Well, there’s your problem

Initially planned by Richard Rogers, CB1 was to be a world-class arrival point, with park, piazza, heritage centre and affordable homes. Instead, it’s ‘a future slum’ plagued by antisocial behaviour and sex-trafficking

So what did go wrong?

It is hard to believe how this handsome city’s flagship scheme – masterminded by one of the country’s most feted architects and just a stone’s throw from the Stirling prize-winning Accordia housing development, could have gone quite so wrong. The answers can be found in its chequered history. The project began life in 2004, when local housebuilder Ashwell Property Group appointed the Richard Rogers Partnership to develop an outline plan for a new “business and cultural centre” on a 10-hectare site around the station.

Partly it’s using Richard Rogers and partly it’s trying to plan so much of a city.

Cambridge, I’m told, has a library or two and I would say it’s odds on that at least one of them has some Jane Jacobs in it.

20 thoughts on “Well, there’s your problem”

  1. The main suck is everything is surrounded with a maze of temporary fencing that it is impossible to find your way through. Complaining about Pret and Ibis? At least there is now somewhere to eat and sleep, even if it isn’t a homely B&B and a west London artisan bakery. The Ibis even has some drinkable local craft beers.

  2. A huge number of the properties are available as short-term holiday lets for a week at a time, so they’ve been targeted by the sex trade.

    That’s hardly Richard Rogers’ fault, is it?

  3. By “sex trafficking” I assume they mean prostitution, not Vietnamese nail bar girls shipped around in crates.

  4. “As the only open space provided for the joint use of the 1,000 student apartments and 350 homes – many occupied by young families – it became a contested spot…”

    High-density housing is not the answer unless it’s occupied mainly by high-income professionals.

    As ever it’s not the development at fault, it’s the people who live in it.

  5. Bloke in Wiltshire


    We, the beknighted people of Cambridge thought we were going to get some marvellous to look at starchitect project with lots of unique organic sourdough bakery and instead we got the sort of apartment buildings and chain cafes you get in ghastly places like Reading and Northampton.

    But we can’t say that, so instead we’ll dig up anything bad that we can from a slightly dysfunctional park (as if people in Cambridge can’t get on a bus to a park) and a few escorts using AirBnB to get cheap weekly rentals (who else is going to use weekly holiday apartments outside of peak season?).

  6. As the only open space provided for the joint use of the 1,000 student apartments and 350 homes – many occupied by young families

    A thousand student apartments and other “affordable housing”…hmm…I wonder what could possibly cause anti-social behaviour…? We need a team of expert sociologists on the scene, immediately.

  7. One problem is that a lot of the “student accommodation” recently built in Cambridge isn’t for undergrads at Cambridge (or even Anglia Ruskin), but language school students.

    This translates as mid-teens with parents rich enough to get rid of them for a few weeks. They promptly do what any teenager away from their parents, with a bit of cash in their pockets, and little supervision do. They’re also not here all the year, hence the short term lets, some of which become pop-up brothels.

    The reason so much development has been student accommodation is partly economic pressure, but mainly the fact that the developers don’t have to make section 106 payments to the council. This makes a major difference to the costing of a project.

  8. instead we got the sort of apartment buildings and chain cafes you get in ghastly places like Oxford.

    Oh I don’t know, Northampton has a few nice bits but most of its fairly poor. Some of the bits from 70s and 80s are truly grim.

  9. Bloke in Wiltshire


    “Oh I don’t know, Northampton has a few nice bits but most of its fairly poor. Some of the bits from 70s and 80s are truly grim.”

    I wouldn’t describe it as poor. It’s got a low unemployment rate. Lots of engineering work and services companies. And Blackbird Leys in Oxford is probably a worse place to live than the Eastern district of Northampton.

    The problem with the perception of many modern towns is people judge them on their dull, functional architecture. Swindon, Northampton and Milton Keynes look like shit, but they’re very liveable places. Cheap rents, high employment, low crime, lots of leisure facilties.

  10. Reading through the article and linked sources, I can’t actually find any mention of crimes other than brothel-keeping. What is the nature of the anti-social behaviour? Are Arthur’s language students buying cans of spray paint and redecorating local cars? Are they buying cheap cans of booze and drinking it on the park bench?

    If the problem is just people paying for sex, perhaps brothels should just be legalised and regulated.

  11. “partly it’s using Richard Rogers and partly it’s trying to plan so much of a city”

    I suggest it’s neither. Rogers left the project very early days, and planning can work – a majority of our villages and small towns were planned and before anybody says ‘totally different, much smaller’ in their day they were thought of as very heavy urbanisation.

    The problem, I’d venture, is the running of these places. The councils etc insist on running them because they want to keep all the goodies from doing so – doesn’t matter with they run it shit or gold – and they have the imagination of a rancid dead rat. They just have to pretend to listen to a residents’ association or even ignore it. Grenfell tower anyone?

    What we should do is look at how these planned developments thrived (well, some bolloxed but that’s the game). Well, they ran themselves – local courts, managing the commons etc. and the local bigwig couldn’t just come in and boss all around. The locals had a lot of power and used it for the best (broad brush here, nothing’s perfect)

    So put the running of these estates into the residents’ hands, with the local authority having an associative role but no final say. Even proper local courts (subject to all laws of the country of course) but that might be a sell too far.

    Not going back to the middle ages but rhyming with it.

    Bet some c*nt couldn’t encase your home in inflammable plastic cladding with this governance.

  12. I live in Cambridge and I don’t remember thinking the station was bad at all last time I was there. It used to be crap with no facilities at all, and no free spaces to lock your bike up, and the car park was like something on an industrial estate. I reckon the article author is just whinging cos it doesn’t all look like Kings College chapel. I just want a place to park, pick up a sarnie, and get on the train!

  13. O/T, but it’s possible that being Green isn’t good for your health after all:

    “Just three months ago, it was reported that a government delay in reviewing fire safety regulations for tower blocks – one of the recommendations made after the Larkanal House inquest – could lead to future tragedies. At that time, fire safety expert Sam Webb was reported as saying that there is a “conflict” between fire safety and the materials used to make buildings more energy efficient (“The materials used are not fire-resistant and in some cases they’re flammable.”) We know that the 1970s-built Grenfell Tower had recently been refurbished with modern materials, and that questions have been raised by people who escaped the building about whether the new cladding might have ignited and spread the fire: one man on LBC Radio this morning said that “the cladding went up like a matchstick”. “

  14. “this handsome city”: but it isn’t a handsome city. It’s a little market town with some beautiful buildings in it, and ever-expanding suburbs. That isn’t the same thing.

    As someone said a few years ago, Cambridge is being treated as if England needs another Leicester.

  15. I have a second home in central Cambridge, beside the Botanic Gardens. The CB1 development is rather banal, but hardly a disaster. The conservation lobby seems to have become quite pompous about it, yet much of what it replaced was fairly squalid. The worst thing about Cambridge is the arrogance of the cyclists…

  16. JuliaM,

    I think you’re missing the point. The real question concerning the Grenfell Tower tragedy is: does the ethnicity of the victims indicate what a wonderfully diverse city London is? I’m sure Commissioner Dick by name dick by nature will give us an update soon.

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