Cambridge to build three colleges on green belt

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Cambridge University announced plans yesterday to create up to three colleges on the outskirts of the city.

Cambridge University announced plans yesterday to create up to three colleges on the outskirts of the city.

The colleges would be the first to be built since Robinson College was founded 25 years ago and would enable the university to tutor far more students in the next 20 years. The university has more than 16,500 full-time students, over 11,600 undergraduates and nearly 5,000 postgraduates. By 2025, dons expect student numbers to rise to about 21,000.

The increase will require the university to take on at least 3,000 more staff and the development will also create new housing for university staff. The proposals form part of an ambitious plan to develop a 120-hectare site to the north-west of the city.

Much of the proposed site is designated as green belt and is in an area of "best landscape". But Cambridge City Council allowed the proposals to proceed to the next stage last week by agreeing to incorporate the multimillion-pound proposal to build on the green belt into the draft local plan which will be debated over the next year.

The university currently has 32 colleges. Robinson, the newest, was founded in 1979 thanks to an £18m endowment from Sir David Robinson, a philanthropist who made his fortune with a chain of television rental stores.

The site of the new development is owned by the university and is bounded by three major roads, including the M11.

Some of the land may be sold off to developers for housing, while the rest will be divided between academic and community facilities such as a primary school and shops, parks, a nature conservation area and park-and-ride and park-and-cycle areas.

The development will more than double the space occupied by the university - the historic heart of the 800-year-old university is relatively small.

The new site is also close to the west Cambridge development which has been transformed into a science and technology park over the past few years.

The university says the development is essential to its future and for it to maintain its reputation as a world leader.

It is also concerned that, because of the high house prices in the area, the university has found it difficult to recruit staff.

The university points to the need to maintain the "Cambridge phenomenon" - the clustering of high-technology companies in the region, critical to the success of the UK economy. It fears that without a physical expansion of the university, future opportunities may well be lost to Cambridge. A spokesman for the university said: "The university is determined to work closely with the local community and councils to achieve environmentally sensitive, sustainable, beneficial development over the next 20 years.

"The university welcomes the council's decision to include the release of the land in its draft local plan."

He stressed the proposals were part of a long-term project and that no specific plans had been drawn up or agreed.

It will be done under stringent environmental guidelines to preserve the green corridor into the centre of Cambridge, he said. The land is used mainly for farming, although there are some existing residential and research buildings on the site.

The detailed plans will be discussed at a later date.