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Fitzroy Street shop site could become Cambridge’s first urban lab

The Waitrose site and a number of other shops in Fitzroy Street could be transformed into the city’s first ‘urban lab’ after the building was purchased by a developer.

How the site currently looks Image: Brydell Partners
How the site currently looks Image: Brydell Partners

In another sign of the changing retail landscape, Brydell Partners says it would be used to “support the city’s strengths in research and innovation”.

It would also offer ‘science on show’ with full height glazing on the ground floor to offer insight and inspiration for the next generation of young scientists.

The building is currently home to Waitrose, Greggs bakery, two smaller units including a newsagents, and the vacant former Argos premises.

A planning application has been submitted to Cambridge City Council for the refurbishment and extension of the building to include a terrace, which will offer a “private outdoor space which will be beneficial to occupiers in terms of both health and well-being”.

It states: “With a significant undersupply of lab space in Cambridge, the city’s first urban lab will aid much-needed growth in the life science sector. Proximity to academia and the university faculties is fundamental to the success of these businesses, as is the ability to attract and retain the best talent through the quality of real estate, accessibility and amenity offering.

“2-14 Fitzroy Street presents an opportunity to develop high quality real estate for life science businesses. Capable of housing incubator space for university spin outs, or being single let to a more established business, delivering a new urban lab will support the city’s strengths in research and innovation.”

The developer points to the success of urban labs in Boston, San Diego, New York and London and says they allow new science to develop locally to secure “long-term economic growth”.

In a letter to nearby residents seen by the Cambridge Independent, David Seddon, head of asset management at Brydell Partners, says the company has acquired 15 buildings across seven sites in Cambridge over the past two years and is committed to “make sustainable investments” to improve those sites and the immediate environment.

He wrote: “We strongly believe this to be an exciting and creative use, which has a place in the high street and within the wider community, as an alternative to out-of-town science parks.”

He adds that the extension would “not constitute” a full new storey and would be set back from the edge of the building.

How the site could look Image: Brydell Partners
How the site could look Image: Brydell Partners

The application, which has been lodged with the city council, states: “The proposal has been designed such that there would be no overlooking of adjoining residential properties. Consideration has also been given to overshadowing.”

It has also addressed concerns raised by the city council about the impact on listed buildings on New Square and Eden Street, stating they will be limited as the height will “not be much greater” than the existing building.

The application follows the news last month that the new owner of The Grafton centre in Cambridge plans to transform the shopping mall to deliver much-need laboratory space.

Subjit Jassy, from Trinity Investment Management, which acquired the site in August this year, said: “We’re looking forward to working closely with Cambridge City Council and local stakeholders to bring forward our plans to revitalise this part of the city over the coming months.

“Structural changes and shifting market fundamentals within the retail sector mean The Grafton centre can no longer work in its current form. It needs to evolve if it is to continue to provide jobs and contribute to a thriving city centre.

“Looking ahead, we are committed to consulting with the local community before any planning application is submitted.”

The company’s proposals include reducing the number of shops and creating much-needed research space for life science start-ups. It says this reflects the growing number of empty units at the centre.

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