Azara Blog: Cambridge railway station area development

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Date published: 2005/11/17

The Cambridge Evening News says:

Detailed plans for a huge redevelopment scheme [ of Cambridge's Station Road area ], which will cost £725 million, have now gone on show.

And Lord Richard Rogers, the distinguished architect who is leading the design team, told the News: "This is a remarkable opportunity for the city."

The project, called cb1, is being masterminded by Cambridge's Ashwell Property Group.

The plans include a big transport interchange - for buses, bikes, cars and trains - residential accommodation, including affordable housing, offices and shops, a 150-175 bed hotel, and health care facilities.

There will also be restaurants and bars, a conference centre, covered cycle parking, and a multi-storey car park.

An "historical research and cultural centre" is also set to be created in the old Spillers flour mill building, and there will be a big piazza-style public square.

Network Rail Property is involved in the scheme too, and the historic station building itself is due to be refurbished.

Rod Dowle, strategic planning director for Ashwell, said the area had "remained static for many years, despite local demand for a much-needed boost".

"It will now be rejuvenated as a result of the plans being proposed by Ashwell," he said. "The surroundings to the station will be enhanced with the new square, to improve pedestrian flow, and improve the vistas from and to the station frontage.

"It will be a sustainable and viable mixeduse development."

The city council has yet to approve the scheme, but the property firm has put the plans on show this week so that people can see what is being proposed and comment on it.

When the consultation process is finished, comments will be assessed and plans will be amended as required, Ashwell says. In tandem with Network Rail, the firm then aims to submit a planning application to the city council before the end of this year.

Phase one of cb1 - a new 90,000 sq ft commercial building worth £18m - is due to get under way in February 2006.

The property company has a long track record in working on big schemes. It is also involved in a £400 million building programme to develop 2,800 houses across East Anglia over the next seven years, and is working on development projects in Sudbury and Chelmsford.

Lord Rogers has been appointed as master planner and lead architect for the Station Road scheme, and his team will be designing about half of its buildings.
The public exhibition of the Station Road is being held in the entrance hall to St Paul's Church on Hills Road on the following days: Thursday, 4pm-8pm, Friday, November 18, 12pm- 5pm, Saturday, November 19, 10am-2pm.

Well given the constraints imposed by the Cambridge ruling elite, the master plan presented at the St Paul's exhibition looks reasonably good. It's only a master plan, so detailed design is lacking, but it looks like at least Rogers has not completely gone off his rocker. One developer, Ashwell Property Group, owns the entire site (that is being developed) so that helps.

Of course there is plenty to quibble about. They are proposing two big blocks right opposite the station entrance, one, to the north of Station Road, for a hotel and conference centre, the other, to the south of Station Road, for office and retail space. The latter in particular (at ten storeys high) will dominate the old (Foster's) mill building. (The mill building is supposed to be converted to residential use, and the old silo to the Heritage Resource and Cultural Centre, the HRCC.) Some people might not like the tall buildings but if there is one location in Cambridge where this does not matter it has got to be the station area.

The proposed cycle parking is for 2000 (expandable to 3000) places, under cover, but located a couple of hundred meters south of the station entrance. (As a comparison, apparently there are around 500 "official" cycle parking spaces now and around 500 "unofficial" ones.) Well the fact that it is covered will probably please some people (but it is not stated yet whether there will be a charge to use it). But the distance will put many cyclists off. And late at night what is the security going to be like in the cycle shed? Many cyclists would choose instead to lean their bikes against one of the closer buildings or trees. People who don't cycle really don't understand the psychology of cyclists.

It is proposed that Station Road will be blocked to cars at Tenison Road but there will be a parallel road leading off the latter towards a multi-storey car park (which might also contain the short-term parking). The main square out front (measuring apparently around 50 x 150 m) will contain a taxi rank and disabled parking and (amazingly) a place to drop off and pick up passengers. (It is amazing because the Cambridge ruling elite have stupidly never thought about such a facility for the central bus station, nor for the new bus area whether it be on Victoria Avenue or on Parkside. The Cambridge ruling elite hate cars so design everything as stupidly as can be imagined just to stick two fingers up to drivers.)

Station Road will contain most of the commercial space being developed and the residential space will be behind. Unbelievably they are going to try and squeeze 1400 households -- i.e. flats -- in the little space there is. Of course many of these households will be occupied by London commuters, many of whom would not have previously considered moving to Cambridge, so this side of the development is rather irrelevant for the citizens of Cambridge, it helps rather little to accomodate the people who live and work in Cambridge. Except that 30% of the housing will be "affordable" (i.e. expensive but subsidised by the other households on the site so that some politically correct category of workers can be accomodated there). And also possibly, in the best of all possible worlds, some housing a bit further from the station will be freed up because some commuters will move to live in the station area.

The proposal is to demolish all the existing buildings on the south side of Station Road and also the ones on the north side of Station Road east of Tenison Road (the developer does not own the other part of the north side of Station Road). In particular the classic 1970s buildings, Demeter, Leda and Jupiter will be demolished and even worse Kett House will be demolished, and that was massively (and no doubt expensively) refurbished only four years ago. Needless to say, the developer's blurb for the site gives all the usually politically correct jargon, including that the development is "sustainable" (the most abused term in modern political life). But how "sustainable" is it to demolish perfectly good buildings just so that slightly taller buildings can be put up in their place? (Of course when someone says that something is "sustainable" they only really mean that it is something they want or like, and everything they don't want or like is "unsustainable".)

The developer also claims that "we anticipate that up to 80% of the new employees and residents in the area will not travel by car during peak hours". Well that might be a bit fanciful, but of course in the usual stupid Cambridge way, less car parking is being allowed (per sq foot of office space) in the new offices than in the existing offices. (Now what happens when a visitor to these offices discovers there is no parking. Hmmm, let's see, they park elsewhere, such as in the multi-storey cark park intended for rail users. This is indeed what one Rogers spokesperson suggested tonight as the obvious thing that will happen. Of course the Cambridge ruling elite will express surprise in N years when this turns out to cause problems.)

And a lot of the residents will indeed be London commuters so of course rather than driving their "unsustainable" car 2 miles to get to work in Cambridge they are going to take the "sustainable" train 60 miles to get to work in London. A great victory for the environment.

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