On public art in Cambridge


Can we do better than random lumps of metal looking abstract?

Okay, so I’m stereotyping, but this blogpost stems from this planning case related to a controversial development of student flats on Newmarket Road, Cambridge. Now, let’s not pretend that Newmarket Road 100 years ago was this beautiful rural woodland. It as an industrial site of the old school.

Cambridge Gas Works

From Britain From Above, Newmarket Road just above the row of houses just above the four circular gasometers of the Cambridge Gas Works.

In the photo above, you can see the River Cam at the bottom, and a pit full of polluted water near the top – the site of a brickworks.

Today, Tesco has a supermarket on the site of the gasworks, and the site of the brickworks is now a car park and a bland retail park. With such huge land remediation needed before building, the road has become the site of large, bland, designed-on-an-Etch-a-sketch buildings.

Now, Cambridge City Council recently published this notice on spending of money that comes from developers through Section 106 of the Town & Country Planning Act – see here. This funding mechanism is being phased out, replaced by the Community Infrastructure Levy, for which Cambridge City Council’s position is here.

Educating local residents on the local planning system

Patsy Dell, formerly of Cambridge City Council, gave this presentation to the Be The Change Cambridge event I organised (With the help of lots of others) back in 2015. We filmed it too.


Cambridge City Council’s online planning portal is at https://idox.cambridge.gov.uk/online-applications/ but it takes a bit of time to get used to it. The other thing is that it takes a bit of time to find the documents that incentivise people to find out more – ie the drawings, pictures and architect illustrations of what a building should look like.

The above – which got thrown out by councillors, developers attempting to turn a former cinema and then large pub into luxury apartments following a fire.

It might be worth having either as a standard workshop in the Cambridge Art Network‘s annual conference, or having annual workshops in different parts of Cambridge to introduce people to both the planning system and how to contribute to the debate on what public art should go where. Because all too often the time people start getting involved in these things, it’s already too late.

“Do we have some high quality examples of public art to get inspiration from?”

Art by its very nature is subjective. Personally I prefer the art to be incorporated/integral to the design of the buildings concerned, rather than being stand alone lumps on plinths.

Above – from numerous local archives and my own photos, some unbuilt, some knocked down, some still around – buildings that I take inspiration from.

What examples do you have of pieces of public art that might be suitable for somewhere like Cambridge? (Because if all developments only had my taste of art in them, the town would become boring very quickly!)


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