Monday, 7 April 2008

History site bid for CB1 area scrapped

The headline jumped out at me as I was wrapping up some potato peelings the other day.

Basically, local property firm Ashwells are trying to make a killing out of souping up the moribund area about the railway station (and who can blame them?) and to sweeten friends in high places (is that too cynical?) were working with the County Council on a plan to turn an ugly but distinctive old flour silo and mill into a "Historical Resource and Cultural Centre" that would combine various local history records, archives, archaeological displays and the like. A serious public benefit, had it been carried out...

Never renowned for its speed, the local authority moved slowly on this (preliminary ideas for a heritage centre on various sites around the city have been floating around for about a decade, if not longer, and it would seem unfair to blame this on the heritage functions of the Council, who might well be expected to be a bit dusty, since there is cash sloshing around for project management and bringing across other expertise should the political will be there) and presumably the developer, fustrated by the failure of its initial (and grossly overambitious) planning application to the City Council (last year), realised that time is money and so this loss of time (and the recent deflations in the housing market) have led said developer to try to get more money by turning that spot into more offices it can let out. As the local councillor was quoted as saying (in the Cambridge Crier, March 21st, 2008), "It is very sad that the developer appears to have raised the stakes..." Very sad indeed.

There doesn't seem to be a formal statement about the breakdown of the plans beyond what was reported in the local rags. (The exuberant 2005 press release about the plans now makes for rather dismal reading.) And the Council's website has not yet caught up with this - the library and information service pages are still looking forward to a new Heritage Centre on Station Road. There is a certain irony that this information is found with local history information...

The future

In 2008 the Cambridgeshire Collection back into the Central Library on a temporary basis.

A new heritage resource centre is planned to open in or soon after 2009, combining the Cambridgeshire Collection and the County Record Office, Cambridge, on one site in Station Road, Cambridge. This is an exciting development, which will bring complementary collections together and improve and extend public facilities.

Further information about these plans will be made available in due course

It would be too tempting to paint a picture of a delightful and well-meaning but unsophisticated and un-savvy corner of the local authority relying far too much on the goodwill of developers so I leave that to the readers' imagination.

Full disclosure: I worked for several months on a tiny part of this project about two years ago, and am sad (though not entirely surprised) to see even my meagre contribution wasted.