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Craig Bennett: Let’s get together and save The Flying Pig pub in Cambridge





Opinion: Cambridge resident and environmental campaigner Craig Bennett shares his thoughts on the future of this iconic pub.

Craig Bennett, who is CEO of the Wildlife Trusts, writes here in a personal capacity
Craig Bennett, who is CEO of the Wildlife Trusts, writes here in a personal capacity

What makes Cambridge, Cambridge? The two universities? Sure. The bikes? Most definitely. The river? Of course. But there is something else, as well…

“It’s got a vibe, Cambridge, hasn’t it? A unique vibe; a Cambridge vibe”.

That’s what my brother said to me when he popped by recently and, on a warm summer’s evening, we ended up in the beer garden of The Flying Pig on Hills Road. A band was playing live music, the flower baskets were looking stunning, the beer was good, people were smiling and the conversation was flowing.

And he’s right. Sometimes it takes a visitor from another place to spot it, but Cambridge does have a unique vibe. It’s hard to put your finger on what it is; a quiet, understated vitality and positive outlook on the world, perhaps?

The Flying Pig pub on Hills Road, Cambridge. Picture: Richard Marsham
The Flying Pig pub on Hills Road, Cambridge. Picture: Richard Marsham

We’ll all have our own words to describe it but – whatever it is - it doesn’t surprise me that my brother noticed it while in that beer garden that night because, for me, The Flying Pig epitomises the wonderful quirkiness that I love about this city.

Many a time I’ve taken a visitor there and they always comment on what a special place it is.

“You’re so lucky to still have pubs like this one” a work colleague said to me once. “In my bit of London, we’ve lost them and all we have left are the big chains.”

And so it was to my great shock that I recently learned that Matt and Justine Hatfield, the landlords of The Flying Pig have been told they have to leave by October, and that this iconic Cambridge landmark is currently scheduled for demolition.

I couldn’t believe it when I heard the news. Readers of the Cambridge Independent, myself included, will have followed the twists and turns in this long saga over many years and breathed a sigh of relief when last autumn it seemed all the main players; the developers, The city council, and the community were in agreement about one thing – the pub must be saved.

Justine and Matt Hatfield, landlords of the Flying Pig. Picture: Keith Heppell
Justine and Matt Hatfield, landlords of the Flying Pig. Picture: Keith Heppell

This remains the stated public position of all involved. And yet, without some sort of intervention, The Flying Pig’s days appear to be numbered.

How can it be happening? The wider site, also including the former BBC studios, various other office buildings and another pub The Osborne Arms was acquired over several years by the developer Pace Investments who then secured planning permission for a major redevelopment including demolition of both pubs.

Planning permissions normally have a time limit on them before they expire but not if the developer ‘starts works’ and it seems that this is what was deemed to have happened when they demolished The Osborne Arms way back in 2012.

A views of the proposed Hills Road scheme and the Flying Pig. Image: Pace Investments
A views of the proposed Hills Road scheme and the Flying Pig. Image: Pace Investments

Since then, a vigorous campaign was mounted by the community to save The Flying Pig, including a petition attracting over 16,000 signatories, and it seems the developers listened – to an extent. A new planning application was submitted in which the pub would have been partly retained (albeit with changes to layout and space) and surrounded by new seven storey office blocks. But this application was unanimously rejected by the planning committee at Cambridge City Council in March on various grounds including the overall scale of the development and inclusion of a 200 space car park.

As a result, the developers seem to be defaulting back to the previous permission which is still current because of the ‘start of works’ loophole. The CEO of Pace Investments, Jonathan Vincent, has said he’s ‘very disappointed’ the pub will be lost.

It’s a crazy situation. If everyone really means what they say, and they want the pub to stay, surely it’s time for Mr Vincent, Cambridge City Council, the pub landlords and community representatives to get around the same table and work out a solution that will work for everyone?

A view of the proposed Hills Road scheme and the Flying Pig. Image: Pace Investments
A view of the proposed Hills Road scheme and the Flying Pig. Image: Pace Investments

If it helps, I’d be happy to facilitate and chair such a gathering as impartially as possible – to try and help find a way through. I’ve brought oil companies and indigenous communities together before now to try and resolve interminable problems. Surely saving a much loved Cambridge landmark shouldn’t be so difficult? If not me, then I could suggest plenty of other people in Cambridge well placed to mediate – not least our local MP Daniel Zeichner, if he’s up for it.

Something needs to happen. The plans Mr Vincent has for the site are for a mixed development that is aiming to achieve an ‘Outstanding’ rating under the BREEAM sustainability scheme, not least because of very high energy and water efficiency standards and their zero-carbon operation. All this is excellent, of course.

But the term ‘sustainable development’ has long been understood to refer to the three ‘pillars’ of sustainability; environmental, economic AND social. This will not be a ‘sustainable’ development if it results in the loss of such an important cultural and community asset as The Flying Pig.

A view of the proposed Hills Road scheme. Image: Pace Investments
A view of the proposed Hills Road scheme. Image: Pace Investments

It might not be quite as famous as Kings College Chapel, granted. But as a venue for live music, for socialising, and just being somewhere that you can tap into that unique Cambridge vibe, - it’s very special.

Demolishing it just because the planners and developers can’t agree a way forward; surely Cambridge can do better than this? Surely, Cambridge is better than this?

C’mon, let’s all work together to keep that pig flying!

  • Craig Bennett is a leading environmental campaigner and chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, He was previously chief executive of Friends of the Earth and, last week, was awarded an honorary doctorate of science by Anglia Ruskin University.
  • He is writing here in his personal capacity as a Cambridge resident. Follow Craig on Twitter @craigbennett3

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