First proposals for the Cambridge Retail Park on Newmarket Road

At very short notice, Abbey Ward city councillors Naomi Bennett and Dr Hannah Copley – along with myself threw as many Qs as we possibly could about the principles of what the developers say will be an improved retail offer.

I only found out about it this morning.

…and furthermore had no information on where to get the link to the webinar mentioned in both the Cambridge Independent in print, or in the CambsTimes (now online only). So I dropped them an email to get one, and shared it with about half an hour to go before the start.

The proposals financed by RAILPEN – the railway workers pension fund

As explained at the start, the pension fund looks for very long term investments that will provide a stable return over an extended period of time. So from that perspective I welcome the principle of doing something more useful with this site that will serve not just the immediate neighbourhood but also the wider city.

Please click on each slide to view separately.

Above – screengrabbed slides. Apologies for the not great quality. When they launch their consultation formally I’ll try to link to a proper slide show. if you want to comment, please email cambridgeretailpark [at] fourcommunications [dot] com.

My questions included:

  1. Their CGIs not reflecting Cambridge’s traditional brick colour. They said this was only a conceptual design, but were incorporating the history of the brickworks into their designs.
  2. Public green spaces facing the roads – raised by the Cambridge Green Party Councillors too, which I think they acknowledged. But will need more pressure from councillors, community & environmental groups and heritage organisations to get this improved
  3. The safety and public health issues of building by/on a former unregulated landfill site
  4. Reflecting the heritage of the wider area including the gas works, the pumping station, and the other industrial activities – mindful of the presence of the Cambridge Museum of Technology who I hope will get significant contributions and commissions from this project
  5. Noting the Government’s Living with Beauty report – see below
  6. Supporting light rail proposals mindful of RAILPEN’s proposals for The Beehive Centre on the other side of Coldham’s Lane. If they want to reduce car use but improve and enhance the retail offer on the Retail Park, while at the same time employing 5,000 highly qualified scientists and support staff on the Beehive Centre site, they need to invest in radical transport improvements. Their proposals for active travel plus the bus problems we’ve all heard about won’t be enough.
“Building Beautiful – emerging Government policy”

The Government established a commission on building design, which reported back just before the first lockdown in Jan 2020. You can read their report Living With Beauty here. How that will be incorporated into the planning system remains to be seen, as at present the financial incentives encourage vulture firms to strip away all of the financial value from sites, leaving little left for anything else. This was the conclusion of the Chartered Institute of Building back in 2017.

“As such, quality, or rather the failure of quality, is arguably the most important issue facing the construction industry today.”

“Under the current ‘residual land value’ model, developers bid against each other to buy land, typically at a hugely inflated cost. The high cost of land means that savings need to be made elsewhere in the project, often by sacrificing design and build quality, resulting in a low-quality final product. If the land was made available at a less inflated price, developers would be able to compete for a project on the quality rather than cost of the final product.”

CIOB Policy Position – Improving Building Quality

You can read more in their Code of Quality Management here.

Above – The Chartered Institute of Building’s Code of Quality Management.

There is a face-to-face event on 10 November from 2.30pm – 5.30pm (tomorrow) for people to meet the team. Awkward for those working full time hours during the day. Local councils need to be more forceful about publicising events in good time. Otherwise the only people who get to find out about them in good time are people like me. And even I think it would be a bad idea to have Cambridge redesigned according to my artistic tastes alone!

Furthermore – following straight after that even was the webinar from the Greater Cambridge Partnership on their Making Connections / buses / congestion charge consultation on access to Cambridge.

Furthermore, they too have a face-to-face event from 5pm to 8pm straight after the end of the RAILPEN one down the road.

My head hurts already and I’m tired. Please can some of you go along to these events and have your say? Especially if you don’t normally go along to them? Or alternatively crowd-source some questions from your friends, acquaintances and social networks on or offline, and put them to the developers and their consultants – and importantly, report back to everyone on what their responses were. For those who are otherwise unable to attend, this can make a huge different to them and us.

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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