Because developers are weaselling out of their commitments and Cambridge/South Cambridgeshire planners all too often are missing the impact on the big picture.
Two years ago, I posted this on the demise of Cambridge’s social venues. At the time I had no idea that looking at photos of long lost buildings of Cambridge the town would lead me down the route to some of the finest women who have lived and worked in Cambridge. Ones too many of us have forgotten about. It’s work in progress to change this.
Cambridge Business Leaders being at the forefront of Cambridge’s civic infrastructure.
In the days when we knocked down far too much nice stuff alongside the slum clearances, at least our predecessors as recently as the 1970s made it their business to ensure that the town had civic facilities that served the people – all of us – town & gown alike.
In early April 1971, Douglas January, one of the most well known businessmen in the city, (property boards bearing his surname used to be everywhere) wrote this letter to the Cambridge Evening News. (His firm merged with http://www.dernford.co.uk/about-us/)
(Half a century later and we find the building has structural issues!)
In the days when most people post-war could not afford to buy household goods, David, the son of Cambridge car retailer Herbert Robinson, set up a firm called Radio Rentals. It was through that he made his fortune. In the early 1980s, he secured a deal with Margaret Thatcher’s government to build the Rosie Maternity Hospital in Cambridge. The deal was that he would pay for the hospital if the builders built it far faster than originally anticipated. This they did, and he handed over £3m (around £10m in today’s prices) to cover the cost. He also founded Robinson College, which bears his name.
The hospital was named after David Robinson’s mother, Rosie – below. I have a very distant family link to Rosie, in that one of her several grandsons married my mum’s sister. Hence my first recollections of the Robinsons was through snatched memories of conversations in my childhood.
Rosie Robinson, via the Addenbrooke’s Archive.
“Where are the Douglas January’s and David Robinson’s of today?”
The case of Douglas January is interesting in that his business was primarily concerned with property. But the example of January and Robinson stands in stark contrast to the board of Brookgate, responsible for the developments in and around Cambridge Station, who got torn to bits in The Guardian here.
“Brookgate reported £10m in pre-tax profits last year, but it has no plans to provide a health clinic, heritage centre or enhanced transport interchange in CB1.“
Essentially the people commenting in Olly Wainwright’s article above accuse Brookgate and their investors (listed here – including AVIVA and Jesus College, Cambridge) of wasting a wonderful opportunity to create what has been achieved at London King’s Cross.
It’s been a similar story around Cambridge Railway Station of developers gaming the planning system for private profit at the expense of the people who move in, and the resident community already there. See my blogpost here.
It’s easy to say “Oh, it’s what the system incentivises and what the chaps are doing is perfectly legal!” but there was something about the scale that the likes of January and Robinson – and before them W Eaden Lilley and Robert Sayle, were doing in Cambridge the town that I’ve not seen anyone replicate in the way the above four did. I still think John Lewis in Cambridge should be branded as “Robert Sayle – part of the John Lewis Group” as it was before the redevelopment of Lion Yard/Grand Arcade.
“How do we persuade the people supposedly making all the money in Cambridge to contribute towards civic infrastructure?”
In part it requires people to come up with ideas. I’ve got at least three:
But it also requires the large institutions to set a good example in the first place. Looking at you Cambridge University.
“Cambridge University ‘shutting out’ low-paid staff from new housing, says council boss”
The problem the university and the colleges have is that the students and academics have found out what is going on.
“Oooh! This could be interesting!”
One of the side-effects of the Universities and Colleges Union strike over pensions is that lots of academics, students and townfolk got talking to each other on the picket lines and started helping each other out. When the students needed a PA system for one of their protests, the local branch of The Unite Union stepped in. The result was this:
Cambridge Defend Education students and protestors demanding Cambridge University helps deliver on housing justice for town and gown alike, to open up its closed spaces to residents of the city and to undertake educational and social projects to reduce inequalities across our city.
But the problem remains – too few of our developments are building enough suitable civic infrastructure for our growing city
I went along to the CB1 Community’s open day recently – see my blogpost here. In my mind I’ve written off Brookgate. The firm makes me too angry at what they’ve done. Now that people have moved in, they are my area’s new neighbours. Therefore we have a shared interest to make the area work for each other. Hence my call for a big societies fair at The Junction open to all and targeted at all of those who have moved into the new housing. The Cambridge News has all of its CB1 stories here. I really hope we can see some substantively positive news stories in the future – not least for the people who have moved in and made their homes here. Because this is damning.
Noise complaints – and a bid by developers to avoid taking responsibility for them, was rejected by Cambridge City Council planning committee. The developers now have to reduce both noise and pollution that previous councillors and campaigners long warned them about.
“Yeah – what about community rooms?”
In terms of community rooms built on the developments around the railway station, for me they are far too small. You can’t really do much in there or have anything larger than a committee/board meeting if you are looking to use the rooms on the CB1 blocks I saw. Over the road at The Signal Box, my view is the same – the rooms are too small. The social rooms in the student accommodation are (quite rightly) for residents only. One thing that would help alleviate some of the problems is the much-planned bridge over the railway station direct either to Rustat Road (a short walk to Coleridge Rec – a reasonably large park with a dragon slide on it (because Puffles stood for election in Coleridge ward in 2014), properly planned in the interwar period) or to Cambridge Leisure Park (another badly planned cash cow for landlords Land Securities).
We know that Cambridge has a lack of large hall space for evening classes and sports. I’ve not seen anything new that has been constructed that can meet the requirements of say the Cambridge Dancers’ Club, or the Cambridge Rollerbillies rollerderby team. Given that these are two large clubs with many women in the former, and pretty much all women in the latter (men can only skate to become officials as it’s an all-women competitive team – and one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. It’s because of them I can rollerskate backwards and can fall over properly!)
Privatised facilities for the wealthy/privileged few?
Whether it’s Amazon’s new office on Station Road to Microsoft’s lecture theatre in the building opposite, to the private shuttle bus provided by ARM in Fulbourn that spews out diesel fumes down my road on its journey between the railway station and its offices in Fulbourn, I’m increasingly concerned about the increasing levels of segregation in Cambridge with these things. In the long term it just increases resentment all round.
Why isn’t ARM paying for the new Fulbourn railway station to replace the one abandoned in Beeching’s cuts? (Or for that matter contributing to the Cambridge Connect light rail project?). Why does it need its own private shuttle bus that always gets stuck in the traffic it helps create? Why not subsidise the existing bus services instead?
Why didn’t Amazon and Microsoft negotiate with the developers about having a shared open-to-all conferencing centre and perhaps an open-to-all sports and leisure centre given all of the people who were going to be moving there? Or are we in a world where each firm has their own gym/club and each employee has their own individual fitness machine tailored to their needs? As the developers found out with the students, there’s nowhere for people to play team sports outside.
The system for spending money allocated for community facilities doesn’t help
This is Cambridge City Council’s latest call. My ward – Coleridge, has £105,000 available. Queen Edith’s over the road, and southwards, has £270,000 (of which over half must serve the area around the Bell Language School…which is primarily a residential area).
Part of the problem is that Cambridge City Council does not have the officer capacity to deliver its existing projects funded by such funding. We’re still waiting for a new pavilion in Nightingale Avenue.
Fault for these states of affairs lies purely with central government who imposed lots of cuts but gave no means of raising alternative funds, leaving councils stretched to the limit. It was only a matter of time before one snapped. It was Conservative-controlled Northamptonshire County Council. And it went all over the news. The problem we have with this is Cambridgeshire County Council has a shared services agreement with Northants. Exactly.
“Got any ideas for the community resources money?”
Grants for public arts are also available – see https://www.cambridge.gov.uk/public-art-grants. I’m not a fan of much of the public art that has gone up around Cambridge – but that’s just a personal view. Lumps of expensive metal or polished stone that for me don’t inspire or don’t immediately relate to what the artist says they relate to. There are some great ones though. Mill Road Bridge is one, this project in Chesterton another – and one easily replicated in other areas too.
Personally I’d like to see a greater level of community interaction – in particular setting the themes and styles that people might want to see. Set the framework then let the creatives work within that. With such engagement I’d love to see people invited to suggest existing pieces of public art that they like, and whether something similar would be suitable for Cambridge.
For all of our civic facilities, we need a city-wide calendar that looks something like the Isle of Wight’s “On the Wight at http://events.onthewight.com/ which I’ve long admired. Secondly our public transport services need to synchronise with our leisure services. Bus services that stop outside venues, and that leave giving people good time to get from venue back to the bus for the last service in the evening?
I still want a big concert hall/conferencing centre named after Florence Ada Keynes
Interior of Birmingham Symphony Hall which holds over 2,000 people. Can we have this please?
…and an expanded Museum of Cambridge with a new castle attached, called Cam Castle named after Professor Helen Cam.
Norwich Castle – can our one have more windows and a cafe/bar up top with the expensive drinks & splendid views of the city keeping everything afloat?
…and a revamped Guildhall inspired by John Belcher.
Raise the existing council chamber to roof level, put a glass dome on top, build a rooftop cafe (I detect a theme), under the council chamber have a state-of-the-art lecture theatre, and build the above-facade and everyone’s happy!
OK, not everyone. But those are a few thoughts.