Huawei华为 comes to South Cambs
The Chinese tech giant Huawei has been much in the news of late, but for residents of Whittlesford and also Sawston and nearby villages this is more because of the massive land acquisition that the company has made on the old Spicers site between the two villages. The site has been empty for ten years and while the total area of some 500 acres is mainly green belt land, there is plenty of brownfield space in the 50 acre Established Employment Area, i.e. that excluded from the Green Belt. The rest of the Green Belt land includes farmland, a lake, woodlands, a listed prehistoric settlement site and Dernford Fen SSSI.
There are also some existing companies working on the site and they will carry on as tenants.
So setting aside all the national level arguments about whether the company should be helping build the UK 5G network, what are the issues locally? Because this is probably going to be a long term development, with the Chinese company moving its UK focus away from places like Martlesham Heath in Suffolk (near the old BT tech research site) to be part of the Cambridge research phenomenon.
It’s a prime location - the expanding Genome centre is a few miles to the south, then there is the Babraham Institute, plus Granta Parks, and the massive bio-medical campus now forming around Addenbrookes will be a 15 minutes train ride away from Whittlesford’s sleepy rail station into Cambridge South station.
Last year Huawei spent $15billion on R&D. Beyond smartphones and communication their future lies in new sensing devices and the associated '5G' connections and software for exploiting the data gathered. The site under consideration here in South Cambs will focus on research into electronic wafer chips.
Back to the local issues as raised by many parish councils - here at Whittlesford Village hall last week:
What employment opportunities will be created?
What impact will there be on local infrastructure, particularly with everything else that is happening round here? Worth recalling that Granta Parks PAID for the cycle route running from Whittlesford Station past Pampisford and up to the Abingtons.
Will there be access to the green areas around the site in the way that the Babraham Institute have managed to achieve? As shown here at the opening of the access routes through the site two years ago.
First off its fair to say HUAWEI has upped its game in terms of its understanding of the issues and concerns locally, and the session they had with parish councils last Wednesday, and the public exhibition at Sawston yesterday was a better showing than their initial meetings when they clearly hadn’t really done much desk research. I’m pleased that they now won’t be rushing their application into South a cambs planning team in early May as originally indicated, but will reflect on the feedback and comments they have had.
However they remain pretty non-committal about what they will be doing in the longer term, and that’s what really matters. The 400 or so people employed on the site in Phase 1 is actually less than the numbers that used to be employed by Spicers. Compared with the proposed 4,000 staff at the agri-tech site near Hinxton (that applications has now gone to appeal after being turned down by South Cambs planning Committee last year).
The real issue is what happens after phase 1, and how will growing numbers of staff employed there access the site - especially given the train crossing barrier - which in the past caused cars to back up on the Sawston by-pass.
For Whittlesford and the Shelfords, the issues are more about what happens to that Shelford Road entrance to the site, and access into the green bits of the site. A few years back when the whole site was in play having been acquired by a US science company there was the possibility of a cyclepath between the two villages so that people working on the site could de-train at either station and cycle the last few kilometres to work, opening up the Shelford Road to non-vehicular use at the same time.
The wider question put by representatives of the villages round here is to do with the wider infrastructure challenges created by these science sites. The next stage will be to see what the planning application looks like and how many of the suggestions put forward locally have been taken into account. Heres more about the proposals from the Cambridge News
A note of caution - or a reality check if you will - there is nothing that actually requires the company to offer big infrastructure improvements - this is 400 people working on an existing site.