Why the Citizen supports… Saving Cambridge before it’s too late

By - Friday 31st May, 2013

In another bold Citizen Campaign James Naylor asks you to save a town from becoming “The Croydon of the Fens”

Graphic by Joby Mageean and Tom Black. Photos by Donnie Ray, Peter G Trimming, aburt and Jonny Rose, used under Creative Commons License

Somewhere, deep in the fens, a town is in a planning crisis.

The unique character of a delightful yet little-known town in East Anglia is under serious threat. A surge of greedy property developers don’t merely plan to destroy the character of a quaint town, they are planning a concerted campaign to subject it to fate worse than destruction: to turn the town into the “Croydon of the fens”.

The destruction of a perfectly nice row of Victorian houses at Wilton Terrace is only the beginning. If they get their way they will not rest until they have turned this this mid-sized market town (population 124,000) into some kind of city – inevitably with all of the things you expect to find in cities like high-rise buildings, extensive light-rail networks, and an ethnically diverse resident population.

But why should you care? You may not have even heard of Cambridge – you probably don’t even care that much – its not even an area we  cover in the Croydon Citizen.

But the fact is you should care. I don’t need to tell you what bad news this is – you live in Croydon after all. But for the simple rural folk of a simple country town, without the resources of sophisticated urbanites like us, the potential effects of such a transformation are almost too frightening to consider.

Don’t believe me? Can’t see this is serious yet?  Then you aren’t paying attention.

This is how it starts. One planning application will not be the end. As soon as this is passed, the  avarice of the developers will drive them to push for more. A realistic scenario could see huge swathes of the town turned over to job-creating office developments, with the capacity to employ tens of thousands of local people, in only a few, short, horrifying years. And what would follow? The commercial logic is as crushingly inevitable as it is uncomfortably plain: A massive increase in local retail options, public transport projects, and apartment complexes; spotted in-between a hotch-potch of grandiose 17th century villas, 19th century industrial curiosities,  extensive interwar housing, and Grade I listed medieval and Elizabethan clerical structures.

Will a monstrosity like this soon ‘grace’ the streets of Cambridge?

But even the passing of this planning event-horizon would hardly mark the end of the beginning, let-alone the beginning of the end. For the next change to take place would be a change to the very composition of its populace. It would be pure fantasy to suggest that the simple people who inhabit it now would remain its only residents. Very quickly, we would witness a vast and rapid influx of people from across the entire earth – rich and poor alike. History teaches us that most of them will be young, but some will be barely old enough to be out of school. How would Cambridge cope with such a Lord-of-the-Flies-like influx of youth on a regular basis?

The effects of this massively increased diversity will not be trivial. You’ll notice it first in the restaurants. Very quickly it will be difficult to even find a decent fish and chip shop (Well, not that difficult). In their place will be a cacophony of competing eateries of an international theme. We’re not talking Italian – we’re not even talking about food that comes from Europe. The truth is that you won’t be able to move for Chinese confectionary stalls or Jamaican jerk places.

Eventually, the kinds of business that take place in the town – the economic lifeblood of the town – will change too. As more traditional employment recedes, very different, modern technology will begin to take its place. Across the entire area, from bedrooms to office parks, people will be beavering away at new businesses derived from technology, not the repetitive processes of honest graft – moving very gradually towards an economy built on computers and ‘science’ – an unthinkable step in the Cambridge of today.

If what I’ve described doesn’t fill you with horror, I have nothing left to convince you. But if, like me, this concerns you greatly and you want to do something for places outside of the borough, I implore you to support our campaign today.

Wilton Terrace actually is quite interesting, even if the prospect of Cambridge becoming “The Croydon of the Fens” is hyperbolic rubbish and a slur on Croydon. There’s no online petition, but you can support the campaign by . You can learn more about  Croydon’s own rich history and architecture at the Croydon Heritage Festival.

James Naylor

James Naylor

James grew up in Coulsdon. After a brief spell in Somerset he returned to central Croydon as a useful London base. Since then however, his enthusiasm for Croydon has slowly grown into obsession – leading him to set up Croydon Tours and eventually the Croydon Citizen. James is particularly interested in the power of local media to foster new ways of thinking about communities and how to empower them. He is most interested in putting Croydon in a wider context within London, the economy and across time. During the week, he works for an advertising technology company hailing from Silicon Valley. When he’s not working on Croydon-related projects, he enjoys desperately nerdy but hugely enjoyable boardgames. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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  • Anne Giles

    I love Cambridge, as long as it stays as it is.

  • juanincognito

    It may be time to organise a delegation of citizens and worthies to travel to Cambridge in support of the Wilton Terrace heroes. Who has a spare campaign bus?