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Consultants appointed at £1.25m cost to develop civic quarter plans for Cambridge

Cambridge City Council has employed development consultants to “reimagine” the future of the market, the Guildhall and the Corn Exchange as a new “civic quarter” at a cost of an estimated £1,250,000.

A development consultancy team, led by architects Cartwright Pickard, was appointed following a tender process which invited teams to submit proposals to develop a RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) Stage 2 design for the area.

Cambridge City Council, The Guildhall, Market Square, Cambridge
Cambridge City Council, The Guildhall, Market Square, Cambridge

This would build on previous ideas from the Making Space for People consultation to make the market square a part-time entertainment area with demountable stalls.

The redevelopment would also see the Guildhall revamped as a net zero-carbon building and council headquarters, with public areas and space for shops and businesses.

Meanwhile facilities at the Corn Exchange would be updated.

But Cambridge’s Green councillors have warned they believe this is the wrong time for Cambridge City Council to be investing in council buildings.

Green party group leader Cllr Naomi Bennett (Abbey ward) said: “I just don’t really understand why we’re putting all this time and effort into sprucing up our offices when there are so many other challenges facing the city. We have a lot of agitation as to whether Cambridge City Council will continue as it is at present or whether we will have planning – which is one of our major responsibilities – being stripped away by Michael Gove’s Cambridge Development Group. And there is also a challenge as to whether Cambridge should be governed by a unitary body rather than all the different levels of local authority, including the city council.

“There is also the threat that our operations may have to be cut down due to budgetary issues. So I don’t think this is the right time to be refurbishing our headquarters building with these questions unanswered.

“I also think the market is sliding down and I think the council does not have the commercial nous to protect it.”

In order to fund the civic quarter project, the city council has proposed the sale of its office building Mandela House, which is expected to fetch £16m. The predicted cost of the Guildhall refurbishment projects is £35m, which would be funded by the Mandela House sale plus £20m of city council reserves that would also go towards the market and Corn Exchange.

Cambridge’s market squarePicture: Keith Heppell
Cambridge’s market squarePicture: Keith Heppell

The Labour-run council has said the Civic Quarter would “create a focal point in the centre of Cambridge that local people can be proud of and which lives up to the city’s world-renowned reputation as a centre of excellence and cultural significance,” and “attract residents and visitors to spend more time in the market, the Corn Exchange, and city centre shops, restaurants and bars”.

Lib Dem opposition leader Cllr Tim Bick (Market) said: “We have been clear that financially the Guildhall project should only proceed if it delivers a decent return on the investment which goes back to the public purse and helps pay for council services for residents. The Corn Exchange project ought to pay for itself as a money-earning business. And the market square project must prove that it will improve the vitality of the market as well as enable the space to be better than an ugly ghost town the rest of the time.

“This is really important as the market seems so precarious at present. None of this has been proved on any aspect of these projects yet and Labour has not been clear about its own benchmarks. It would be better if they had, because the fear is that we could be walking into a very costly outcome that is not good use of public money. We will carry on arguing for positive outcomes that meet our criteria and won’t accept anything less.”

Market trader Glenys Self, who represents the Friends of Cambridge Market, said her major concern was what would happen to the market when it was “reimagined”. She said: “The most urgent information we need to know is whether the market will be displaced while it is being done up and where will it go? We don’t want to lose the businesses here that make the market such a special place that people love to visit. Please could they keep disruption to a minimum?

“Also, if they are going to replace the stalls with ones that can be removed to make the market an entertainment space they have to be really robust as the ‘wind rose’ that blows through the market is so strong it could easily blow stalls away.”

In a statement, the council said: “Cartwright Pickard, alongside other members of the consultancy team, have a strong track record in working on civic and heritage buildings. They have designed repurposed listed town hall buildings for Bromley and Lambeth. The Lambeth project has won several awards and the Bromley project is shortlisted for a RIBA award.

“Cartwright Pickard are renowned specialists in retrofit and will work closely with partners Marick Real Estate to deliver long-term commercial viability of the civic quarter.”

Having now been appointed by the council, the consultancy team, which includes several Cambridge-based organisations, will develop concept designs (up to RIBA Stage 2) through a process of comprehensive community and stakeholder engagement.

The Cambridge Corn Exchange. Picture: Keith Heppell
The Cambridge Corn Exchange. Picture: Keith Heppell

Throughout the design phase there will be ongoing opportunities for individuals as well as community and stakeholder groups to provide feedback into the designs. Specialist community engagement consultancy ECF has been appointed as part of the team to run that process.

Cllr Simon Smith (Lab, Castle), executive councillor for finance and resources, said: “The Cartwright Pickard-led team have made a fantastic start already.

“They have committed to a full programme of engagement with local people – those who currently use the market and council buildings and those who don’t often visit this part of town – and key stakeholders including market traders and other local businesses. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity and it’s vital to us that the plans for the new quarter can be drawn up based on what we hear from local people.

“The Guildhall site has been a seat of local government since 1224, so it’s fitting that we’re able to start this exciting project during this 800th anniversary year.”

A public meeting of the Cambridge Civic Quarter liaison group will be held tonight (Wednesday, 15 May) in person at the Guildhall.

To receive updates by email, visit cambridgecivicquarter.co.uk.

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