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Council announces future of Shire Hall - and promises access to Castle Mound




The county council's historic Shire Hall headquarters is set to be developed by the firm behind the controversial Cambridge North station area and CB1 site.

Following bids from more than 30 organisations, regeneration company Brookgate were chosen by the council as the 'preferred bidders' to develop the site, which includes the historic Castle Mound area.

Shire Hall (10522778)
Shire Hall (10522778)

The firm has proposed, subject to planning permission, an hotel and office accommodation on the site. However, the council has opted to lease the hall and grounds - for around 30 to 40 years - instead of sell them, meaning the Castle Mound will remain open to the public.

Cllr Steve Count, leader of Cambridgeshire County Council said: “We are very aware of our responsibilities to safeguard and enhance public access to the heritage assets on the site – which has been an important part of the selection process. But we are also mindful of the need to make the very best use of our assets in order that we can re-invest resources in the essential frontline services which the people of Cambridgeshire rely upon.

“This potential lease arrangement looks likely to exceed figures outlined in our business case, and see the value of our asset enhanced, but still retain ownership of the site for future generations – which strengthens our original decision to vacate the site.”

Campaigners who want toensure public right of access to the scheduled monument of the Castle Mound and the area surrounding raised a petition with more than 3,000 signatures that was read out at the full council meeting on Tuesday.

Lead campaigner, Isabel Lambourne, said: "More than 3,000 people have signed my petition to say that they want the entire site to remain in Council ownership and open to the public free of charge in perpetuity. 'Disposal' of public property is a short sighted vision. People have been climbing the Mound to look out over Cambridge for hundreds of years. The public care deeply about this. They should be consulted and their view implemented. This historic site is irreplaceable."

She added that the new council headquarters in Alconbury were inconveniently located for anyone without a car: " Shire hall should not go into hands of private developers. Councillors like Steve Count will almost certainly drive to the new site when they need to but many of the public including me don't own a car. Check out bus services to the new site I understand they are insufficient.

She said the lease also "doesn't solve the problem of services like registry office and public council meeting being taken out of town... There were plenty of socially useful functions the extra space in beautiful Shire Hall could have fulfilled. The public should she been asked. The move shows disrespect for heritage of the site and value it holds to community as a council building."

A meeting of the full council on May 14 discussed the results of a three stage selection process that included a Member working group. The merits of the four final shortlisted bids were debated which included their proposals on how the Castle Mound and the Civil War Earthworks, the site’s major heritage assets, and access to them, would be protected or enhanced.

Shire Hall (10522785)
Shire Hall (10522785)

The lease arrangement does mean the site remains in public ownership, confirming Cambridgeshire County Council’s commitment to enshrine continued existing public access to the Castle Mound and Civil War Earthworks in the final agreement.

Brookgate, who are responsible for the CB1 development and the developer of the area around the Cambridge North station, in Cambridge, has proposed subject to planning permission, a prestige hotel and prime office accommodation on the site.

The choice of Brookgate has been seen as controversial because there have been objections from local residents and cyclists about the CB1 area around the station - and area developed by Brookgate - with complaints that traffic to the station is heavy and that cycling through the area and parking bikes has proven difficult.

One of those to complain is Cambridge University Classics Professor Mary Beard, who called the station's cycle park 'scary and seedy at night'. On hearing that Brookgate had been chosen as preferred bidders for the Shire Hall site, she commented: "I can only hope that they do a better job... and that maybe a closer watch is kept on them!"

Cllr Steve Count, leader of Cambridgeshire County Council said: “We are very aware of our responsibilities to safeguard and enhance public access to the heritage assets on the site – which has been an important part of the selection process. But we are also mindful of the need to make the very best use of our assets in order that we can re-invest resources in the essential frontline services which the people of Cambridgeshire rely upon.”

“This potential lease arrangement looks likely to exceed figures outlined in our business case, and see the value of our asset enhanced, but still retain ownership of the site for future generations – which strengthens our original decision to vacate the site.”

Shire Hall, Cambridgeshire County Council (10522769)
Shire Hall, Cambridgeshire County Council (10522769)

Cllr Josh Schumann, Chairman of the council’s Commercial and Investment Committee said: “We received a range of interesting and varied proposals throughout the marketing process which reflects the unique opportunity we were offering.”

“I am pleased that Members have resolved to proceed to the next stage which keeps us on track to realise our ambitions to relocate to both a smaller HQ in Alconbury and through our network of ‘spoke’ locations, develop much closer working arrangements with the communities we serve.

The county council will be leaving the Shire Hall site to move into a new headquarters in Alconbury.

Sven Topel, Chief Executive of Brookgate said: “We are excited Cambridgeshire County Council has chosen us as their development partner for such a special historic site. We look forward to bringing our long experience of working in partnership with public bodies and Cambridge communities to develop Shire Hall with great sensitivity and respect for the importance of the site to both the city of Cambridge and the wider county.

"Working closely with the County Council we’ll be approaching the site with respectful, sympathetic and high quality design, and preserving and enhancing its heritage, while breathing new life into the site. This will result in an improved site that benefits the wider community.”

Read more

CB1 branded disaster area for cycling

Mary Beard: Cambridge train station cycle park is 'scary and seedy at night'

Video tour of Shire Hall as it goes on the market

County Council step closer to new civic hub in Alconbury Weald



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