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Shoppers voice concerns at revamp of Beehive Centre in Cambridge



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Developers behind plans to knock down the Beehive Centre in Cambridge and turn it into a landscaped science and technology site have faced questions about the loss of shops.

In an online forum this week, residents and shoppers raised concerns about the decline in retail given that another major shopping centre, The Grafton in the city centre, is up for sale.

Shoppers voiced their concern about losing shops at the value end of the market, such as Asda and B&M, as well as worrying about the loss of important services, such as the vet practice on the site.

And many members of the public were worried about the implications for traffic, given that public transport could not currently take thousands more people travelling to work, and the intention is to reduce the amount of parking on the site. Others were concerned about where the new employees drawn to the site would live.

Beehive Centre development exhibition at St Barnabas Church, Mill Road. Picture: Keith Heppell. (57531873)
Beehive Centre development exhibition at St Barnabas Church, Mill Road. Picture: Keith Heppell. (57531873)

Developers tried to quell fears by saying that some of the shops and businesses could be accommodated on the adjoining Cambridge Retail Park, which is also owned by Railpen. They also expressed surprise that some of the outdoor eating spaces at the Beehive Centre appeared to be “much loved” by people attending their consultations, despite overlooking a car park.

A spokesperson said: “We are in discussion with all existing retailers about their future. The earliest that any changes could happen on the site is 2025 so we have a good amount of time to agree what works best for existing retailers of the Beehive Centre. We have not served notice on any of the retailers and do not intend to do so in the near future.

“Yes, there is the possibility of relocating some of these retailers to the Cambridge Retail Park, which Railpen also owns. We are also bringing back spaces for retail, community use and other activities at the ground floor and there is certainly scope for some current users to come back to the site in these spaces.”

The Cambridge Independent revealed the plans last week, ahead of public exhibitions last Thursday and Saturday.

Beehive Centre development exhibition at St Barnabas Church, Mill Road. Picture: Keith Heppell. (57531856)
Beehive Centre development exhibition at St Barnabas Church, Mill Road. Picture: Keith Heppell. (57531856)

The spokesperson added: “We are early discussions with existing tenants about the future of businesses and staff and we'll work with them on their plans for the future and options to relocate their stores locally where possible.

“We had lots of really interesting and insightful conversations with local people at our public exhibition and it is clear to us that some of the existing shops are really valued – for example the affordable food shopping that Asad offers, as well as the gym and veterinary practice currently on site. Some of these are very much the kinds of uses we would like to bring back to the site once it is redeveloped or which we can potentially move to Cambridge Retail Park.”

The spokesperson added: “People liked the idea of a really active ground floor, with cafes, shops and community space that keep it busy throughout the week and weekends, including into the early evening.”

The forum heard that beneath the large science and technology building proposed for the site, there would be retail units and opportunity for community and cultural spaces. Architect Liz Stark said there could be “spaces for lots of outdoor activities such as ping pong tables and sports sports areas, small stages and pop-up units - perhaps public art trails.”

Developers also stated the green space available to the public after redevelopment could be equal in size to the current parking area.

Beehive Centre development exhibition at St Barnabas Church, Mill Road. Picture: Keith Heppell. (57531867)
Beehive Centre development exhibition at St Barnabas Church, Mill Road. Picture: Keith Heppell. (57531867)

“We aim to deliver high-quality job opportunities at all skill levels in attractive new buildings, surrounded by beautiful landscaping and green spaces that local people can easily access and feel they belong," said the spokesperson. "These new public spaces would be would be roughly equivalent to the amount of space currently given over to car parking. Any scheme would also need to have exemplary sustainability credentials and add significantly to biodiversity and local habitats.

“We are at an early stage of developing our proposals and want to work in real partnership with the local community to create a scheme that brings many social values and tangible benefits to the local area and Cambridge as a whole.”

People at the first exhibition heard that the need for the commercial property for Cambridge's booming science and technology sectors was urgent, with only three months' supply of lab space left in the city.

It was also mooted that the new site could create around 5,000 jobs science and technology jobs as well as retail roles. The development would comprise “sustainable office and lab buildings with up to 150,000 square metres of floor space, all supported by an active ground floor with a mix of community uses and shops” according to the architects.

Cambridge community historian Antony Carpen was concerned about where all the new specialist scientists employed at the development would live in the city.

He said: “Cambridge's population cannot provide thousands of brand new highly trained scientists. They're going to have to come in from elsewhere. How do you do that with the existing housing crisis that we've got and the existing transport crisis that we've got, and the existing water crisis we have got?

Beehive Centre development exhibition at St Barnabas Church, Mill Road. Picture: Keith Heppell. (57531853)
Beehive Centre development exhibition at St Barnabas Church, Mill Road. Picture: Keith Heppell. (57531853)

“The big problem that they're going to have is housing all of the specialist scientists. And so if they want it to go ahead, they are going to need to contribute quite significantly to transport infrastructure. Personally, I can't see the sort of development that they are talking about going ahead without a light rail system in place.”

When pressed about how incoming workers would be housed, the developers said they had been told by the city council that there was enough housing in Cambridge for the next six years and that the site was strictly commercial and would not be used for any housing.

However, a spokesperson did suggest there could be money for more public transport.

He said: “The intent is to invest in public transport provision, including upgrades to bus stops and services serving the site, and improve links to the station and Park & Ride. The busway has been discussed with us during the consultation and all of these matters are ones we will have to get into a lot of detail on in coming months. We are keen to make that a dialogue locally, not just a technical dicussion.”

Beehive Centre development exhibition at St Barnabas Church, Mill Road. Picture: Keith Heppell. (57531859)
Beehive Centre development exhibition at St Barnabas Church, Mill Road. Picture: Keith Heppell. (57531859)

Other attendees raised worries about excess traffic on the roads as a result of the development and wondered how thousands of new employees would reach the site, given that car parking spaces are set to be slashed. Not everyone was satisfied when the answer given was that people should walk or cycle from the city’s two train stations.

Architect Lewis Kirk told the online meeting: “The site is close to the city centre - so a 30-minute walk or a 10-minute cycle (from the centre) but it's also easy to reach from the train station - similarly a 20-minute walk or seven-minute cycle - and also the Park and Ride stops and sites across the city.”

A spokesperson added: “There a balance between a realistic view of what we think the split is between cycling, walking, buses, cars, and what that means for the amount of cars that we might need to house on site, and it is important as well to make sure we provide enough parking on sites that we don't have impacts on surrounding areas as well.”

Beehive Centre development exhibition at St Barnabas Church, Mill Road. Picture: Keith Heppell. (57531876)
Beehive Centre development exhibition at St Barnabas Church, Mill Road. Picture: Keith Heppell. (57531876)

Cllr Hannah Copley (Abbey, Green) said: "I welcome plans to redevelop the Beehive Centre as I think there’s great potential to bring benefits to the community. I would like to see the space developed to genuinely benefit local people, with facilities such as a community centre, a nursery, sports facilities and low/no rent spaces for local charities and community groups. I also want to be reassured that existing facilities which are important to many of us, including the vet, the gym and pool and affordable places to buy food will be preserved, and that people who currently work on the site will not lose their jobs.

"I have significant concerns about the proposals as they stand. Although there was much talk of green space at the consultation event, the area set aside as green space (the main square) is very small - a similar size to the patch of grass in neighbouring Silverwood Close. Furthermore I could not find out what the proposed scale of the buildings would be - the number of storeys is critical information that local residents want to know. I was advised that the development would bring up to 10,000 workers, and as the site is not proposed to deliver any housing (affordable or otherwise), I'm concerned this will significantly worsen the housing affordability crisis in Cambridge. Finally, I have concerns about the lack of transport links to and from the site, as currently there are very poor public transport options which would disproportionately affect women (due to the fact they shoulder the majority of the unpaid labour of childcare, and thus have to make multi-step journeys instead of a simple A to B commute)."



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