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How redevelopment plans for the Beehive Centre in Cambridge have been overhauled after feedback

Major changes have been made to proposals for the redevelopment of the Beehive Centre following public feedback, the Cambridge Independent can reveal.

Owner Railpen, the pension manager, plans to revamp the retail park into a more modern mixture of retail, leisure and community space, with laboratories, offices and green public space. Since submitting its initial plans last year, it has cut the height of the buildings planned, increased the separation between them and the surrounding neighbours, added a sizeable new public park, improved the cycle route and proposed an upgrade of the Coldhams Lane roundabout into a CYCLOPS junction to separate vehicles and bicycles.

The updated proposals for the Beehive Centre in Cambridge. Image: Railpen
The updated proposals for the Beehive Centre in Cambridge. Image: Railpen

The plans – revealed for the first time here ahead of public consultation later this month – could be submitted to Cambridge City Council in August, and voted on by councillors in November or December.

If approved, redevelopment work could start in the second quarter of 2027 and, it is estimated, could take six years to complete.

Matthew Howard, head of property at Railpen, said: “The feedback on our original proposals was clear: most people did not object to the idea of redeveloping the Beehive Centre but felt we could make further changes to improve the proposals.

“We have listened very carefully to the feedback from all parties and worked over a considerable period of time to ensure we respond and make changes. This includes reducing the size of the proposed buildings as much as possible without compromising the feasibility of the scheme.

“We are still listening, and we are going back out to talk to residents to explain the changes before we submit a revised planning application.”

The new Beehive Centre will feature around 20 new shops and leisure facilities, including a small supermarket and gym.

Some of the key existing retailers at the centre, off Newmarket Road, are due to be relocated to the neighbouring Cambridge Retail Park, which Railpen bought for around £100m in 2020 and is also redeveloping.

When Railpen submitted its initial proposals to Cambridge City Council last year, councillors and community groups raised concerns over the height of the proposed buildings.

Conservation charity Cambridge Past, Present & Future said the plans represented a “massive over-development of the site”, warned they would be “visually intrusive from the conservation area” and called for them to be “completely rethought”, while Green Party city councillor Hannah Copley was among those calling for much more green space, pointing out: “This area of Abbey and Petersfield is desperately short of green open space.”

The updated proposals for the Beehive Centre in Cambridge. Image: Railpen
The updated proposals for the Beehive Centre in Cambridge. Image: Railpen

Railpen has responded by reducing four of the buildings by one storey each – the three tallest in the centre of the site, along with a laboratory building at the north of the site. The change to the latter will improve the view from Coldhams Common, it says. The changes cut around 4-4.5m off the height of the central buildings, with the tallest – beside Newmarket Road – now reaching 35.7m.

Some buildings on the south of the site have also been combined to create more space at the boundary, while other buildings have been reshaped to move them away from the boundary and “reduce any feeling of enclosure”.

“The height reductions and, probably more impactfully, the plan changes really change how this site relates to its neighbours. It’s a really significant move – almost unrecognisable in certain areas,” said Lewis Kirk, of Leonard Design Architects, which is working on the plans for Railpen.

Views from neighbouring streets would all be improved from the changes, Railpen said, with a greater boundary planned between the revamped centre and Silverwood Close, York Street, Rope Walk and St Matthew’s Gardens.

“Inevitably when you are delivering a scheme of this scale and this significance, there are always challenges,” said Mr Howard. “The important thing is to listen and not dig your heels in. We went back, thought about it and got everyone’s heads together and came up with a solution on the layout that enabled us to address those challenges.”

In response to the call for more green space, a new public park measuring 100 metres by 50 metres – roughly the same size as St Matthew’s Piece – will be created. Called Hive Park, it will feature a south-facing open lawn with cafés and restaurants lining it.

The wetland scheme that was at the centre of the previous plans has gone, with a larger space now available for events, but the aim for 100 per cent biodiversity net gain has been retained.

Mr Howard said: “I think there was a feeling from all the various stakeholders that a public park would be better received – with more space that can host more people and more activities. We listened. I think the new park works really well. I think it’s going to be a really good space and we also get a much larger central space for events. So overall, it is an effective change on both fronts.”

Mr Kirk added: “The biodiversity that the wetlands carried is not lost in this scheme. We are still looking at having an element of water in part of the site – a wilder area within the scheme for a number of reasons. It creates a good green buffer for the people of Silverwood Close and St Matthew’s Garden and because that is a quieter part of the site, it is a better place for nature. It makes a lot of sense.”

The updated proposals for the Beehive Centre in Cambridge. Image: Railpen
The updated proposals for the Beehive Centre in Cambridge. Image: Railpen

There will also be more trees, with 275 to be planted, and more of the existing trees will be retained.

One of the benefits of this will be reducing the ‘urban heat island’ effect seen in urban areas.

Railpen said an ‘urban greening factor’ measurement, more commonly used in London, will evaluate the quality and quantity of the green space. Combined with the use of building materials, the aim is to keep down temperatures on site.

Retail streets, with café and food and beverage units, are planned at the centre, with Maple Square at the heart featuring hard and soft landscaping.

“I do think the new layout of retail space will feel much stronger – dominant locations where people will interact, particularly around the park and the central square. We hope they will really pull the community in,” said Mr Howard.

A new direct cycle and pedestrian route to improve connectivity will run through the site, supporting phase two of the Chisholm Trail.

Meanwhile, the development is also expected to fund an additional 15 public buses per hour with Railpen anticipating a service extension to the railway station, a new service to Milton Park & Ride, as well as new direct services to Cambourne and St Neots, Huntington and St Ives, Ely and Waterbeach.

There will be more than 4,200 cycle parking spaces and 460 car parking spaces – a third of which will provide electric vehicle charging – in a lower car park building than previously proposed. There will be no spaces on the ground floor of the car park. Instead, that will be home to community partners.

Railpen has been working with Cambridge Science Centre, Abbey People, Cambs Youth Panel and Cam Skate, among others to create community facilities, and envisages a youth facility, a new educational hub and ‘Makers Lab’, and new skateboarding and roller-skating space, along with the area for an events space. A strategy for safe skating through the site is also planned.

Vehicles will enter from a revised Coldham’s Lane roundabout. Railpen wants to hear views on the idea of upgrading that to a four-way CYCLOPS junction, like the one being created in Milton Road, to help separate pedestrians and cyclists from motor traffic.

Mr Howard added: “There is still lots of work to do but we have always believed that a redeveloped Beehive Centre will benefit residents, workers and visitors – from more jobs in the neighbourhood and a varied mix of shops, restaurants, cafés, leisure and community spaces to significantly improved public transport provision and now a new public park.”

The Beehive Centre will ultimately become home to more than 6,000 jobs, with more than 2,000 of those requiring no specialist qualifications, Railpen predicts.

It is developing a “pioneering employment and skills plan” in partnership with a network of community organisations to “help local residents overcome barriers to employment and gain sustainable, well-paid work”.

Mr Howard said: “Following all the feedback, and various consultations, we spent a lot of time thinking about this. This wasn’t something we rushed into. We’ve been working on this in earnest since November to get this right. There have been lots of improvements as we’ve gone through to enhance and improve the impact on those surrounding residential locations.

“That’s what Railpen stands for – we listen and do everything we can to find that balance between viability and community. I think we’ve gone a long way with that.”

The revised plans can be seen at a drop-in public consultation event at the former SCS unit, next to Coldham’s Lane, on Cambridge Retail Park on Wednesday, 17 July, at 12-4pm and on Thursday, 18 July, at 4-7.30pm, where people can talk to the project team and leave feedback to contribute to the design process.

An online webinar is planned for Friday, 19 July, from 12pm, where the development team will be available to discuss the proposals.

To register for the webinar and find out more about the scheme, visit beehivecentreconsultation.co.uk.

The new scheme at a glance

- 7,000 sq m of ‘active’ mixed-use ground-floor space
- 22 shops, cafés, services and mixed-use spaces
- Highest building, beside Newmarket Road, now reaches to 35.7 metres
- Other buildings range from 5.8m to 31.2m
- A ‘Beehive Greenway’ cycle and pedestrian path will run like a central spine through the site
- Hive Park is designed to improve the transition from the Mill Road Conservation Area into the Beehive Centre and will be about 100m by 50m
- Maple Square will offer an active, multi-functional space
- A relocated car park will enable a wildlife area to be created and reduce vehicle movements within the centre.
- A CYCLOPS four-way junction is proposed to replace the Coldhams Lane roundabout, helping to separate cyclists and motor vehicles, and a bus stop is planned between plots nine and 10
- The York Street entrance has been changed, with a new connecting street on its boundary, and a three-storey building will face York Street and St Matthew’s Gardens
- With the local centre and park to the south of the centre (seen on the left of these images), the north (on the right) will feature ground floor workspace and ‘significant’ R&D activity

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