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Council offers consultant £1.25m to ‘reimagine’ Cambridge’s civic quarter

Cambridge City Council is seeking development consultants to “reimagine” Cambridge’s market square, Guildhall and Corn Exchange to create a new civic quarter for the city.

The £1.25million contract is out for tender and will be awarded to consultants who can show “prior experience of commercialising and remodelling civic or heritage buildings”.

But campaigners are concerned that the public has not been properly consulted on the plans before they go to a design stage and that the results of an earlier report on cultural event plans have not been fully published.

Market Square Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell
Market Square Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell

Campaigner John Preston, an historic environment consultant, said: ”The council claims to be ‘developing the vision agreed by councillors in 2022 for the market square’. But that vision, and the associated inadequate and poorly-analysed consultation, were badly flawed.

“Neither of the two most controversial aspects were credible. The trials of demountable stalls, without which evening events are a non-starter, were a total fiasco. The council did not publish, and has still not published, its cultural report on potential evening events, or any evidence on how the practical challenges of accommodating these along with a viable market could be met within the space and time available.

“The council’s vision has patently failed to pass RIBA Stage 1 – ‘agree a brief and establish that it can be accommodated on the site’. Yet it is proposing to appoint an architectural team in April to take proposals for the Guildhall, market square and Corn Exchange to RIBA Stage 2 (detailed design), and public design workshops are proposed in May-June.”

The council has announced that it intends to create a civic quarter made up of the Guildhall, market square and Corn Exchange to form 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.

The aim is to attract residents and visitors to the quarter, make the market “a more accessible, attractive, welcoming, exciting and safe place to visit, shop and gather during the day and into the evening”, conserve the Guildhall and modernise the Corn Exchange.

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

The successful consortium will be required to produce commercial proposals and corresponding RIBA stage 2 design that “meets the council’s core objectives for the project”.

The deadline for tender submissions is 21 March, with contract expected to start in April 2024. Following completion of the RIBA Stage 2 work, the development proposals will be considered by councillors in November. If approved, further development work would progress beyond stage 2.

Cllr Simon Smith (Lab, Castle), executive councillor for finance and resources, said: “There is cross-party support to bring forward proposals and business cases for the Guildhall, market square and Corn Exchange to create a more attractive and vibrant heart to the city.

“We are right at the start of this process, with no preconceived vision for the end result. So it’s vital we find the best of the best consultancy teams to lead this work for the city and ensure the voices of local people are heard and reflected in the design of the Civic Quarter.”

Prospective bidders for the contract are invited to attend a bidders’ day including a presentation and guided tour to include the market square, Guildhall and Corn Exchange on Friday, 16 February to learn about the buildings and the scope of the project. Contact civic.quarter@cambridge.gov.uk to register to attend the bidders day.

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