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Cambridge CB1 resident says 'slum' accusations are shocking

By Ben Comber

CB1 vox-pop - CB1, Cambridge . Picture: Keith Heppell
CB1 vox-pop - CB1, Cambridge . Picture: Keith Heppell

Is the CB1 quarter a future slum, or a new development having teething problems?

CB1 vox-pop - CB1, Cambridge . Picture: Keith Heppell
CB1 vox-pop - CB1, Cambridge . Picture: Keith Heppell

It is costing £750million pounds to develop, and has attracted Microsoft, Amazon and a £50million hotel, but CB1, the new city quarter around Cambridge railway station has been called a “future slum” in a Guardian blog.

Cambridge residents have looked on with dismay as blocks of flats have been erected and community projects, such as the redevelopment of the burned-down Mill Silo into the home of the county’s historical archives, have fallen through. And recent reports of pop-up brothels have prompted stories of anti-social behaviour to spring up again.

But the development is not yet complete, and has already attracted some of the world’s most well-known institutions, like Microsoft and Amazon, and is bringing in billion dollar start-ups like bike-share platform Ofo.

Sven Topel, chief executive of Brookgate, told the Cambridge Independent: “The CB1 scheme attracted pioneer occupier Microsoft Research, located at 21 Station Road, which was a catalyst for the new office development. Corporates continue to be attracted to CB1 and this is evident with the success of One The Square, built speculatively it was virtually fully let on its completion. The demand for office space in Cambridge continues but there is limited availability. Bidwells released data earlier this year which showed that office supply within the Cambridge area had fallen to its lowest level for 15 years.”

CB1 vox-pop - CB1, Cambridge . Picture: Keith Heppell
CB1 vox-pop - CB1, Cambridge . Picture: Keith Heppell

With business booming, is it too early to judge?

Resident Suzanne Biesty thinks so. “It’s a new area and to say it’s a slum already is a bit shocking,” she said. “I haven’t noticed any crime to be honest, and I know that people talk about noise, I think often it’s relative. We’ve never been woken up by noise. When we moved in we knew that there’d be students here but we like to live in a city with lots going on. And moving to Cambridge you’re always going to be next to students. But we’ve never been disturbed by it, although I know people who have.

“I’d heard about the issue about pop-up brothels, but this is shared ownership. It’s a bit of a worry because it might attract crime, and I’ve got two children. It’s a worrying thing, but I hope now the police will be aware of it and they’re doing something about it.”

CB1 vox-pop - CB1, Cambridge . Picture: Keith Heppell
CB1 vox-pop - CB1, Cambridge . Picture: Keith Heppell

:: Ofo boosts Cambridge rented bike fleet as free trial continues

Suzanne’s balcony overlooks the fenced-in Mill Park, which was churned up by mass football matches and became a source of anti-social behaviour. Suzanne’s neighbour, Jenny Nott, had eggs thrown at her windows when she complained about the ball being kicked through her window. That was two years ago, and Jenny says she likes living in CB1.

“The students throwing the eggs was something that happened early on, and that’s the worst incident,” Suzanne said. “They didn’t think it through. When it was open it’s used by everyone. People in offices come and have lunch, students from the sixth-form come and have their lunch, people from the station come by. It’s really heavily used. It is like a public space. We’ve got two children, 8 and 10, so at the moment they can play by the side of the flat, but it would be much nicer if they could play on the grass.”

CB1 vox-pop - CB1, Cambridge . Picture: Keith Heppell
CB1 vox-pop - CB1, Cambridge . Picture: Keith Heppell

The residents and Anglia Ruskin students, who have moved to the flats in CB1 because they are the cheapest they can find, at £159 per week, pay for the land’s upkeep. However, Developer Hill reportedly owns the grass area and the fences.

An estate manager, who did not wish to be named, said getting the green space back in use has been an ongoing battle, but the fences will remain while the newly reseeded grass takes root, otherwise residents will have to foot the bill should it get destroyed again.

“We haven’t taken adoption of this area because it has never been to spec. The topsoil was not laid correctly, depths not quite right. There are reports of when it turned into a quagmire and people playing football, that was all the same issue. Now it’s been laid to spec, we’ve had an independent consultant look at it, but we need to give it time to establish which is why it’s fenced off,” they said.

Residents are expecting new planters to break the space up, but the estate manager said planning permission took too long to come through, so the land was returned to serve its original purpose.

“The argument was that it was never really suited for the demographic, because it’s all young professionals and students and was always going to be turned into a football pitch. The security provisions were not in place then, but they are now.”

Security guards have been patrolling the square at night every hour for the past six months.

“The development is only 65-75 per cent complete,” the estate manager continued. “Once it opens up we’ll be able to get right on top of the issues. I know it’s a bit of a different beast at night-time but it’s not that bad. If you walk around at night it’s no different than anywhere else, a couple of youths here and there, the odd homeless person, but security is tasked with moving them on.”

The fact that there so many different players in the development, each with different objectives, has caused difficulties, they said. Mr Topel told the Cambridge Independent that all these parties need to work together.

“It is now important that all owners, stakeholders and management companies with a responsibility in the CB1 development work together in order that concerns can be addressed and the situation can be improved,” he said, regarding reports of anti-social behaviour and brothels.

He continued: “The vision of the masterplan and what we have set out to deliver is a mixed community living side by side.

“However, as is often the case with developments of this scale and complexity, there can be teething problems and a period of settling in.”


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