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Former Central Cinema in Cambridge could finally be put into use

The public is being asked to have its say on the future of a major site in Cambridge city centre that includes the former Central Cinema, which has been vacant for more than a decade.

The former cinema in Hobson Street, Cambridge
The former cinema in Hobson Street, Cambridge

A consultation has been launched by property consultancy Rapleys for three adjoining premises in Sidney Street and Hobson’s Street.

Included in the three-week consultation, which runs until Monday, May 17, are the properties of 16-17 and 18-19 Sidney Street and 21 Hobson Street, as well as Hobson’s Passage.

The consultation launched on Monday and already suggestions have been made as to the site’s potential future uses. These include converting the former cinema into an indoor market, a dance venue, jazz club, late night cafe or a venue for private and community events.

Others have suggested that the site could be a venue designed for multiple uses for multiple users, with spaces for art, leisure and music – or a hotel – and one suggestion on social media was for a comic book museum.

“A blank canvas versatile venue set up for community (dance, music, bingo etc), gallery space – no nightclub,” said one person commenting on social media.

Another added: “I’d turn it into a cabaret/comedy/jazz/etc club with a sophisticated atmosphere and a weekly rota of different genres to cater for a wide audience.”

The property at 16-17 Sidney Street is currently occupied by the restaurant chain itsu and extends back to Hobson’s Street.

The developers described its Sidney Street facade as “attractive and in relatively good condition”. To the rear of the building is a small service yard and staircase that front onto Hobson Street.

Number 18-19 Sidney Street is the premises occupied by Heffers until the turn of the century. It was more recently occupied by Jack Wills and is now occupied by another clothing retailer, say the owners.

An aerial view of the sites Picture: Google Maps
An aerial view of the sites Picture: Google Maps

The northern boundary of 18-19 Sidney Street meets Hobson’s Passage, a narrow pathway through to Hobson Street.

While 21 Hobson Street is the former Gala Bingo hall, originally built in the 1930s as the Central Cinema. The cinema closed in 1972 and operated as a bingo hall until 2009 but has been unoccupied since.

The owners say that 73 per cent of the combined floorspace of the three sites is vacant as most of it does not meet modern occupier requirements due to format, layout or condition.

None of the sites has been the subject of any significant planning applications in recent years.

The former Gala Bingo hall was let to a leisure company which never took occupation following the refusal of a late-night licence for a live music venue.

Owner GDS Estates subsequently took back possession and instructed a retail and leisure specialist and a promoter to explore options for the building.

“Unfortunately, their efforts were unsuccessful. Subsequent attempts to market the building, some of them sustained, have also proven unsuccessful,” says the consultation website.

It adds: “The facade of 21 Hobson Street is in poor condition. It requires regular abseiled safety inspections during which the glazed blocks from which it is constructed are checked, and fixed or removed where necessary.”

Its roof is also compromised “in numerous places”.

“Because of their location, combined size and individual built forms and characteristics, the sites offer a number of opportunities for redevelopment but, at the same time, entail constraints which will prove important considerations when determining the sites’ future,” the consultation states.

GDS Estates, a Cambridge-based property company, also owns and manages 18-19 Sidney Street, while 16-17 Sidney Street is owned by a private family office which takes “a long-term view on property investment”.

Rapleys' guide to the buildings under consultation in central Cambridge (46714381)
Rapleys' guide to the buildings under consultation in central Cambridge (46714381)

Rapleys says on its consultation website: “We hope you have found our consultation informative and thought-provoking.

“To help inform our thinking on the future of the sites we would like to hear your views.”

They say they are interested to know what people think, what interests them most about the sites and their immediate surroundings – and what should happen to the buildings in the future.

But they are also keen to know what the public think are the strengths and weaknesses of Cambridge city centre, as well as what they think needs to change.

The consultation says it is also seeking opinions on how the sites could contribute to the successful future of Cambridge city centre.

Members of the public, stakeholders and other interested parties have until Monday, May 17 to comment.

There will be two online public events where a summary of the consultation materials will be presented, followed by a question and answer session.

A spokesman for Rapleys said: “The project team is keeping an open mind about the future of the sites. Our main goal at this stage is to gain the best possible understanding of the community’s views that we can. We will then use this data together with the other evidence that we have been gathering to help form a vision for the sites’ future.

“We are conscious of the various opportunities for the improvement of the sites and their surroundings, particularly those identified in the Conservation Area Appraisal and in relation to Hobson’s Passage.”

For more and to book to attend one of the events, visit camcitycentreopportunity.com.

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