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Is it time for a new Market square in Cambridge?

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Helen Bradbury, Professor Peter Landshoff and architect Melanie Hey look at plans for a new Market square. Picture: Keith Heppell
Helen Bradbury, Professor Peter Landshoff and architect Melanie Hey look at plans for a new Market square. Picture: Keith Heppell

Architects and local historians have for years been putting forward the case for a new market square in Cambridge.

Political interest is also starting to grow, with parties proposing funding for the redevelopment in this year's budget. Following criticism that the market space has become unfit for purpose, residents are now being urged to get involved in the discussion and say what they want to see in the civic heart of the city.

"Although people like the square and like the market they just don't feel that it's the right place for the centre of Cambridge,said Helen Bradbury, who is leading the project for Cambridge Past, Present and Future."A lot of the issues are basic - it shuts down after dark, it becomes anti-social, it has one purpose.

"People said they thought the fountain was dilapidated, that they would like water running again and there shouldn't be a rubbish compactor in the middle of our city. It doesn't feel salubrious and it doesn't fit the city as it is today. And it's particularly noticeable given that it sits alongside Senate House, which has beautiful stones, benches and tiles.

"We ought to have a centre of our city that's a nice place to linger and not just a very shabby, dilapidated cousin of the university spaces."

And the benefits could go beyond aesthetics. A study by the Judge Business School has shown that regenerating the market square could bring 10 per cent more footfall to the centre of the city. As a connection between Rose Crescent and Petty Cury the area has also been designated as an important link that could make shoppers want to stay in the city centre.

Professor Peter Landshoff, Cambridge PPF, said:"It would also be a benefit to the market traders. There would be a better layout and better conditions so people would be more willing to go in wet weather, bringing higher footfall."

"Lots of people would linger and then they would shop,Ms Bradbury added."There would be a knock-on effect around the centre ?of Cambridge."

Combined with the potential for extended hours for stall traders and a Christmas market, the group predict that effective regeneration could bring a 10 per cent return on investment. This year the council is considering investing £20million in commercial property. Why not invest in the space on the doorstep of ?the Guildhall?

A minimum approach has been suggested, as pictured in the sketch.

Melanie Hey, leading the project for architects Freeland Rees Roberts, said:"The minimum was saying make some breathing space around the fountain, bring it back to life and provide some seating, and slide the rubbish sideways so it isn't right at the end of the church."

But Ms Hey said it may be too late for the minimum approach to work; the market square is too far gone.

"If you know nothing else you might think it will never change and learn just to live with it,she said."But if you venture out to other places, even quite small places, you find things are in a lot better condition and start to wonder why we don't have paving that's flush, and why don't we have a surface ?that drains."

While there are a lot of ideas about what the square could look like, Ms Hey is hoping to hear people's views before putting concrete plans forward.

"Much more useful is to start a discussion with people about what they want the market square to be,she said."That needs to happen at a citywide level, because it's everybody's space."

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