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Public access rights protected ‘forever’ on Shire Hall land

29 March 2022

Cambridgeshire County Council plans to voluntarily register part of the land at its former Shire Hall headquarters in Cambridge as a town or village green, councillors agreed today (Tuesday, March 29).

Members of the Strategy and Resources Committee heard that in 2019 three local residents, Claire Richards and Jocelynne Scutt (now a city councillor), who were at the time county councillors, and city councillor Katie Thornburrow, applied to have Castle Mound and the Shire Hall lawn designated as a town or village green. This was to protect the rights of access in perpetuity to local people, as the council planned to move its headquarters to Alconbury and lease the site to developers.

The Mound and a small part of the lawn are already covered by a Scheduled Ancient Monument (SAM) designation, and access to the remainder has been permitted there for more than 90 years. A right of way was granted by Suffolk County Council (to which an application by the Ramblers was delegated for decision) from Castle Street up The Mound to ensure public access to The Mound in perpetuity. This left the grassed area uncovered by any access in perpetuity for the public.

Suffolk County Council was due to determine the town green application as a neutral party but had been delayed by the Covid pandemic.

As the landowner, and following legal advice, the county council formally objected on the grounds that as the land was already designated a SAM it didn’t meet the requirements of a Town or Village Green and users of the lawn, and the Mound were not inhabitants of a defined ‘locality’.

The council has always been aware of the importance of the monument and the need to preserve public access. It was also conscious of the cost of a public inquiry into the matter and, as a pragmatic compromise, approached the applicants to see if they would be happy with a voluntary Town or Village Green application for the area not covered by the SAM.

Claire Richards, Jocelynne Scutt and Katie Thornburrow said: "We are delighted that our application has led to this historic outcome which, together with the Ramblers’ right of way to the top of Castle Mound, preserves public access in perpetuity to this ancient site for residents of Cambridge now and for the future. We appreciate the support of residents in backing our application so that together we have ensured protection of this heritage which Cambridge residents and visitors hold in such high regard."

“I am happy to say that this voluntary arrangement now makes access in perpetuity binding,” said Cllr Lucy Nethsingha, leader of Cambridgeshire County Council. “It gives protection to public access forever on the part of the ground which isn’t protected by Scheduled Ancient Monument designation and the public right of way.”

“I am pleased to see that the council is happy to recognise the value of the lawn space to the residents, not only of the surrounding area but of the whole city and beyond. The approach we have taken is collaborative and I hope that people will be able to enjoy this space going forward,” said Cllr Elisa Meschini, deputy leader of the county council.