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Plans submitted for the redevelopment of The Grafton centre in Cambridge





Plans to turn The Grafton into a new research hub for the life science sector have been submitted to Cambridge City Council.

Developers plan to convert much of the declining shopping mall into laboratory space, while turning the western end into a more attractive destination for shoppers.

What the redeveloped Grafton will look like Picture: Pioneer Group / Corstorphine & Wright
What the redeveloped Grafton will look like Picture: Pioneer Group / Corstorphine & Wright

The proposals include removing the roof from part of the centre to create a new public square surrounded by shops and cafes.

The cinema and gym will be retained under the plans, with a new hotel and restaurants around another public square on East Road.

John O’Shea, the manager of The Grafton, said: “I’ve been working in retail for many years, and the way people shop has changed. Big store closures like Debenhams mean that the centre just doesn’t have a future in its current form. But people do still want a local high street that offers value and convenience, and a nice place to meet friends for coffee.

“These changes will mean a shopping area that is smaller in terms of retail floorspace, but much more focussed on what the Grafton does well, with an exciting collection of high street brands but also full of interesting local shops and cafes, in an environment that’s nicer and more lively to visit.”

What the redeveloped Grafton will look like Picture: Pioneer Group / Corstorphine & Wright
What the redeveloped Grafton will look like Picture: Pioneer Group / Corstorphine & Wright

A number of the shops that are still open at The Grafton plan to stay after the renovation, including H&M, Boots and Decathlon.

The west part of the centre is planned to be turned into a new science laboratory space run by Pioneer Group, with labs and offices for science companies from small start-ups to larger established businesses.

The developers have confirmed that there will not be any animal testing facilities on the site, nor any heavy manufacturing operations.

When the plans were shown to councillors in May, they warned the developer that it would “have a job to do” to convince residents it is what is needed in the city centre.

The Grafton is 48 per cent vacant by unit compared with 18 per cent nationally, with 13 of the centre’s retail units standing empty for more than two years.

Footfall is also down by 12 per cent when compared with pre-Covid figures. Meanwhile, the laboratory availability rate in Cambridge is a tiny 0.2 per cent.

What the redeveloped Grafton will look like Picture: Pioneer Group / Corstorphine & Wright
What the redeveloped Grafton will look like Picture: Pioneer Group / Corstorphine & Wright

Pioneer Group is the life science and technology arm of Trinity Investment Management, which acquired the site in August 2022 from Legal & General.

Subjit Jassy, of the Pioneer Group, said: “What is different about Pioneer Group is that we don’t just provide space for international blue-chip companies, we provide incubator and start-up space for new and young, local science businesses. And while the ideas generated here will have a global impact, we will be firmly rooted in the local community.

“We will aim to run programmes for local schoolchildren, inspiring the next generation of scientists and innovators. No matter their age, everyone will have the opportunity to learn, be inspired and invent in the new centre.”



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