Key Issues

There are a number of key issues that are important to consider when looking at the options for redevelopment of these sites. The list below may not be exhaustive. We are interested to hear of any additional issues you believe may be important.

The Need

There are a number of reasons why the three sites need action taken:

 

  • 73% of their combined floorspace vacant and is therefore doing nothing for the town centre

  • Even if they were fully occupied the sites would still be under-utilised – they could provide approximately 25% more floor space than they currently do

  • There is no realistic prospect of finding a tenant or tenants to make full use of any of the premises in their current form (or to make any use at all of the former cinema building)

  • The sites’ Hobson’s Passage elevations and aspects of their Hobson Street elevations detract visually from the townscape of the city centre and Conservation Area

  • Parts of all three sites are in poor condition and will continue to deteriorate without change that improves their commercial appeal

  • The sites are doing nothing for the local community in their current form

  • Meaningful improvements to Hobson’s Passage are not possible without at least a degree of change to the built form on one or other of its sides (change on its southern side is the more likely prospect, given the topic of this consultation, and would have the most impact)

Financial Considerations

The sites’ current configurations and condition reduces their commercial interest and value. This limits the rent that the owners can generate from them and, in turn, the amount that they can afford to invest in them.

 

Any investment and changes which may be proposed for the sites need careful consideration to determine whether they will provide a suitable return. If the return they generate is not sufficient, any investment and change which were to occur would likely prove unsustainable.

 

An important aspect of any future proposals for the sites is therefore how their cost and the mix of uses and the amount and quality of floor space they provide affect the return they generate over time. Proposals which generate a positive return as well as addressing the numerous other considerations set out in this consultation are likely to provide realistic options. Proposals which don’t show a sufficient return or don’t address the relevant considerations are unlikely to be realised.

Heritage

Any proposals for the three sites will need to consider and address:

 

  • The Central Conservation Area and the role the sites play in this;

  • The positive contribution that the frontages of 16 – 17 and 18 – 19 Sidney Street make to the conservation area;

  • 21 Hobson Street, as a building of local interest; and

  • The negative impact of the rear of 16 – 17 Sidney Street on the conservation area.

The Future of City Centres and Traditional City Centre Uses

High streets were already suffering when the emerging COVID-19 pandemic caused the first shutdown of non-essential retail and hospitality in the UK in March 2020. “The Grimsey Review: An alternative future for the high street”, produced in 2013, (and its sequel) noted that consumer behaviour was changing, and that the economic situation was difficult for town centre businesses due to both high business rates and, more recently, the effects of Brexit. The Review drew three main conclusions:

 

  1. High streets needed to become multifunctional hubs;

  2. Government needed to take action to improve the prospects of high streets and town centres, including reviewing business rates;

  3. Local authorities needed to from partnerships, prepare visions and plans for their town centres and then monitor their performance.

 

Town and city centres across the UK may be affected differently as we emerge from the restrictions imposed by the Government on day to day life as a result by the pandemic. Many retailers and hospitality businesses have already been hit hard, and others may have even tougher times ahead.

 

Since the start of the pandemic there has been considerable debate and commentary on the future of our town and city centres. The COVID-19 Supplement to the Grimsey review, published in June 2020, made three recommendations:

 

  1. Shift control of our local centres back to local communities and leaders;

  2. See our high streets and city centres as being about more than just retail and to provide “health, education, culture, housing, leisure and arts and crafts” as well; and

  3. Design our centres for people, not cars, thereby making the public realm more attractive and accessible.

 

A recent report by KPMG entitled: “The future of towns and cities post COVID-19” (January 2021) suggests that:

 

  • as people travel less for work or to shop, town and city centres will need a broader range of offerings, including alternatives to past offerings to fill vacant space and to attract both companies and people to the area; and

  • Those that succeed will be likely to have a range of cultural assets as well as easy access to green space, which will serve to boost the quality of living in the area.

 

Other themes that have emerged from the wider commentary are:

 

  • An increasing desire to shop locally and support local businesses;

  • An increase in walking and cycling;

  • A greater emphasis on experiences and sustainable consumption;

  • The rise of high quality independent retailers and hospitality businesses;

  • The importance of the relevance of the retail and hospitality offer to its location and the local community;

  • The importance of employment premises (e.g. offices), and more specifically the people who work in them, to town and city centre economies;

  • New types of tenants with a very different offer may move into prime commercial properties if values fall and rents become more affordable.

 

It is clear that the recovery and evolution of town and city centres across the UK will vary. There are likely to be common themes but, equally, what works for one may not work for all. In any event, the local community is likely to have a significant part to play.

The Future of Cambridge City Centre

The KPMG report predicts a 34% loss in Cambridges retail offering as a result of the acceleration of the trend towards online retail brought about by the pandemic. It predicts that this will reduce local employment in Cambridge by 2.3%.

 

The study also suggests that Cambridge is an example of a city centre with a strong focus on culture and recreation but that it scores relatively weakly elsewhere. As a result it ranked 72nd out of the 110 town and city centres studied for its resilience post COVID-19. This suggests that Cambridge city centre may be relatively vulnerable and needs innovation and investment to maximise its prospects of recovery.