“Future of the Guildhall in Cambridge to be debated” (Version 2022)

The fact that councillors are having to debate this shows how much successive Conservative governments have cut from local councils across the country

Furthermore, it shows the impact of their refusal to enable Cambridge City Council (and other councils) to raise money through a wider range of taxes beyond council tax and business rates.

You may have read the headlines here. The proposals are going to be debated at Strategy and Resources Committee on Monday 10 Oct at 5pmsee the details (item 10) and papers here.

“So…does that not mean we’re getting a much-needed revamp?”

If an improved version of John Belcher’s 1898 design is what you mean, no. Sadly not.

Cambridge Liberals tried to get this one in 1898 – commissioned by Mayor (later Sir) Horace Darwin (youngest son of Charles to Botanist), and again in 1913 under Cllr Herbert Whibley but were blocked by the opposing Conservatives on both occasions.

The design we have today…

I’m not a fan of it at all – and I think it was the only major issue that Florence Ada Keynes got badly wrong in her 75 years in our town.

Above – the original design from Charles Cowles-Voysey in 1935. (Cambs Collection)

It got built because despite the huge opposition to the scheme, the opponents could not come up with an alternative design they could all agree on. As a result, the satirical artist for the Cambridge Daily News, Ronald Searle (yes, that one), lampooned everyone involved in it.

Above – many councillors will recognise this sentiment!

“Other than a change of government, what are the alternatives?”

Hang on – nothing’s been decided. All that this meeting will decide is whether to do some in-depth assessments of two options – one of which is staying in The Guildhall.

“To approve the proposal to take forward more detailed investigation on two options:

  • To retain the Guildhall as the main office and civic space for the Council, dependent upon the potential to ensure it is fit for purpose for future use and the cost of achieving this
  • To investigate as a comparator the potential for an alternative office and civic space which meets the Council’s needs in or around a central location.

In the grand scheme of things, it would be symbolic if costs combined with artificial and politically-motivated restrictions on local government revenue forced the city council to move to a faceless office complex that they had to rent from a multinational property owner. Cllr Sam Davies MBE (Ind – Queen Edith’s) wrote about the huge contrast between the supposed economic wealth of the local economy vs the deprivation and under-resourcing of public services and civic services yesterday.

“For as long as our local government is chronically underfunded and only able to retain a tiny fraction of the huge wealth generated by economic growth here, social and environmental failures will intensify. How does that make this place more attractive – to anyone?”

Cllr Sam Davies MBE (Ind – Queen Edith’s) in False Economy, 02 Oct 2022

I took this photo a few weeks back to illustrate the point:

Above – in Queen Edith’s Ward – what’s the point on having houses down this road going for over £1million if the local councils are banned by central government from raising sufficient revenue from the local economy to maintain essential services – of which maintaining roads has been one of them ***for centuries***. And a few minutes ago, Cllr Stephen Ferguson (Ind – St Neots) noted ministers are looking for even more cuts.

Can the city council afford to wait until a general election turfs out the present incumbents in central government? Just two years to go. But two years is a very long time in politics.

Food for thought?

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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