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Could Cambridge’s Shire Hall be saved by a bid from community groups?

Shire Hall in Cambridge has gone back up for sale or lease after the previous preferred bidder pulled out of the deal.

Cambridgeshire County Council is selling its former headquarters after moving its operations to a new building in Alconbury.

Property developer Brookgate had been lined up to convert the site into a hotel on a 34-year lease, but the company withdrew last year.

Shire Hall
Shire Hall

A Cambridge city councillor is suggesting the building could be registered as an Asset of Community Value, which would hold up the sale for six months while community groups bring forward any bids.

Cllr Nethsingha said: “Acquiring this central Cambridge site, which had been a seat of local government since Norman times, remains a really exciting opportunity for investment and development. I’m looking forward to selecting a commercial partner that’s right for this historic location, right for Cambridge residents and right for our county’s taxpayers.”

Previously the site of two medieval castles, the building was the council’s administrative centre from its completion in 1933 until 2022.

The property is being marketed by BNP Paribas Real Estate and comprises the original Shire Hall, the Octagon, the Old Police Station, Castle Lodge and public car parking.

Offers will be considered by councillors on the assets and procurement committee at their June 2024 meeting. Councillors will review not only the financial bid made but whether the offer delivers environmental and social benefits.

All proposals will require full planning and listed building consents. The council has applied to give part of the lawn between the front of Shire Hall and the Mound the legal protection of ‘Town Green’ status.

John Macmillian, head of assets at the council, said: “Opportunities to acquire a site of just over three acres in this central location do not come around very often.”

Cllr Antoinette Nestor (Lab, Castle) said: “If you lose a building like Shire Hall you lose part of our social history and that would be a great shame. It is somewhere that the people of Cambridge feel proud of that is not part of the university. I’m asking if any community groups would like to try to get Shire Hall registered as an Asset of Community Value.

“There are so many uses that the building could have for the community – a place for groups to meet, a warm hub, a place to showcase how to retrofit a heat pump. We need people to come forward with their ideas.”

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