Cambridge market revamp plans to go to consultation
Cambridge residents are to be given their first chance to comment on the city council’s plans for removable stalls on the market square.
Councillors voted last night (March 25) to send the proposed concept design out for public consultation.
The design, created by consultants, would see a switch to removable stalls so the area can be in part or wholly cleared to create an event space. However, the prototypes of the new collapsible stalls may not be available in time for the consultation, the meeting heard.
The details of the design are included in a document commissioned by the council and compiled by consultants. Suggested examples of further use of the space include hosting a night market, holding outdoor events such as theatre, and holding the Cambridge Live Big Weekend there.
The decision to advance with the project was backed with a cross-party vote at the environment and community scrutiny committee on Thursday, despite strong opposition from market traders and other community groups.
John Preston, a member of Friends of Cambridge Market, said the decision was met with “disappointment and shock”.
He said: “They have decided to go ahead with the next stages of the scheme in terms of going to public consultation without presenting an alternative and without waiting for the installation of the prototype stalls”.
In a joint letter released before the meeting, the Cambridge Market Traders Association, the Federation of Cambridge Residents Associations, the Friends of Cambridge Market, and Living Streets Cambridge, said there are “stark contradictions and inadequacies” in the plans, and the proposals are “not fit, in their current form, for purpose or for public consultation”.
Concerns include the degree to which the council is open to feedback, whether the movable stalls will be fit for their primary purpose of holding produce and standing up against bad weather, that events will cause market stalls to miss out on trading days, and that ticketed events will effectively “privatise” a public space.
Liberal Democrat councillor Josh Matthews told the committee “we have to re-establish this trust that has disappeared” with the market traders.
“In no way do I suggest at all there is anything but the best intentions from the council and that the council wants to communicate well,” he said, adding “but something has gone wrong, clearly, and we need to fix that. There is an incredible opportunity to regenerate and development the market square into a world class public space, but to also retain what we have currently got which is a friendly, attractive, well-functioning seven-day-a-week market that is already world famous”.
The council’s head of environmental service, Joel Carré, told the scrutiny committee the concept design and accompanying information is the culmination of two years' work with “significant” input from stakeholders.
He said the concept would benefit traders, residents, and visitors, while maintaining the heritage and improving conservation efforts.
The executive councillor for the city centre, Labour’s Rosy Moore, who ultimately took the decision to progress to a consultation, said maintaining a seven-day-a-week general market “has always been at the heart of this project”.
She said the council did hold workshops with the traders on the plans, and said “it’s such a pity that some of that trust in the meantime has been lost”.
She appeared to link the loss of trust to the decision to temporarily close the market owing to pandemic. She said: “We did close the market as an urgent decision, which meant that some communications suffered, but it was an urgent decision to protect the health and safety of residents and traders”.
Cllr Moore said the council is “still quite early” in the process of developing the plans. She said: “We will be going out to consultation this summer on this concept design, and then depending on the response to that we will then go into the next phase on a detailed technical design, and then that final design will go out to consultation once again”.
She described it as a “really positive project”, and expressed confidence that “the people of Cambridge will be very happy to have their seven-day-a-week market preserved, whilst we improve the structure of the flooring, and increase the enjoyment that we are all able to have in the market square by making it a more pleasant place to be”.
A council report said: “The market square, and its associated outdoor public realm and market infrastructure, is looking ‘tired’ and not to the quality standard befitting the city’s international status and profile”.
It added: “The proposed consultation draft vision and concept design will create an attractive, vibrant and accessible multifunctional market and outdoor civic space, befitting Cambridge’s status as a global city, and maximising its ability to animate and attract resident and visitor footfall to return to the city centre; and thereby support the wider city’s social, economic and environmental recovery post Covid”.
The consultation is planned to run for six weeks from May 17 – after the city council elections on May 6.
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