What can the big ideas tell us about the way we’ll be living in the future?

Nearly 2,000 people attended the Big Tent Ideas Festival at Babraham Hall near Cambridge. Picture: P

Nearly 2,000 people attended the Big Tent Ideas Festival at Babraham Hall near Cambridge. Picture: PAUL GEATER - Credit: Archant

I visited the Big Tent Ideas Festival near Cambridge at the weekend as politicians from all parties (well, almost) mingled with members of the public interested in the world about them.

Do we all need to drive cars in towns? Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Do we all need to drive cars in towns? Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

It was the idea of Tory MP George Freeman, and while there were elements of the day that were slightly irritating, overall much of what was happening was very stimulating.

Particularly welcome was the fact that here was a political event not dominated by a single political party.

It was a pity that Jeremy Corbyn had apparently told his MPs not to attend which did leave it feeling slightly unbalanced – although Hove MP (and Corbyn critic) Peter Kyle did take part in debates and Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner was there keeping an eye on what was happening.

In the debates I attended, it was good to hear politicians and “non political” experts talking about subjects without the feeling that they’d consulted the most recent election manifesto before opening their mouths.


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The debate I found most interesting was on planning and building communities in the future (yes, really). Called “From car commuting to connected clusters,” it really looked hard at the kind of large towns and cities we’ll be living in over the next few decades.

And it also questioned some of the accepted facts of life we’ve grown up with over recent years.

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For instance; if you’re building homes in town centres near railway stations, is it really necessary to build garages (or even cars spaces) with them? Isn’t it best to build them to attract home buyers who don’t want to drive?

Something else I hadn’t thought of is the question of accessibility. We hear homes should be built without front door steps to help people who have mobility problems.

But most people don’t have mobility problems, and the small amount of exercise you get walking up steps is quite good for us. So it is right to deny something that does a little bit of good for the majority to satisfy the needs of a very small minority?

I was once told by a doctor that he was frustrated by all the healthy people who moved into bungalows when they were in their 60s so they’d be ready when they had trouble with stairs later in life.

He said the very action of walking up and down a flight of stairs several times a day was the best exercise most over-60s did, so moving to a bungalow could be a cause of mobility problems in later life rather than a solution to them. Interesting point of view.

On the subject of cars, I could really see where they were coming from. But for many people (including myself) it is very difficult to imagine life without my four wheels.

The new homes due to be built on the former B&Q site in the town centre will be perfect for anyone working in the town centre, the Waterfront or commuters working in London. It would be possible to live their comfortably without a car.

I don’t use a car as much as I did. I’ve got back on my bike over the last couple of weeks and when the nights draw in I hope to start walking between my home and the office again on some days.

Over the last few years the miles I’ve driven a year has fallen from 8-10,000 to 5-6,000 but I still wouldn’t be without it – how else do you get to Minsmere, Ickworth, or Sutton Hoo without the journey becoming a real logistical trek involving trains and taxis?

But there are now increasing numbers of people who are choosing to live without their own car – some are joining car clubs which give them access to a vehicle as and when they need it.

In London and other large cities young people are finding the cost and hassle of owning a car just too much – and are choosing to rely on public transport.

As places like Ipswich expand that could become the case more and more here as well – but that does mean the authorities and the public transport companies need to recognise that fact.

In Ipswich there is a good public transport network – and the larger towns are linked by reasonable rail services.

But there’s no point in telling someone living in Hadleigh, Leiston, or Framlingham to rely on public transport for their leisure if the last bus runs well before 7pm!

What we were really hearing about at the debate, though, was about urban life – and what it really taught me was that there is a big split opening between life in large towns and the countryside. Both have their own attractions, but they are very different.

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