A new concert hall for Cambridge?


More thoughts following some recent online discoveries

This sort of follows on from Cambridge’s lost concert halls in my Lost Cambridge project – which started off life as a set of photos from the Museum of Cambridge, and a Facebook page here.

I was browsing through a treasure trove of published-but-not-publicised documents sitting on Cambridge City Council’s server as part of their submission to the Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire Local Plan/Local Development Framework. All of the documents are in the file tree at https://www.cambridge.gov.uk/public/ldf/coredocs/ and there are ****lots**** of interesting things buried in here. It’s not ‘scandal’ or conspiracy theory or anything like that. In the grand scheme of things, councils have had their budgets plundered by Whitehall without the power to raise funds locally to make up for the losses. Hence not having anyone around to do anything useful in a civic or historical sense with them.

There are some incredibly significant historical documents buried in here

For example the 1950 Holford Wright Report that shaped Cambridge as the small city that we know today (but perhaps for not much longer).

Now, I feel like a bit of an idiot having chased after local councillors to digitise this report. Yet such was the depth that the digitised files were buried, chances are that local councillors didn’t know that this report had already been digitised and published. Furthermore, the person/people who did the scanning may have already left council employment due to the cuts, so the corporate memory of what is and isn’t in there has vanished.

“What’s this got to do with the concert hall?”

First things first, why a concert hall?

My take ever since I sang with We Are Sound/Dowsing Sound Collective at the Cambridge Corn Exchange in December 2014 is that Cambridge needs a new concert hall – one that has a capacity of at least 2,000 people.

We near as dammit sold out that gig. My writeup from it is here. The next biggest indoors venue in Cambridge is Great St Mary’s – but we’ve sung in there as well (This one from BBC Music Day). There are a number of other local groups that have also sold out such venues.

Cambridge’s population growth

The numbers are stark:

  • In 2001, Cambridge’s population was 109,000
  • In 2011, Cambridge’s population was 124,ooo (in the 2011 census)
  • In 2031, Cambridge’ population is expected to be 151,000

That means the city will have 39% more people living in its city limits than 2001 – that rise taking place over a 30 year period. Or to look at it another way, an extra 42,000 people in it. Which is noticeably more than the population of Haverhill (just over 27,000), one of the largest towns close to Cambridge not linked by rail. (Hence Rail Haverhill wanting to do something about traffic in that neck of the woods)

Expanding transport infrastructure

We’ve had the guided busway completed since late 2011 – which had a total of 3.5 million journeys take on it in 2014. We await the completion of East-West Rail – which will also link other fast growing population centres (towns and cities to you & me) to Cambridge. And that’s before we even look at roads and cycle networks. With the growth of Cambridge as this big regional centre, my take is that it needs to build the civic infrastructure to match it. As it is, our civic infrastructure is becoming more and more inadequate to meet the demands of a growing population.

What the councils said in 2013

In January 2013, Cambridge City Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council published a document that they’ve probably forgotten about. It’s called The Major Facilities / Sub Regional Facilities In The Cambridge Area – Review Of Evidence & Site Options. You can read it at https://www.cambridge.gov.uk/public/ldf/coredocs/RD-CSF/RD-CSF-020.pdf

It says the following:


“There is no purpose-built large scale venue provision within the Cambridge Sub Region”

“There is a growing interest in testing the case for a purpose-built auditorium for large scale music – the nearest concert halls are at Aldeburgh, and in Nottingham, Birmingham & London”

Their words, not mine!

So…where do you want this new concert hall?



Above via G-Maps – junction of ‘Hyde Park Corner’ – Hills Rd, Gonville Place, Regent St, Lensfield Road, Cambridge.

The site I’ve identified is the old Perse School, now one of Cambridge Assessment’s offices – soon to be vacated when they move to their purpose built premises off Brooklands Avenue over the next few years.


Above – map view of the same photograph.

The large peach-coloured shape to the right of the A1307 (Hills Road) and the surrounding grey bits is the footprint of the site – one that is 3 times the size of the Cambridge Corn Exchange.

“Why here?”

  • It is central – ie not building on the green belt
  • A short walk from the Queen Anne Car Park, and only a little further from the Grafton Centre and Lion Yard Car Parks
  • It is on the guided bus route, park and ride south routes and Citi bus routes from the railway station
  • Re the railway station it’s a pleasant walk through the back streets to get to/from the railway station
  • Drummer Street bus station – where many regional buses terminate
  • In terms of evening events, rush hour traffic will have gone (and thus parking spaces emptied) by the time most events start at 7:30-8:00pm
  • There are a number of medium-sized hotels close by
    • The Gonville
    • University Arms
    • Barbie’s dolls house (I forget which brand runs it)
    • The Royal Cambridge
    • The Travel lodges on Clifton Road and Newmarket Road

***What’s there not to like?***

Actually, not everyone is convinced

This was from a Twitter exchange following my incredulity at finding out Cambridge University lacks exam hall space.

Such a venue during the day could deal with the issue of temporary exam hall space demands. The challenge for architects & designers is to construct a building that could meet as many needs as possible – including for the wonderful Cambridge Rollerbillies given the loss of rollerskating space.

Historically, Cambridge had a number of purpose-built rollerskating rinks and dance halls. Even the Corn Exchange was once used as such. No one could afford to rent out the venue for rollerskating today.

“Do you run the risk of having a building that seeks to be everything but ends up being a soulless box with no identity?”

Yes – you do. Look at the London Excel. ****Huge**** space which me and Puffles visited during the Olympics. A horrible, soulless space but the only place big enough to host monster-sized conventions.

We’ve been promised concert halls before

Here’s Gordon Logie’s plan for some concert halls in the redeveloped Lion Yard in the mid-1960s.


The above is from the book “Cambridge that never was” by D.A. Reeve, Oleander Press 1976.

You’ll need to click on the image above to read the text, but essentially Logie’s plan was to have demolished the then derelict church of St Andrew The Great (it didn’t come back into use until a group of Christians rescued it in the late 1990s/early 2000s), to replace that with a hotel. The main entrance to the Lion Yard we know today, where the big sports shop is, is where the large concert hall would have been.

So…calling for a new music venue in Cambridge isn’t new – as this lot also state.

Can town and gown unite to make it happen?

Interested? Please leave a comment below or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/lostcambridge/posts/394730064238057

***Updated to add***

Via former councillor Colin Rosenstiel who was on the city council for decades, note the below.

What’s interesting – and consistent with other things in Cambridge is just how long it took to move from Gordon Logie’s first proposals in the mid-1960s through to the delivery of the solution – the refurbished Corn Exchange in 1986.

Note ‘The Alliance’ was the 1980s party political alliance between the old Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party – which broke away from Labour in 1981.


2 thoughts on “A new concert hall for Cambridge?

  1. Just thinking about your examination hall idea, I have to say that sounds hugely impractical to me. Think how many more subjects get taught at the University compared with any secondary school and therefore how many students and exams need to be held. Trying to fit all those in one space is, as far as I can tell, a recipe for disaster.

    Returning to the concert hall, I think this is a better site for one. Keep the cycle parking, reduce the car parking to a minimum (just spaces for trucks and disabled parking) and maybe think about reconfiguring the junctions.

  2. Interesting – and a good place, near hotels etc as you have said – but.. would there be enough space to get the very large lorries etc that would bring in the equipment for the large scale shows that could play there? Just be around near the Arts and the Corn Exchange when the crews arrive to set up – they might need a better place to turn up than a major junction in the city centre!

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