How the Beehive Centre in Cambridge could be transformed into ‘innovation and community space’
A bold vision for the future of the Beehive Centre in Cambridge has been unveiled, with a promise that it will put the community at its heart.
Railpen, one of the largest pension funds in the UK, now owns the site and Cambridge Retail Park next door.
It is beginning a third and final consultation on its plans for the Beehive, which it hopes to transform from a car-dominated retail park into a thriving new site that is home to both workplaces for science and innovation businesses and a host of amenities, including independent shops, green space and a wetland area, waterfront cafés and restaurants, a community pavilion, an events square and growers’ garden.
A dedicated space for teenagers is proposed, along with a Makers’ Lab run by Cambridge Science Centre and it is hoped a GP surgery and affordable gym will form part of the proposals, which could create around 5,000 jobs.
Matt Howard, head of property asset management, tells the Cambridge Independent: “I understand there will be a lot of change and I understand that change can be uncomfortable at times, but I’m super excited about what we are going to be doing on the Beehive. It’s going to be world-leading. It’s going to be for the community.
“Railpen’s goal is that anyone walking up to our multiple access points is not going to feel this is some sterile business park. This is not a business park. This is a community-led scheme.
“If anyone walking up has any hesitation to go into the scheme, then we’ll have failed.
“It doesn’t matter who you are, what your background is, what your interests are, how much money you have in your pocket, you can come in and have a really enjoyable, fun experience.
“We want to create a scheme and environment where the innovation and science community merges with the local community.”
But Railpen has confirmed it is committed to a significant relocation scheme.
Nick Vose, a communications director working on the scheme, says: “There’s always been a commitment from Railpen – from day one – to relocate retailers from the Beehive to Cambridge Retail Park and to relocate Asda, which is a particularly important retailer.”
This will involve changes to Cambridge Retail Park too, although there will not be room for everyone to relocate. However, not all the space on the two retail parks is currently occupied, and some retailers are on short-term leases.
Railpen has been gauging feedback from the community. It attended an ‘Abbey Lunch’ and has been talking to councillors to learn what stores residents find most valuable.
Matt says: “We have made significant progress. There are two sides to every transaction but we are confident we can create, subject to planning, the necessary space to rehouse. Not all of it will require planning as not all of it will be new space.”
The Beehive currently features 260,000 sq ft of retail, which in addition to Asda, is home to the likes of TK Maxx, Pets at Home, Hobbycraft, Dreams, B&M, Next, M&S Foodhall, Home Sense, Wren Kitchens and others.
“We’re not going to do deals with new retailers – we’ll give priority to maintaining retailers that people really want to see stay in Cambridge, subject to them having a sensible commercial discussion with us,” promises Matt.
Meanwhile, Railpen plans to put back around 70,000-80,000 sq ft of retail space on the ground floor.
“All of the ground floor plane will be activated,” says Matt. “And that will largely be subsidised by the wider development – we won’t make money out of that.”
This includes proposals for a small high street, to be curated by the independent business group Indie Cambridge.
“We allocated an area for an old-fashioned high street,” explains Matt. “There were concerns for Mill Road, so we went to Indie Cambridge and said we don’t want to harm that in any way, so they said ‘Why don’t we curate it?’”
Meanwhile, Railpen aims to create attractive offices and labs for Cambridge’s burgeoning science and technology sectors.
Matt envisages it will cater for everything from “tech companies, gaming and AI to cutting-edge genomics and science”.
“We are creating an innovation community,” he says. “It will range from major corporations to start-ups, and we are looking at creating accelerator space to encourage the next generation of businesses growing in Cambridge. That has been a problem historically, with companies leaving Cambridge because the facilities are not there.”
Railpen says it is in a unique position to take a long-term view, unencumbered by the demands of banks or joint ventures.
“There are a lot of people investing in Cambridge at the moment because there is a serious shortage of available, good quality space. There will come a point when that supply and demand imbalance no longer exists. So it’s crucial that we create the right platform now to continue to generate the companies of the future,” he says, suggesting the site could house companies throughout their lifecycle.
Some 4,000 sq ft will be provided at an 80 per cent discount for a minimum of 15 years to foster new innovative businesses, in addition to the start-up and accelerator space.
“What the US has done very well is create an ecosystem where they grow businesses through and develop great relationships with them. One advantage of great relationships is you can then leverage that to help them partner with you on community issues,” says Matt.
“The potential tenants are going to have some real firepower from a social perspective.
“We hope to engage with them with a mission statement.”
Key to that thinking is that the jobs on site must create genuine opportunities for local people, and Railpen says it is working with the social enterprise Form the Future to create a careers academy, and is engaged with the likes of Cambridge Ahead, Cambridge& and local authorities as it develops a “pioneering employment and skills programme” (ESP).
The success of the park, it is hoped, would then aid the social and economic development in the area.
Nick said: “The work we’re doing with the likes of Abbey People and Form the Future is about trying to put in place a mechanism for tenants of the future who have significant ESP goals of the own, and significant funding, to make sure Railpen can direct that where it is needed and to areas around the Beehive.
“As the park becomes more successful, the more ability Railpen has to do that.
“We’ll have community managers and employment and skills leads and their purpose will be to work with these partners and the local community, particularly around skills.
“We know there’s a huge amount of growth around the life science sector and that’s creating a huge number of job opportunities.
“We want to take an active role. It’s not enough just to create jobs. We need to make sure there are opportunities for local people. And these are opportunities not just in retail, but across the masterplan.”
Railpen expects much of the site to be “largely car-free”. The number of car parking spaces on site will be significantly reduced to 460, with 428 of these in a multi-storey car park and a third of spaces will feature rapid EV charging. There will be a focus on supporting buses, and aiding cycling and walking.
Lewis Kirk, senior project architect at Leonard Design Architects, explains: “The cycle paths will be super high quality, 4.5 metres wide, and capable of plugging into the city infrastructure like the Chisholm Trail, should that route come through the site.”
Meanwhile, the scheme is being designed to aid the safety of girls, support neurodiversity needs and even cater for skaters, thanks to work with community groups and charities.
“We want to create a scheme and environment where the innovation and science community merges with the local community,” explains Matt.
“The idea of a sterile isolated business park is a very outdated one. Bringing everyone together to create a really buzzy environment that works throughout the day is how we see the development. Covid has accelerated the thinking around that in the property world.
“People need a reason not to work from home. People like community. They like the buzz of lots of people around them. They don’t like being isolated on a business park.”
A net gain of 100 per cent in biodiversity is envisaged with around 200 new trees planned, along with the new wetland habitat.
And sustainability has been put at the top of the agenda, with all 11 workplace buildings set to achieve a BREEAM score of 85 per cent, and an Outstanding or Excellent rating.
Prof John French, from the Cambridge Institute of Sustainability Leadership, is advising Railpen on minimising carbon in the development and off-setting residual carbon to make the scheme net zero at completion.
With sustainable drainage, there will be a 30 per cent reduction in surface water run-off and the team are working on achieving water credits from BREEAM by using measures such as water harvesting.
“A key mantra is ‘enhancing the communities we invest into’,” says Matt. “We hope that differentiates us and reassures people that we’re not taking this responsibility lightly.”
Following its upcoming consultation, Railpen hopes to submit an outline planning application in August or September. It expects it could take a year for the planning process, with no changes expected on the Beehive before 2026.
In-person consultation meetings will take place on:
- Friday, July 14, from 4-7.30pm, at The Old School Hall, St Barnabas Centre, Mill Road, CB1 2BD.
- Saturday, July 15, from 10am-2pm, at East Barnwell Community Centre, Newmarket Road, CB5 8RS
Webinars will be held on
- Monday, July 17, at 6pm
- Thursday, July 20, at 12.30pm
Visit https://beehivecentreconsultation.co.uk/ for details.