20th March City Centre Plans FeCRA response

We have responded to the letter from Joel Carre concerning Plans for the City Centre and Cambridge Market Square:

Dear Joel,

Thank you for asking FeCRA to contribute to this discussion but in its current form FeCRA cannot support the application. We are very supportive of the attempt to get funding and recognise all the hard work. We want an application to succeed and to achieve the best outcomes but we believe the draft application as it stands will not do that as it does not address what the city needs.

The application has generated a huge response from residents across the city. You will have seen for yourself some of the concerns and the feedback we have been getting. Comments made include:

The application does not take into account that central Cambridge is packed in terms of residents: students and college staff. Many of the students are graduates so they are here in vacations too.

The documents do not address concerns raised by the Market Support group. Proposals for events in the Market also ignore the fact that people, many of them students, live all round the Market. Stalls having to be moved away threatens the livelilhoods of the Market traders.  There is no reference to the quality and variety of the food they sell, that it is fresh, unpackaged and cheaper. Nor is there any reference to the distinctiveness of the Market Square as a democratic public space for the town as opposed to gown, a place for buying flowers, crafts and books, an attractive historic venue with cobbles, that has been one of the great pleasures of Cambridge, enjoyed by many people for hundreds of years.

Key problems of running a successful local businesses  

Expensive rent

High business rates

High fees to Cambridge BID

Bid board is perceived to be largely big retailers and corporates who do not have heritage experience or a good track record of modern developments with character and little empathy towards small and craft businesses

Market traders

No one from the Market traders or the Market Support Group is represented on the Bid board

Visitor experience

Too many cheap food outlets

Too many chain stores

Mass tourism- unpleasant crowds

Dirty streets, street clutter, a Boards

Inconsiderate cycling & pedestrian behaviour

Broken pavements

Poor bus services

Neglect of central Market

Unattractive shop fronts allowed on Market Square not in character with this historic venue

Too many Market noodle bars, fast food etc. Too focused now towards fast food

Prospect  of queuing to get into town or even a P&R

Expensive car parks – demand management is too prescriptive it should be more flexible

Environmental capacity issues and conflict between users of all modes of transport have not been addressed. Walking and biking is not easy when streets are crowded.

No central station or underground

Impact of free mini green shuttle bus cut ( it was cut 15+ years ago but circled the city centre, a popular service, it helped older people & those with young children, could be reinstated)

Given all this is there a chance that you might be able to write a holding application and/or at least incorporate the feedback? A resident  who has a lot of commercial experience in high street regeneration thinks that as it stands this application doesn’t stand a chance.  But perhaps an application for ‘high street investment’ might succeed if this was directed at needier parts of the city such as Mill Road or Regent Street and Hills Road.

We believe that what Cambridge needs above all else is a tourist strategy and that the draft application is based on assumptions of what the draft Spaces and Movement SPD will recommend, before that SPD has been published and opened to public consultation. We therefore believe that the application is premature. That concern is compounded by very serious strategic concerns in relation to the emerging SPD, because it is being produced in the absence of:

  1. a) an effective Historic Environment Strategy;
  2. b) a critical assessment of city centre capacity;
  3. c) a conservation area management plan for the Historic Core.

Neither the draft application nor the letter of support makes any reference to maintaining and enhancing Cambridge’s historic environment and significance.  The application references the Cambridge BID, and the Spaces and Movement SPD. It includes the text “Cambridge also has a lovely medieval market square, however there are currently physical limitations to its use.  This fund would support its redevelopment to retain the market but include the flexibility of the space being used for large outdoor events. Small film and night markets have been successfully piloted by Cambridge BID, but the city would like to use this space for concerts, plays, outdoor cinema, and other festivals that showcase the cultural offer of the city and wider region”. 

The draft application makes claims, notably in relation to the Market Square such as “the city would like to use this space for concerts, plays, outdoor cinema, and other festivals that showcase the cultural offer of the city and wider region” without the public having ever been consulted on such aspirations, and before the draft SPD has been made public.

The simple route to resolving vacant units, rather than resorting to external funding for a very prosperous city, would surely be to work with landlords, the university and colleges, to try to moderate rent levels to something which a desired range of uses can afford?   Another key element of Future High Streets relates to bringing disused upper floors back into use: a problem remarkably absent in central Cambridge due to the extent of college ownership.

The draft application claims the fund will be used “to bring back into use some derelict buildings” –which ‘derelict buildings’? Does this mean ‘empty’ or at present ‘unoccupied’?

I appreciate you may have finalised the application with Ian but if not we would be happy to meet up and help. We appreciate the urgency of the deadline. We want to help achieve the best outcomes. This is something that many people care passionately about as you will have seen from the feedback and the fact that it was instant.

Best wishes,

Wendy

Wendy Blythe
Chair, FeCRA

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