New labs for old shops at The Grafton Centre – but what will councillors say?

The new proposals turn much of the site into lab and tech space, and supporting office space – with no room for the proposed hotel that got planning permission pre-Lockdown.

You can see the consultation at

Above – the first set of proposals.

I still think it’s the wrong call. But under the present system, money talks and the developers (unlike the city council) have lots of it. What price democracy? Cllr Sam Davies MBE explores this more in her recent blogpost.

What’s not clear is how much of the parking spaces will be retained

One of the showcase elements of The Grafton in the early 1980s was the multi-storey car park. Such was the demand for car parking in Cambridge that, along with the culture of the era, Park Street, The Lion Yard, Queen Anne, and The Grafton car parks were built over a 20 year period between the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s.

Above – the Grafton Centre Multi-Storey Car Park

It will be interesting to see if the already-approved hotel plans go ahead or will be scrapped. Furthermore, although demolition work appears to be happening, (See the planning portal Ref: 21/04564/PRIOR – it appears to be asbestos removal plus demolition for the property owner), it’s not clear if that is part of this set of plans or if it will need updating.

Above – from proposals submitted to Cambridge City Council in 2011.

Also, stuff like this below ****really annoys me****

Above – take a beautiful mosaic from the old Cambridge & District Co-operative Society, and turn it into grey and bland. From the client’s architect.

What Cambridge City Council says – The Grafton Centre SPD 2018

You can read their guidance here.

What’s clear from the developer’s proposals is that a significant amount of property space and communal space that the public currently has access to, will be taken out of public use completely. Furthermore, the types of jobs that they will be offering will be limited in terms of access to people from working class communities. Finally, there’s a case to argue that the site owners should have been reducing their rents significantly in order to fill out the shop units rather than leaving them empty too many of them are at present.

There has also been a huge failure of Government policy in retail and competition policy. Successive high street firms were bought out, asset stripped, and went into administration. They were loaded with debt and could not afford the repayments on them. As a result, thousands of people lost their jobs all over the country.

Is the internet to blame? Successive ministers were warned repeatedly over a decade or more that the uneven playing field between large online multinationals with aggressive tax-avoiding and cost-cutting measures (to the extent some constitute health and safety risks) were putting lots of high street firms out of business. Ministers did nothing. Some firms such as the previous executives at HMV twenty years ago only have themselves to blame for not investing in new technologies that shot their business model to pieces.

The proposals published today for The Grafton Centre are in response to a massive global demand for sci/tech/lab space in and around Cambridge. That bubble should never have been allowed to expand – and one of the reasons it has done so is the lack of an industrial strategy from ministers. Had they had one, they’d have brought in policies to spread the wealth – whether redirecting investment to other parts of the UK, to having radical transport and housing policies that would have taxed that bubble and paid for transport links between Cambridge and the surrounding market towns. As it is, the Making Connections consultation continues. What the developers propose for transport links remains to be seen. The risk with this development is that it continues to polarise our city – with working class communities losing out again in our two-speed economy that Cllr Davies wrote about here. Again, this is outside of local government’s control. And as The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement revealed, his party in government have nothing positive to offer that might change this in a positive way and for the many, not just the few. A change of government cannot come soon enough. It will be interesting to see what Shadow Housing & Local Government Secretary Lisa Nandy MP has to say in her book All In, published today, in terms of radical alternatives. Not least for local councils.

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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