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Future of the Guildhall in Cambridge to be debated

The long term future of the Guildhall in Cambridge is in question after a review found Cambridge City Council has ‘too much space’.

The Guildhall in Cambridge which has plans to open more retail units on the ground floor . Picture: Keith Heppell. (59734289)
The Guildhall in Cambridge which has plans to open more retail units on the ground floor . Picture: Keith Heppell. (59734289)

The authority conducted a review into what its future needs for its offices and buildings would be and how to make optimum use of them, as reported by the Cambridge Independent earlier this year.

It found that the city council has too much space for its future needs, and that some of its current assets are ‘not fit for purpose’.

A report on the review and proposed plans moving forward are due to be presented to councillors at a strategy and resources scrutiny committee on Monday (October 10).

The city council has four primary locations in Cambridge, the Guildhall in Market Square, Mandela House in Regent Street, 171 Arbury Road, and 130 Cowley Road.

The report said that the current office usage is believed to be 20 to 25 per cent of capacity.

It said: “The council currently holds a number of assets for staff and civic use around the city as part of its office accommodation.

“While these are well located in the city centre, the review found that, for its future purposes, the council currently holds too much accommodation space.

“In addition to this, the current assets are not fit for purpose in respect of new ways of working, accessibility, environmental performance, space utilisation, security, condition and affordability.”

Previous reports presented to councillors have said the Guildhall in particular is “no longer fit for purpose” due to new ways of working.

Poor layout and the lack of open plan space, as well as inconsistent room sizes, have been raised as issues, along with there being poor lighting, ventilation, heating and air conditioning.

Technology challenges, such as providing extensive wifi, and the poor accessibility of the building have also been highlighted.

The report states that the listed building status of the Guildhall “significantly constrains and increases the costs of major renovation” to make it a more modern place for staff to work.

The 30-year maintenance plan and bringing to net zero carbon standards is estimated to cost £13.5million for the Guildhall, £5.2million for Mandela House and £2million for 171 Arbury Road.

However, the report said that it was recognised that the Guildhall “historic symbolism in respect of its civic role”, adding that this may be reflected in the choice of preferred options and the final decision.

The report said that a number of options for the future of the city council’s assets had been looked at and executive councillors had reviewed those and identified their “preferred mix” of options to be progressed.

More detailed investigation into two of the options is recommended to be taken forward.

The first option is to retain the Guildhall as the main office and civic space for the city council, dependent upon the potential to ensure it is fit for purpose for future use and the cost of achieving this.

The second option is to investigate “as a comparator” the potential for an alternative office and civic space which meets the city council’s needs in or around a central location.

Councillors are due to discuss the proposals at the meeting next week.

The council has already begun diversifying the use of the Guildhall. It has agreed terms with non-profit organisation Allia, which will let 680 square metres on the ground floor from the autumn for an initial two-year period, with the potential to extend.

The new Allia Future Business Centre will let workspace to start-ups, charities and enterprises, creating an innovation business community, with a dedicated reception, a range of private offices, a co-working suite and meeting rooms.

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