Why such small ambitions for a new arts centre and cinema for Cambourne, Cambs?

You may have seen the headlines for a £100,000 fundraising bid for this rapidly-growing town. At the same time, the Cambridge Junction is planning an overhaul that could cost up to £17million. Why isn’t Cambourne going for a much grander scheme? Is there not more money available? From developers? From grants and trusts? From local and central government?

You can read Paul Brackley’s article here.

“£100k? Is that all?”

That was my first reaction – recalling that the proposals for the Cambridge Junction could cost up to £17million.

But then is this comparing like-with-like? After all, The Junction’s customer base according to some postcode analysis from several years ago showed that people from all over East Anglia make their way to the venue to see shows – historically up-and-coming shows, acts, bands, comedians and musicians. (Though in more recent years it has catered for those either moving in the other direction or groups that have reformed a few decades after their 1990s heyday.

Given Cambridge’s population growth since The Junction was built in 1990 (101,000 through to an estimated 130,000 today – not including the surrounding villages outside the city boundary), the expenditure is more than merited. The fault remains with Central Government over the inability for local councils to extract more of the wealth their economies generate to spend on much needed transport, social, civic, and environmental infrastructure.

By the time the West Cambourne phase of Cambourne’s rapid house-building is completed, its population will be around 20,000 people. It’s around that point that settlements start becoming their own local economies rather than dormitory towns as has often happened with New Towns in the past. The history of Cambourne – including planning issues, is covered in this 2019 document by one of the consultants involved. A much earlier lessons learnt document was published in 2007.

There is an interesting new design code for the West Cambourne phase which makes for interesting reading – not least because it is prepared to criticise recent examples of poor urban design. Something that planning professionals, campaigners, and councillors may wish to keep a hold of.

“What could and maybe should Cambourne get instead?”

Ultimately that depends on what the residents and their elected representatives want to do. I don’t have a political mandate to order anyone to do anything. My general approach to places outside my home town is to refer people to what other areas have either done or proposed, and invite them to ponder/think about whether it might be suitable for them, give or take a few changes.

AboveCambourne on G-Maps.

You can see in the map above the unmistakeable “A” shape of an airfield – the old Bourn Airfield that is having 3,500 homes built on it. You can also see the red balloon on the map of South Cambridgeshire District Council’s HQ – one of my least favourite buildings whose location for me shows a contempt towards the people of Cambourne. A soulless identikit building stuck out on the edge of a business park next to a dual carriageway with minimal public transport access. The residents deserve better – far better.

“The historical lesson from Cambridge’s Guildhall”

It’s more of a general lesson from the Victorian and Edwardian era of grand town halls – written up in this old book. That is to incorporate council meeting space with public gathering space. That’s why Cambridge managed to build the large assembly hall in 1862 and avoid paying for the full design of Peck & Stephen’s proposed new guildhall.

(Personally I think Charles Henry Cooper, the Town Clerk who commissioned the design, was robbed by the nay-sayers. We could have had a grand guildhall rather than Charles Cowles-Voysey’s monolith today).

Above – Charles Henry Cooper via Mike Petty MBE.

My preference – if anything to inspire civic pride in Cambourne, would be for a central building that could host council meetings and have a large open hall suitable for large events. When Cambridge got its large assembly hall built, the borough’s population was 26,000. (You can see Cambridge’s population over time via Cambs Insight here).

Ensuring that transport infrastructure is built to support such a venue

This goes in particular for walking and cycling routes – especially for the surrounding villages. Given the new priorities from the County Council’s joint administration (meeting on 18th May to overhaul the constitution amongst other things – see the papers here) and also the new Mayor for Greater Cambridgeshire (the Business Board of the Combined Authority meeting the day after on the 19th May – see the papers here), it might be an idea for the town to look at more longer term options for civic infrastructure. Especially as the East West Rail is looking to build a railway station for the town. (In which case can the station incorporate a new town square with Town Hall/performance venue on one side, railway station on another incorporating a bus interchange, and shops/restaurants on the remaining two sides?

“Who pays?”

A combination of organisations, including contributions from developers via S106 / Community Infrastructure Levy, local councils, central government, grant funding from organisations such as the Arts Council (which is part-funding The Junction’s redevelopment).

I’ve pulled out the above top images that came back from a search “Cambourne Architecture”. Given the likelihood of future growth and new transport infrastructure, can the architects and designers come up with something more imaginative than the mainly functional minimalist designs we see all too often from shared buildings?

If you are interested in the longer term future of Cambridge, and on what happens at the local democracy meetings where decisions are made, feel free to:

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