-rent (BTR) homes, with a proposed 37 being affordable housing, an allocation of 12.7 per cent.

There would also be a co-working space, aparthotel, gym and microbrewery, incorporated into the scheme, which would also be available to the public as well as residents.

Councillors were told the development would increase biodiversity on site by more than 10 per cent, with the “majority of protected pleached lime trees retained” – although 10 would be cut down. A significant number of new trees would also be planted.

Rain-water gardens, green roofs and swales are proposed throughout the development, which would aim to limit water usage to 110 litres per person per day.

However, councillors on both Cambridge City Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council on the joint development control committee agreed that the proportion of affordable flats was below the standard 20 per cent usually sought after.

Council officers, who had obtained legal advice on the matter prior to the meeting, explained that this was due to permitted development rights, which allow for offices to be converted into homes without a full planning application.

The former headquarters building has already been converted into 68 flats through permitted development, and the developer has further approval to convert the other office space into 102 flats.

Officers explained that the developer had indicated that if the current planning application was approved, then it would not look to use the prior approval for 102 flats.

However, because there is the fall-back possibility that 102 flats could be created on the site with no affordable housing, then a lower affordable housing requirement for the development had been calculated.

Cllr Dave Baigent suggested that the application should be deferred to ask the developer to increase the number of affordable flats to 58, 20 per cent of the total, saying: “That’s not only what we want because we are pernickety and awkward people, but because it is the right thing to do.”

Deferring the application to ask for more affordable housing would make it clear to future developers with similar proposals what the committee expected in terms of affordable housing, he argued.

The meeting had also heard that there were two options – A and B – for access arrangements along Howes Place. The council officer’s report suggested A was the better design solution, as it provided pedestrian and cycle access points from Howes Place.

Man petitioners had voiced approval for option B, arguing it minimises the impact on the heritage of Howes Place and improves highways safety, while providing sustainable transport requirements.

NHS officials noted that £174,800 would be required from the developers if the application proceeds to fund improvements in capacity at Huntingdon Road surgery or Girton.

The majority of councillors voted in favour of deferral. A date has not yet been set for when the application will come back before the committee.

Image source: Vertex Living

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