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Eyesore or attraction? Debate as permission sought to run ferris wheel on Parker’s Piece in Cambridge for four years

Residents who describe the ferris wheel on Parker’s Piece as a “hideously ugly eyesore” and a “climbing frame for drunk students” are up in arms about a proposal to keep it in place for the next four summers.

The big wheel on Parker's Piece. Picture: Keith Heppell
The big wheel on Parker's Piece. Picture: Keith Heppell

An application from operator Thurstons has been made to Cambridge City Council for the wheel to be erected on the park between April 1 and August 31 each year until 2026.

But dozens of people have already complained to the council about extending the licence for the London Eye-style wheel, which they say is often empty, damages the grass, looks “tacky” and “diminishes the historic character of our park”.

One person also questioned whether the City View Wheel offers an interesting view of the city, writing: “It is ugly, an eyesore, and not a reason for people to come to visit Cambridge. We simply don’t have a skyline that people would like to see.”

Another agreed with this assessment, describing the ride as “a constantly empty ferris wheel in the middle of what is otherwise a public space everyone can enjoy ... for what? To let one customer in a blue moon see the top of the John Lewis?”

Others joined in the chorus of disapproval with 44 written complaints submitted to the council so far against the latest planning proposal.

One person questioned the reasons behind putting a money-making business on the public space, saying: “The Piece has always in effect been the village green of Cambridge, on which people can play games, picnic, or simply enjoy the open space, without paying anything.

The North Pole bar and big wheel on Parker's Piece before Christmas. Picture: Keith Heppell
The North Pole bar and big wheel on Parker's Piece before Christmas. Picture: Keith Heppell

“The council has been seeking for there are some things which should not be spoiled in order to make money, and under the bogus pretext of providing leisure facilities: would they be provided if they were free or the council made no money from them?”

Another complains that “with it’s flashing neon psychedelic light show, (the wheel) diminishes the historic character of our park, and creates an eyesore”, while a neighbour calls the attraction “tacky, low quality” and said “it’s always empty, and it doesn’t add anything”.

Another wrote: “The wheel is always empty and serves as nothing more than a climbing frame for drunk students in the evenings where it’s a ‘race to the top carriage’. This is obviously a safety risk and a small fence isn’t exactly a deterrent and any bigger fence is going to be even more of an eyesore.”

The big wheel on Parker's Piece. Picture: Keith Heppell
The big wheel on Parker's Piece. Picture: Keith Heppell

The City View Wheel was installed on the park last spring. If the proposal goes ahead, the 36-metre tall wheel will continue to be be sited close to the middle of the Piece, south-east of the central lamp post known locally as ‘Reality Checkpoint’ and will be enclosed by a fence which will also surround the plant equipment needed for the rise.

The application says there will be an astro turf deck, seating and coffee van, along with the ticket booth. There are no permanent foundations for the ride, but the wheel is weighted by its own 70-ton structure. It contains 24 covered gondolas each capable of taking six passengers. Lit by white lights on the spokes, there are lights within the gondolas as well as floodlights at the base, although the application says these will be switched off after 8pm.

One gondola has upgraded seating and glazing and is designed for special occasions, where Champagne can be served. The wheel was initially given planning permission to operate between May 1 and October 31 last year, which was extended so it could form part of the festive attraction alongside the North Pole rides.

The wheel on Parker's Piece. Picture: Keith Heppell
The wheel on Parker's Piece. Picture: Keith Heppell

Wendy Blythe, of the Federation of Cambridge Residents’ Associations, said: “This public open space is enjoyed by thousands of city residents, many of whom have very limited access to other green spaces in the city. This is common land yet a large section has been commercialised and the public now have to pay to access it as an event location. This is a wholly inappropriate use that could not be less in keeping with the character of Parker’s Piece.

“The application should go to the city council’s planning committee and should not be decided by officers under delegated power. It seems to many people that Cambridge is for sale without involvement from residents. Just like the proposed gold sculpture for the river bank at Sheep’s Green, these are vanity projects.”

A city council spokesperson said: “No date has yet been set for the application to be considered by the planning committee.”

Owner Thurstons was approached for comment.

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