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Redevelopment plans for The Grafton in Cambridge approved by councillors





A major redevelopment of The Grafton shopping centre in Cambridge has been shown the green light by councillors.

Cambridge City Council has approved plans to partially demolish the centre to create new life science laboratories, as well as a hotel and gym.

The Grafton, off East Road. Picture: Keith Heppell
The Grafton, off East Road. Picture: Keith Heppell

Objections to the development had been raised by some over concerns about how the taller buildings could impact Cambridge’s historic skyline.

However, councillors said overall they believed the benefits of the redevelopment outweighed the harm it could cause.

The plans, submitted by Pioneer Group Ltd, proposed to demolish part of The Grafton and Abbeygate House in order to build new life science laboratories. The shop fronts are due to be replaced and the landscaping improved.

Under the plans 11,000sqm of retail floorspace is due to remain, with 47,000sqm of life science space planned to be created.

The plans also proposed to redevelop the existing bus turning head into a new hotel and gym.

A new pedestrian access to The Grafton is planned to be opened from Christchurch Street to Burleigh Street, and work is proposed to improve East Road with new bus stops, and cycle routes.

Sarah Nicholas, from Cambridge Past, Present and Future, told councillors at a planning committee meeting today (7 February) that the group had concerns about how the new taller buildings could impact the city’s skyline.

She highlighted that concerns about this impact had also been raised by some city council officers and Historic England.

She said: “We are asking you to put significant weight on the impact of the proposals on heritage, if you do not this could be used to negotiate other developments and the skyline could be dominated by bulky buildings.”

Richard O’Boyle, chief executive of Pioneer Group, said they had listened to people’s concerns and adapted the plans.

He said: “The plans seek to repurpose most of The Grafton centre rather than completely demolishing and rebuilding.

“Our final design is the result of an extremely comprehensive consultation process where we listened and made changes where we could.

“People told us this is an important local walking route so we have improved the surrounding areas.

“We also listened as much as we could to our immediate neighbours, for example in Christchurch Street we listened and reintroduced a wall to ensure the street does not become a cut through.

“Overall feedback confirmed The Grafton centre needs to change and needs to evolve.

“Our proposals do so much more and secure its long term future and also have the potential to bring huge social and economic benefits. Economically it will provide five times more jobs, not just highly qualified jobs, senior scientists catch headlines, but they need a large team behind them. Up to 60 per cent of the jobs do not need a degree.

“It was also clear that people want the shops to remain a big part of The Grafton centre going forward, which our proposal does.

“We are also delivering 530 per cent biodiversity net gain.

“At Pioneer we are genuinely excited about the potential impact [The] Grafton centre will have helping Cambridge city centre evolve for all.”

Cambridge City Council leader Cllr Mike Davey (Lab, Petersfield) said it was “vital” they got the redevelopment right.

Cllr Davey said he did have some concerns about the current plans due to the proposed size of some of the buildings and the current lack of a transport plan, although he said he recognised there was a condition to require this plan to be made.

Ward councillors Cllr Tim Bick (Lib Dem, Market) and Cllr Katie Porrer (Lib Dem, Market) said they supported the plans, but asked for additional conditions to be added.

These included requiring there to be management of how people travel to work, including making sure residential streets nearby are not used for dropping off.

They also asked for a condition to require areas remaining within the developer’s control to be managed to prevent anti-social behaviour. Planning officers said these points could be included within the proposed conditions.

Grafton Centre development plans
Grafton Centre development plans

Cllr Katie Thornburrow (Lab, Petersfield), executive councillor for planning, building control and infrastructure, highlighted that the number of car parking spaces was proposed to go down, but that the number of people working at the centre was due to increase.

She said Newmarket Road already saw a lot of congestion during peak hours, and asked if all the transport impacts had been fully considered.

A transport officer from Cambridgeshire County Council, the highways authority, said they recognised the car parking was proposed to be reduced by more than 300 spaces. However, they said this would discourage people from driving there for work.

The officer said they did question the developer “significantly” on the issue and they were satisfied there would be a “significant reduction in car traffic”.

Cllr Naomi Bennett (Green, Abbey) asked if there could be a condition added to require the new jobs to be offered to people living in the area first. She said this would help reduce the number of people having to travel from further away into the city.

Officers said there was a ‘jobs for all’ plan which looked at securing things such as apprenticeships. They suggested an informative could be added to this to ask the developers to consider hiring people in the area first.

Cllr David Levien (Lib Dem, Trumpington) said Cambridge was seeing a shift from retail to the science sector and said this was a “natural process” that he believed should be encouraged.

He said he was not against the plans in principle, but did suggest that the number of cycle parking spaces could still be increased.

Officers said the proposed cycle parking met the policy requirements and would provide cycle parking for 44 per cent of employees.

Cllr Thornburrow said she could not get away from the “significant concerns” raised by conservation officers and Historic England. She said the view of the spires and the city centre when coming into Cambridge was really important.

Cllr Thornburrow said this should not be diminished by ‘abandoning’ the city council’s policy on tall buildings.

“By allowing this policy to be set aside we may have to abandon the policy. What is to say that another retail space in Cambridge will not come back with permitted development rights to change into a science space, and refer to this application where policy on tall buildings has been set aside.

“I am really concerned that these points were raised in the consultation and have not been dealt with to the satisfaction of these important consultees,” she said.

Cllr Sam Carling (Lab, West Chesterton) said this issue was something he was “uneasy” about, but said he did not think allowing this application would mean others will get approved, as he said a decision still had to be made on the balance of the benefits and the harms.

When a decision on the application was put to a vote four councillors to approve the plans, one voted against and one councillor abstained from voting.



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