Do Cambridgeshire Conservatives want to sell off the Castle Hill site?


Is it theirs to sell off in the first place? (No).

“Shire Hall would be sold off, but the report does not specify a future use. Previous ideas for the site include turning it into a hotel.”

So writes Josh Thomas in the Cambridge News here.

I tabled this public question to county councillors recently on the future of the site on the back of this blogpost on expanding the Museum of Cambridge.

Cambridgeshire County Council full council 17 Oct 2017 – my Q is at the start.

Cllr Paul Raynes (Cons – Soham) is quoted as saying:

“I will make sure Mr Carpen’s suggestion is taken into account [regarding the possibility of expanding the Museum of Cambridge onto the Shire Hall site where the old court house that the city council didn’t want demolished in the 1950s, once stood”

The problem is that the county council’s papers for the commercial and investment committee:

  • Excluded the general public (so even if I could have made the meeting, I wouldn’t have been allowed in)
  • Make no mention of my proposals despite the promise at a public meeting of the full council recorded on video by Cllr Raynes.

Personally I’d have preferred it if executive councillors had told me where to go, that they were going to sell off the site to the highest bidder who had committed to employing the popular Brookgate team, demolish everything and allow the new owners to build luxury apartments to buy-to-leave foreign investors and have the towers painted royal blue. At least that would be being honest that money is the only thing that matters in the 21st Century. It’s the dashing of the hope that hurts.

“Who paid for its acquisition?”

It’s a spurious argument but I’m going to make it anyway: The site used to be a prison, and before that, a castle. A few of the older colleges ran off with the castle stone before the county gaol was built – and where we used to have public hangings. We know this ***because I have read the transcripts*** and have summarised the last one that took place before the law was changed. (I read proper old newspapers so you don’t have to!)

When the Home Office decided it didn’t need the prison anymore, the old Cambridgeshire County Council (based on smaller boundaries) bought the site and built Shire Hall on it in the 1930s.

Cambridgeshire 1945

From a very old Cambridgeshire County Council publication made for the boundary review of 1964 (there was one in 1944, and 1973/4 as well – so we are ***long overdue one***) historic Cambridgeshire contains the red and blue shaded areas – Cambridge County, and the Isle of Ely. (I’ve digitised the whole book for you to read here). Essentially the ratepayers of Huntingdonshire did not pay for the site when the county acquired it, so therefore councillors from that part of the world shouldn’t get a vote disposing of the site.

“That’s a spurious argument”

I know.

But just as Conservatives regularly accuse Labour governments of running out of other people’s money to spend, Labour activists accuse Conservatives of running out of public assets to sell off or privatise.

My point is that the site could not only provide a stable revenue stream for county council services, it could also meet some of the business demand for hotel rooms, provide a heritage attraction on an existing heritage site – which could help protect an existing historical monument (Castle Mound), and help create a buzzing food/restaurant quarter by adding at least two new establishments to the ones already there, and at the same time help extend the tourist trail over the River Cam over the Great Bridge to the top of the hill.

“…Which is a much more compelling argument”

Precisely. What annoys me is that despite having gone through all of the proper processes, my suggestions haven’t even been dismissed, just ignored. It makes me wonder what the point of it all is.




One thought on “Do Cambridgeshire Conservatives want to sell off the Castle Hill site?

  1. It’s really easy to be cynical about all this and that doesn’t make the councillors look good at all imo. You either wonder if they have something to hide by not providing the public (who, you know, pay for all this) with the information or you think they must be embarrassed by the evidence. It could be neither of those of course but how do we *know*? I think East Cambs and Fenland are badly in need of a (bloodless) political coup such as the one that occurred last Thursday in South Cambs.

    And yes, it is utterly mind boggling that they would vote in favour of selling this rather than create a funding stream from it.

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