Trinity College angers conservationists

Hazel Shearing -Deputy News Editor 22 January 2013

Decisions by Trinity College to sell greenfield land and install solar panels in the Grade 1-listed building, New Court, has met fierce opposition from English Heritage and Cambridge Past, Present and Future.

The college intends to sell land in North East Bexhill, which the Rother District Council has chosen for ‘major urban extension’. The decision was made in light of plans for the development of a link road between Bexhill and Hastings, which has already been the source of much outcry amongst conservationists.

According to the Combe Haven Defenders, Trinity College is “cashing in” on the link road. The countryside will be developed into housing estates and business parks, providing over 1,000 dwellings and 48,000 square metres of business space. The group argues that the development is “for the benefit of rich landowners and property developers, who are intent on destroying our countryside in order to increase their profit”.

Trinity College, it emerges, is one of these “rich landowners”. With a landholding worth £800 million, as well as owning the Cambridge Science Park, the O2 Arena, and a 50% stake in a portfolio of Tesco stores, it is no surprise that Trinity is the richest Oxbridge college.

Land owned by the college includes 109 acres of land around Bexhill. According to the Combe Haven Defenders, Trinity have “aggressively pursued a strategy of trying to persuade the council to allow as much land as possible to be developed”.

Rother District Council outlines its plans for the countryside in its ‘North East Bexhill Masterplan’. The plan describes the greenfield land, which will soon be covered by business parks, as “a rolling and well-wooded countryside”. The land is filled with ponds, hedgerows and woodland which form habitats for hundreds of species of plants and animals. Conservationist groups point out that not only are small mammals and birds at risk from these developments, but also protected species such as badgers and dormice.

This comes in the midst of more controversy concerning Trinity’s instalment of energy-efficient measures, including solar panels in the 200-year-old New Court.

The engineering firm behind the project estimate that the modifications will reduce carbon emissions by 88%. However, the project has faced objections from conservationists who argue that covering Grade 1-listed buildings with large panels will detract from its architectural beauty.

Although a final decision is yet to be made by the government, the refurbishment plans passed through the city council unanimously. This is after changes were made to initial proposals due to the objection of English Heritage to the panels being overly visible.

Caroline Gohler of the conservationist group Cambridge Past, Present and Future, also opposes their installation: “because it’s a Grade-I building really there needs to be exceptional reasons to put these sort of panels on them if they’re still visible.”

Mr Rod Pullen, Junior Bursar of Trinity, outlined the college’s reasoning in his address to the City Council Planning Committee. He remarked that the buildings – some of them over five centuries old – must continue to “meet the changing needs and patterns of life”. New Court, he added, “no longer complies with current Fire and Environmental Health standards” and renovations will allow the college to “tackle the major challenge of long term sustainability”.

The college plans to confront the issue of visibility by placing the panels on the sloping roof so that they cannot be seen from ground level. Conservationists, however, remain concerned about the plans.

Such clashes between the preservation of the old and development of the new are not uncommon in a city as old as Cambridge, with buildings dating as far back as the thirteenth century. To be at the centre of a similar debate outside of the city, however, only worsens Trinity College’s already strained relations with conservationist groups.

Hazel Shearing -Deputy News Editor