Grafton sale underlines need for council leadership on our City Centre

Following yesterday’s news that the Grafton Centre has been put up for sale, city Opposition leader, Lib Dem Cllr Tim Bick, has renewed his call for the city council to take the lead in the way Cambridge city centre is re-shaped for the future. 

Cllr Bick, who also represents the city centre Market Ward on the council, said: 

“The decision by Legal & General to sell the Grafton Centre is just one more illustration of investors in the city centre taking a fundamentally different view about the future. Not only has the pandemic starved them of turnover and rents, but it has also accelerated the long-term trend to online shopping. Other examples are the many bankruptcies of retailers we have seen over the past year. 

“We all want the city centre to recover to the extent it can after all the lockdowns and the council is doing what it can to support this; but few people imagine we are going to be able simply to turn the clock back. 

“What is important is that the city does not succumb to purely ad hoc fixes from property owners and developers, all acting in isolation from each other. The people of Cambridge deserve a say over what their city centre looks like in the future. They could do that through the council sketching out what is in the interests of local people and developing a consensus which can guide private and public decision-makers. 

“Do we still want a place where paths cross for people from the wider area? If we don’t, we won’t get the scale of activities and services that cluster where lots of people converge. If the clustering isn’t driven so much by mainstream shopping, what should take its place: other forms of employment, leisure, culture – or perhaps more specialised shopping such as unique independent businesses? And how could the city’s housing shortage play into the equation? 

“Last February my call for the council to embrace this challenge was rejected by Labour councillors. But the need I had in mind then has not gone away and the prospective Grafton sale is another reminder that it won’t. The questions and the uncertainty only increase – and whatever the outcome, local people deserve some coherence rather than half a dozen different answers none of which sufficiently recognises the issue.”    

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