Cambridge City Council should fund a part time post at the Cambridgeshire Collection for the duration of the emerging local plan

The purpose: to find, select, digitise, publish, and publicise the important, interesting, and useful publications, documents, and articles related to previous local plans and local transport plans.

The post-holder could also publicise the existence of the collection (And the Cambridge Library – which was once a city council responsibility), and also encourage donations to the library service and membership to local history societies too.

On Lost Cambridge I asked what the role of local historians should be in the local planning process. Turns out our civic predecessors were very busy after the war in deciding what to do. Whether that activity was actually productive or not…is a different matter.

I spent this afternoon in the Cambridgeshire Collection on the 3rd Floor of the Cambridge Central Library in Lion Yard.

Following the new local plan? Head up to the Central Library to see what we did earlier!

Anyone even vaguely following the emerging Greater Cambridge Local Plan is strongly recommended (By me) to head up to the Collection, ask for the newspaper clippings files for town planning, and then spend the rest of the day browsing, learning, and seeing what our predecessors got up to. And then wonder why we risk making the same mistakes as they did.

Actually, the errors as I see them stem from the mess that was the structure of local government back in the 1960s – and despite the overhauls carried out, the last one by Edward Heath’s Government left almost as much of a mess as what was there before.

Above – in the 1960s the different tiers of local councils had overlapping powers – which caused no end of problems. Furthermore, town planning was in the remit of the county council, not the borough/city council. So part of the press coverage involves reporting on councils threatening to take each other to the High Court, while citizens appealed to their (Conservative) MPs who then had to appeal to the Minister – who in those days Keith Joseph as the Minister for Housing & Local Government. (This was before he became famous for Thatcherism).

With different institutions coming up with different plans and proposals – and then different institutions within those institutions then coming up with their own alternatives – such as Cambridge Labour’s alternatives to Cambridge Conservatives, the whole thing ended up getting very messy.

Again, it did not have to be like that – local politicians appealed to ministers to make Cambridge a ‘County Borough’ – in effect a unitary council. Conservative ministers ignored Conservative MPs and kept things as they were at a time the Tories dominated elections – Robert Davies’ victory for Labour in 1966 being a rare ‘off’ moment. Sadly for Davies he wasn’t in the best of health, and within 18 months he was dead – not far off his 50th birthday. A huge loss to the city – and to Labour as he had spent years as a local councillor and as their lead planning spokesman.

For people interested in the local history, it’s the people and the stories that matter. For those focusing on the new local plan, it’s the documents and the analysis that make for the useful reading.

And they don’t come much bigger size-of-paper-wize than the monster-size newspaper pull-outs. Challenge for the present print press? Match this!

Above – Detail of a front page pull out in the Cambridge Daily News of Monday 25 June 1962, in the Cambridgeshire Collection.

My take is that Cambridge City Council should fund a part time researcher to pull out and digitise such materials from the archives, and also reproduce at-scale replica hard copies for people to browse at leisure, thus ensuring the originals do not get damaged. When you compare the cost of this budget-wise to the cost of paying specialist consultants to produce a one-off report (which as we’ve seen, the standards can be variable), a part-time post for a calm and diligent researcher (i.e. not me) could more than pay off.

What are the lessons learnt Or the new findings from old stuff?

Sir Ivor Jennings QC, the then Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge dropped his successors in it when it came to paying for a new concert hall. For a start, he declared that the University of Cambridge has a wider duty to the rest of the city. Which must have come as a shock to some of the chaps in the ivory towers – recalling that there were still a few that wanted to maintain all-male colleges.

Above: “And here Mr Waide is where we could put a new large concert hall for over 2,500 people as suggested by Mr Logie” An example of one of the newspaper cuttings held in the Cambridgeshire Collection – Sir Ivor showing the County Planning Officer Mr Waide of what Cambridge University proposed for the redevelopment of the city centre. Cambridge Daily News, 01 June 1962. Note that five years later, Gordon Logie, Cambridge City Council’s Principal Architect and Chief Town Planner published his call for a new large concert hall for Cambridge.

Right – Gordon Logie RIBA, Cambridge City Council’s Principal Architect and Chief Town Planner. His was one of the most familiar faces in 1960s Cambridge as the local press regularly featured him in the squabbles over how the city centre should be redeveloped – and cope with the demands from car users. Cambridgeshire Collection / Mike Petty

Sir Ivor then offers to fund half the cost of the new hall

Well I don’t know about you but I think we should bank that cheque – and quick!

“Sir Ivor continued: “This brings me to the future of the Lion Yard. Not only the correct use of this important area in the heart of the old city, but the scale and character of the new building in it, are matters of the greatest concern.”

“In the Exhibition you will see our suggestions for its use mainly as an extension of the civic area, and I would stress the point that the University has already offered to meet half the cost of a new public hall in the Lion Yard for joint City and University Use. Such a hall would, I believe make a great contribution to the life of Cambridge”

Sir Ivor Jennings, Vice Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, quoted in the Cambridge Daily News 01 June 1962

Now let’s remind ourselves of what Gordon Logie called for:

“A Concert Hall – to present first rate music for an audience of up to 2,500. Other possible uses: conferences, university examinations, dances and receptions”

amongst other things listed in his proposals for Lion Yard in 1965

It’s worth remembering that Logie wrote this less than two years after The Beatles had played at The Regal in Cambridge – followed just over a year later by the Rolling Stones. So when it comes to first rate music – especially for a younger audience, he was onto something very good.

When we dig into even more detail, we find that Mr Logie actually wrote up his proposals into a formal consultation document.

You can read a copy of the report in the Cambridgeshire Collection. This is another document that I think the city council should digitise and make available to the public

It also gives people the chance to highlight things that were suggested in the past – and perhaps even tried in the past too.

Electric/Green buses taking people from the city centre to the Grafton Centre? We tried that in the 1990s.

It didn’t work then, and in a post-lockdown world where we want people to be as active as possible, the idea of having a mass transit for such short distances is now out of the question as public policy requirements have changed.

Feeling how the incessant demands from motorists shaped the city

With hindsight, Logie’s generation had absolutely no chance of meeting the collective demands of motorists – as Cherry & Penny (1986) wrote of Holford. And Logie wrote at a time when William Davidge’s 1934 road proposals were already looking obsolete – even though we are still awaiting the A10 Bridge the latter proposed at Foxton level crossing.

Above – from Davidge’s Cambridgeshire Regional Plan 1934, what started off as a single carriageway ring road proposals to enable motor traffic to bypass the town ultimately became the M11 in the south west & west, the A14 in the North, and what we now see as standard main roads in East Cambridge (Fendon, Mowbray, Perne, Brooks, and Barnwell Roads – followed by the proposed and abandoned dual carriageway flyover.

Again, things like this are important for Mayor Nik Johnson’s looming Local Transport & Connectivity Plan. (Could his office part-fund a researcher?) At least the Mayor would have a clear view of what schemes have been called for repeatedly, and find out very quickly why they never proceeded. It may even save him time when the next lobbyist comes forward with proposals from wealthy and/or vested interest.

Long term impact of such a move?

It builds up the presence of local history and local archives in our civic culture. Campaigners and activists are more likely to become aware that such facilities exist and may wish to deposit their own literature and campaigning materials there. In fact, it’s important that they do this because we cannot take for granted the presence of local print press publications as in decades gone by. Which reminds me, Reach PLC have appointed a new Local Democracy Reporter for Greater Cambridge.

If you’re on Twitter, do follow Hannah. Getting straight into the Greater Cambridge Local Plan and the County Local Transport and Connectivity Plan is going to involve a very steep learning curve – as it would for anyone, even the most seasoned reporter. We’ve never had a plan for the latter, and we’ve never had a former with such a huge evidence base requiring such a high level of intellect to analyse.

Anyone interested in the Cambridgeshire Collection can join Cambridgeshire Libraries in order to borrow available books in the Collection. Branch libraries also have local history sections, including Rock Road, Cherry Hinton, and Milton Road libraries. County Librarians also have their own curated book links to support independent bookshops here. The public can also donate financially to the libraries and archives directly – see here and scroll to the bottom. (Personally I think this feature should be made much more high profile – especially in these financially tough times in local government).

If you think having the extra historical resource might be useful in the local planning process – in particular locating things that might be relevant to your area in the local planning process, email any of your local councillors.

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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