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Council poised to seek new commercial partner for historic site

20 November 2023

Cambridgeshire County Council is poised to begin work to find a new commercial partner in the redevelopment of its former headquarters in Cambridge City.

Next week’s Assets and Procurement Committee (Tuesday 28) will hear that work which began in late 2019 to finalise a 34 year lease agreement with previous preferred bidder Brookgate, was first reworked after the end of the pandemic in 2021, only to be further cast into doubt by the huge and unprecedented financial market changes caused by national and international events.

The committee will hear that despite a new schedule being set out and agreed in July this year, the board of development company Brookgate subsequently confirmed that altered market conditions meant they were unable to complete the deal. Members will be asked to approve moves to re-market the site from early next year with a deadline to complete with a new partner by the end of 2024.

Since news of the non-completion by Brookgate was received, Members will hear, officers have worked swiftly with expert legal and property advisors to make a detailed review of the six-acre site in a prime position in Cambridge City to provide them with a comprehensive update on all the options available. This concludes that the development of the site for office and hotel use remains the most valuable option for potential developers and local taxpayers – with a likely annual return in the region of £3 million each year to invest in frontline services for the next 50 years and £6 million to invest in Cambridgeshire’s infrastructure and assets.

The Shire Hall building and connected Octagon offices remained in use by the council during 2020/21 – including Covid compliant occupation to deliver essential services during the periods of lockdown, and into 2021/22 with its registration service still on site. Work is now complete on clearing the building and officers have managed to sell or donate much of the unwanted fixtures and fittings, returning income but also crucially reducing items needing to go to landfill. The decision to leave has delivered an annual cost saving of more than £850k per year since it was made. This continues to reduce while the carpark on the site provides a growing income to help offset costs, also supporting the City’s post Covid recovery with well-signed additional parking.

Members will hear how the cost of the legal work already undertaken on the scheme will allow the Council to move into further contract negotiations with a comprehensive suite of contract documents and a well-developed commercial and legal position.

Due to the historic importance of the site which has been a seat of local government in the area since Norman times - although the existing Shire Hall building was only built in 1932 - all proposals for the site will require full planning, Listed Building and Scheduled Ancient Monument consents, and ensure protection of the assets on site.

The necessary applications have also been submitted for the nomination of the lawn between the front of Shire Hall and the Mound to be given the legal protection as a ‘Town Green’, and the council has invested in new interpretation boards at the site and increased litter bins and maintenance to improve the visitor experience.

The Procurement and Assets Committee meets in public at 10am on Nov 28 at the Council’s New Shire Hall headquarters, but the meeting can also be viewed live on its YouTube channel.

You can view the Committee agenda and reports pack at Council and committee meetings - Cambridgeshire County Council > Meetings (