High street failures prompt call for city centre rethink

The future of Cambridge city centre needs leadership, according to Cllr Tim Bick former council leader and Liberal Democrat councillor representing the city centre. In an initiative he is taking to this week’s council meeting, Cllr Bick is calling for a re-imagining of the city centre, prompted by recent high street failures and changes in shopping patterns.

Cllr Bick points to recent high street bankruptcies as not only representing the impact of the pandemic, but also an acceleration of a longer term trend towards online shopping. He believes this makes it timely for a new look at what the city wants from its centre and he is proposing that the city council provides a lead, ensuring the public interest is to the fore, and bringing together others who can make a positive difference. 

Cllr Bick said: “The city centre in Cambridge is a particularly complex entity with many intertwined drivers. It makes a big social and economic contribution to the whole city and surrounding area. At worst, current trends could harm that. But if we try to build a consensus on the future, we stand a better chance of turning a threat into an opportunity to shape change in a positive way. My proposal is about more than just helping the city centre to bounce back after the lockdowns, important though that is: it’s about feeling our way to the new realities after that.  

"Improving the balance between the city centre's roles as focal point and amenity for local people, academic centre and visitor attraction, is something many have spoken about in recent years. There are long held hopes for unique independent businesses to thrive more strongly here than they have - and this could make even more sense as the chains rebalance to online shopping. Is there demand for flexible office space in the expectation that working remotely from employers’ premises may be here to stay? Should recreation and culture form more of the reason people make the centre a destination, if volume retail declines?  This really ought to be the time to examine these propositions and others.

“I think we need to be open for change, but taking charge of it collectively seems to me much more likely to help us maintain the type of special destination of interest and vitality that will work for for us.”  

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