Skip to main contentCambridge University Reporter

No 6196

Wednesday 21 July 2010

Vol cxl No 37

pp. 1101–1188

Fly-sheets reprinted

The following fly-sheets, etc., are reprinted in accordance with the Council’s Notice on Discussions and Fly-sheets (Statutes and Ordinances, p. 112).

“Non Placet” Flysheet

Grace 4 of 19 May 2010. That all construction works for a lift into the Regent House Combination Room be removed and the building returned to its former state, and that the Council report, as soon as convenient, to the Regent House with proposals to secure reasonable access to the Combination Room and associated rooms for those unable to use the stairs.

We have been told that this ballot is about process and about democracy. In fact, it is about whether we should waste £352,000 in removing a lift.

In the midst of a public spending crisis, the authors of this Grace propose that the University should vote to burn precious resources by removing the only means of disabled access to the University Combination Room. Then, after further years of consultation and scrutiny, a Report would be brought to the University proposing that a lift be reinstalled, at great cost. The central authorities may have misjudged and mishandled this project, but the Grace represents vindictive point-scoring on a grand and expensive scale.

Regents who might vote Placet to this Grace, but who have not yet seen the lift, should take the trouble to do so, both to judge its aesthetic qualities, and perhaps also to observe colleagues in wheelchairs, or on crutches, using the room – the first time this has ever been possible.

The Council has said in a Notice (25 January 2010) that six locations were considered in the architects’ feasibility study, before the present location was chosen. It is the only location that actually offers direct access to the Combination Room – the Regent House, the cradle of our democracy, the most important room in Cambridge – to those who cannot use the stairs. A lift up to the adjacent East Room would break through a Georgian floor and would not have been approved by the planning authorities. A lift into the only other adjacent room, the Syndicate Room, could not provide access while the latter is in use for meetings. A stair-lift would not be an adequate alternative. The present lift pierces a 1930s concrete floor and is already there.

With self-government comes responsibility. To approve this Grace by voting for it, or by default through not voting at all, would be to score a deliberate, damaging and very public own goal. We urge you to vote Non Placet to this expensive, insensitive and self-indulgent proposal.

R. E. Ansorge

A. L. Greer

S. G. Oliver

S. Balasubramanian

Jochen Guck

R. Padman

H. D. Bhadeshia

N. R. P. Harris

B. A. J. Ponder

W. Brown

W. J. Hudson

A. M. Prentice

Jane Clarke

James Jackson

John Pyle

John Cooper

W. Jones

A. R. Fersht

John Davies

J. M. Klinowski

Catherine Rae

A. De Meyer

Michael Koehl

J. K. M. Sanders

Timothy K. Dickens

Richard Lambert

M. G. Sargeant

Athene Donald

P. B. Littlewood

W. O. Saxton

D. B. Dunger

G. G. Lonzarich

Oren A. Scherman

John Durrell

D. W. MacDonald

Lawrence W. Sherman

Philip Ford

D. J. Maskell

H. Sirringhaus

S. C. Franklin

M. Mroz

Patrick Sissons

D. J. Fray

Amrita Narlikar

Jean Thomas

Richard Friend

Jonathan Nitschke

David Wallace

A. R. Green

S. O’Rahilly

Giles S. H. Yeo

Grace 4 of 19 May 2010

That all construction works for a lift into the Regent House Combination Room be removed and the building returned to its former state, and that the Council report, as soon as convenient, to the Regent House with proposals to secure reasonable access to the Combination Room and associated rooms for those unable to use the stairs.

Members of the Regent House,

We, the initiators and supporters of the Grace upon which you are asked to vote, are now able at long last to address you and explain why we consider this Grace important and why we urge you to vote placet.

In early September of last year it became apparent – through the arrival of workmen – that a lift was being constructed in the unspoilt elegant early-fifteenth-century surroundings of the University Combination Room. The Combination Room is the ancient heart of the University, the original Regent House, where the governance and character of our university were forged. Many users of the room and others who know and love the Combination Room were shocked, and naturally asked what could be done to stop the desecration. (If you do not know the room you will find before and after photographs at:

From the beginning it was clear that the lift was being constructed in order to provide access to the Combination Room for the disabled. But this vote is not about access to the Combination Room for the disabled. Whatever the outcome of this vote, access to the Combination Room for those unable to use the stairs will be secured. If this vote is carried the Council will be obliged to Report to the Regent House on its plans to secure such access. And there are several alternative ways, equally convenient for those unable to use the stairs, by which access may be secured without despoiling the room. Everyone is sensitive to the need to make good decisions about disabled access, but that is no reason to support bad ones. It should be stressed that the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 does not require a lift to be constructed in this position. The Act only requires (s. 21) the making of adjustments that are reasonable in all the circumstances of the case to secure access for the disabled, leaving the University with a wide choice of methods whereby it complies with the Act.

The decision to build the lift, it turned out, had been nodded through the Council with scant consideration. No user of the room had been consulted, and neither had the Regent House itself. It seems to us almost certain that, had there been any serious attempt at consultation within the University, the decision would have been taken to build a lift in one of the other less-intrusive sites. But Regent House opinion, not for the first time, was considered irrelevant. It seems that the decision squeaks within the Statutes (which require a Grace of the Regent House to approve any substantial alteration to a building) on the grounds that the lift is an insubstantial alteration to the Combination Room. (It has certainly led to a substantial row!)

Private representations were made to the Old Schools to no avail. A Discussion on a topic of concern to the University was then called, at which it became clear that there was serious concern in the Regent House over the lift, but to no avail. (For the report of the Discussion see:

At this stage we hoped that the work might be stopped before significant money was expended and that the matter would be reconsidered with care. At least we thought the Council would publish a Report justifying the construction and submit a Grace seeking approval for the works. But nothing happened.

We had either to give up the struggle to prevent the despoiling of the Combination Room or use the remedy provided under the University’s Constitution: the fifty-member Grace. The Statutes allow a Grace to be initiated by any 50 members of the Regent House; and so it was that, just before Christmas last year, some 79 members of the Regent House initiated the present Grace and submitted it to the Council. This put the issue on the Agenda and at its meeting of the 18th January 2010 the Council considered for the first time what should be done about the lift. (Remember it had been clear in September that the issue was controversial.) The Council, it turned out, was divided on what to do, but it voted by a narrow margin for the work to continue and postponed consideration of when, if ever, the 50-member Grace would be put to the Regent House. As required by the Statutes, the Grace was referred to the Finance Committee to find out how much it would cost to demolish the lift (unsurprisingly the Finance Committee said quite a lot). Fortified by that information the Council, still divided, published a Report recommending (because demolition would be expensive and inconvenient) that the 50-member Grace be not submitted to the Regent House. In so doing the Council purported to act under a section of the Statutes designed for a completely different purpose.

This was a dangerous and unconstitutional decision. If the Council could control in its absolute discretion which Graces come before the Regent House, the Regent House would no longer be the Governing Body of the University. To their credit some members of the Council saw the point and dissented from the Report, but the majority, it seems, saw nothing untoward in acting as they did. But what they had done was to manufacture a constitutional crisis out of a dispute over a folly in the Combination Room!

Fortunately, the university’s constitution is robust and not lightly disregarded. The Report (to be found at: recommending that the Grace be not submitted had to be placed before the Regent House for Discussion. And at that Discussion the Council found itself under sustained attack for its unconstitutional action which was described as an “abuse” and the Report as “disgraceful”. No member of the Regent House (or the Council) spoke to defend the Council’s action, but several of the dissenting members of the Council spoke in support of submitting the Grace. (For the report of the Discussion see: Faced with this barrage of criticism (and, one suspects, fearing defeat on the Grace to approve its Report) the Council abandoned its Report and recommendation, and the decision was taken to submit the 50-member Grace. That is how it comes about the Regent House is now at last in a position to vote on whether it wishes the lift in the Combination Room to be demolished and replaced with a less offensive structure elsewhere.

Now, how should the Regent House vote? It is believed that, if the clock could be turned back, not even the Council would now defend the original decision to build the lift where it is. The decision may be technically valid, but clearly there should have been consultation, clearly consideration should have been given to whether a Grace should have been sought and clearly it would have been prudent to seek a Grace even if the lift was “insubstantial”. And no one still argues that, since the lift costs less than £1 million, it was a “minor work” and there was no need to trouble the Regent House with it (especially if they disagree). If this Grace had been submitted late last year as requested there would hardly be any argument that could be plausibly mounted in favour of a non-placet. Even those who are not offended by the aesthetics of the lift would surely recognise the flaws in the original decision.

The vote, however, is being taken six or seven months later than it should have been, and the Regent House is now faced with a fait accompli. The lift is complete. In a time of financial astringency some members of the Regent House may feel that, while the lift is an outrage, the position should be accepted in order to save money. Most members of the Regent House can probably think of several examples from their departments of eminently-worthwhile projects costing but a fraction of the cost of the lift, which did not proceed because of the shortage of funds. They may well feel that, notwithstanding the Council’s failings, the wider interests of the University call for substantial sums not to be spent on setting this error right.

We understand this point of view, but must make it quite clear that the responsibility for the current situation lies with the Old Schools and the Council. They delayed for so long before considering the concern over the lift and then, knowing that the matter would be taken to a vote of the Regent House, persisted in its construction. It is the sclerotic response of the Old Schools that has led to this state of affairs. They should not be rewarded in this vote for their failures in government. Instead, these sums should be seen as an investment in the good government of the University. If this Grace is carried it may be confidently anticipated that never again will Regent House opinion be treated with such disdain, or an important decision of this kind taken without consultation (and probably a Grace).

Moreover, we stress that the Grace has no time-limit specified in it, so it does not require the immediate demolition of the lift. Thus, the financial impact of demolition need not be immediate. Various interim solutions could be considered that would spread the cost over years. There would be no need for the lift to be demolished before an alternative had been provided. The cost must also be seen in perspective. An inappropriate structure has been built into a 600-year-old room of historical and architectural importance and great beauty. The room is not just for our generation, but for countless generations to come. We should not bequeath them a permanent reminder of a time when the University had an annual operating and capital budget of over a billion pounds yet was unwilling to rectify a mistake made in the course of its minor works programme. After all, the sum needed to rectify this error is only small fraction of the money spent by the University annually on new buildings and alterations to old ones.

These are the questions the Regent House must now weigh. We urge you to vote placet: to prevent the despoiling of the Combination Room, to resist the disdain implicit in the fait accompli and to improve the government of the University.

J. E. J. Altham

C. F. Forsyth

Michael Rice

J. H. Baker

Roger D. Greeves

David J. Riches

Franco Basso

Sophie Harrington

Jan Saxl

A. F. Blackwell

R. E. Horrox

D. L. Smith

Anita Bunyan

Peter Hutchinson

M. C. Smith

R. H. S. Carpenter

Ian James

R. J. Smith

D. J. Chivers

Frank H. King

R. J. Stibbs

Jean Chothia

E. S. Leedham-Green

J. T. Stock

T. W. Clyne

W. Y. Liang

N. K. Sugimura

Margaret Cone

D. J. McKitterick

Richard Taplin

A. J. Crisp

Paul Millett

M. J. Tilby

N. R. M. de Lange

H. Osborn

G. Titmus

P. J. Duffett-Smith

K. J. Patel

Kathleen M. Wheeler

C. P. Ellington

David Pratt

Renate Woudhuysen

Grace 4 of 19 May 2010

That all construction works for a lift into the Regent House Combination Room be removed and the building returned to its former state, and that the Council report, as soon as convenient, to the Regent House with proposals to secure reasonable access to the Combination Room and associated rooms for those unable to use the stairs.

Members of the Regent House,

There is little scope for disagreement that the initial decision concerning the installation of a lift in the Combination Room was taken in an inappropriate manner; the Council, in its Report of 24 March 2010, has conceded as much. Subsequent handling of the matter also gives rise to concern. The crucial question, however, is whether the way in which the decision was reached should lead members of the Regent House to approve this Grace with the result that, at some point, the recently-installed lift will have to be removed and alternative arrangements put in place.

It has been suggested that approval of this Grace would teach the Council the value of good governance, incentivising it to follow better decision-making procedures in the future. That argument is not without merit. However, the financial cost of taking such a step would be very substantial: the Finance Committee estimates that removing the existing installation and replacing it with alternative access arrangements would cost in excess of £600,000. It is our view that that cost would be disproportionate to any benefit that might accrue from making a point about the importance of following good decision-making practices.

The financial position of the higher education sector as a whole in the UK is, as is well known, precarious, and it would be foolish to think that this University is immune from the financial pressures under which all institutions now find, and will increasingly find, themselves. Against that background, approval of this Grace would be inappropriate and self-indulgent. The Council has already accepted, in its Report of 24 March, the need for a more consultative approach in relation to matters of this nature; spending several hundreds of thousands of pounds to ram the point home would be unnecessary and irresponsible.

We urge you to vote non-placet.

C. Barnard

Christine Gray

C. J. Padfield

J. S. Bell

P. N. Hartle

Ian G. Roberts

L. A. F. Bently

Jane Heal

J. M. Scherpe

B. Cheffins

D. J. Ibbetson

R. M. Smith

Mark Elliott

Sriya Iyer

Liba Taub

David Feldman

N. G. Jones

Jean Thomas

Eilis Ferran

J. M. Maciejowski

David Wills

D. M. Fox

D. J. Maskell


Ballot on Grace 4 (Reporter 2010, p. 882)

The ballot calls for the removal of the lift in the University Combination Room and restoration of the building to its former state. While it is true that this whole sorry affair has been badly mishandled and that the concerns of members of the Regent House were at first ignored and then rejected out of hand, Council has finally seen the error it its ways, apologized and permitted the ballot to proceed. The Regent House has made its point and it is now time to draw this matter to a close. To force the University to spend a large amount of money on removing a lift that is desperately needed would be an act of vindictive folly that would serve no purpose but to make the University a laughing stock. We can ill afford such gestures at a time of crisis. Please vote non placet.

Kate Bennison

D. W. Holton

M. J. Sewell

R. J. Bowring

G. Jarvis

Roel Sterckx

N. J. A. Downer

M. J. Kelly

Y. Suleiman

Peter K. Fox

H. U. Laurie

S. E. Thomas

R. P. Gordon

Robert Lethbridge

R. Thompson

Keith Grainge

J. M. R. Matheson

Hans van de Ven

T. R. Hesketh

M. Morris

D. W. E. W. Willis

Flysheet on Grace 4 of 19 May 2010

Construction of a lift in the Old Schools

The construction of the lift in the Regent House was motivated by the best of intentions, namely the need to provide disabled access to the Combination Room and other areas on the first floor of the Old Schools. It was for this reason that the Resource Management Committee agreed in July 2008 “that, subject to City Council Planning Department approval, the project to install a lift should proceed”.

With hindsight, in addition to statutory consultation with English Heritage and seeking approval from the City Council Planning Department, the permission of the Regent House should also have been sought for this ‘minor work’.

We believe that the central bodies have now recognized the inadequacy of the procedures previously in place for determining under what circumstances approval by Grace should be required. This change of heart is reflected by the fact that the Minor Works Review Group now routinely determines whether an alteration requires approval by Grace.

We are also of the opinion that it would have helped if digging had stopped earlier, both physically and metaphorically. In particular, the failure of the Council to appreciate that its authorization of a 50-member Grace should be withheld only on very rare occasions was, again with hindsight, a mistake.1 We note with approval that the Council therefore agreed at its meeting of 17 May 2010 to receive a draft in due course amending Statute A, VIII, 9(a) to indicate that the Council would in future only ‘exceptionally’ put forward a Report recommending that an initiated Grace should not be proceeded with.

We appreciate that, particularly for those who value symmetry, the installation of the lift detracts from the appearance of the Combination Room; in another life a different solution for disabled access might have been found. However, in this life the University is facing severe financial difficulties. The government talks of ‘difficult decisions’ on pay and pensions, and of ‘painful’ or ‘savage’ cuts ahead. In the current financial circumstances we do not believe that it would be wise to undo what has been done (at an approximate replacement cost of £350,000), and in fairness, to acknowledge that there are members of the Regent House who do not object to the position of the lift as vociferously as others. There will be far more important calls on University funds in the coming years. In due course there may be finance available for the University to rethink the changes to the Combination Room, but this is not the right time to do so. We therefore request members of the Regent House to vote Non Placet to Grace 4.

W. Allison

K. Glover

M. Lucas-Smith

R. Asher

J. R. Gog

J. McLarty

N. Bampos

David Good

Jerome Neufeld

Richard Barnes

D. J. Goode

R. Padman

Colm-cille Caulfield

Peter Haynes

J. Papaloizou

H. A. Chase

Florian Hollfelder

R. J. Partington

P. A. Chirico

Theodore Hong

Nigel Peake

Stephen J. Cowley

A. Hopper

J. Rallison

Stuart Dalziel

James Jackson

Martin Rees

A. De Meyer

J. Keeler

K. A. Seffen

Athene Donald

T. W. Körner

Rob Wallach

R. J. Dowling

M. Leggatt

Joan M. Whitehead

J. Ellis

J. R. Lister



  • 1See the Third Report of the Statutes and Ordinances Revision Syndicate, Reporter, 1992–1993, p.773.

Fly-sheet on Grace 4 of 19 May 2010 (Reporter, p. 882)

That all construction works for a lift into the Regent House Combination Room be removed and the building returned to its former state, and that the Council report, as soon as convenient, to the Regent House with proposals to secure reasonable access to the Combination Room and associated rooms for those unable to use the stairs.

The Regent House is finally being given the opportunity to decide on the matter of how the University should go about securing disabled access to the Vice Chancellor’s office and other rooms in the vicinity, an opportunity it has had to beg for, when it should be its by right. Unsurprisingly, among its members are a large number who object to the desecration of the historic University Combination Room – the space set aside for the enjoyment of members of the Regent House – in this cause. However, of far greater note is the consistent misbehaviour of the University Council throughout its handling of this matter. The Council will undoubtedly attempt to obscure the issue with irrelevancies, as it does so well, but it remains simply this: does the Regent House govern this University, or does the Council have carte blanche to act as it pleases, unchecked?

The Regent House is yet to receive an appropriately chastened apology from the Council for its disgraceful and unconstitutional behaviour to date in this matter, and should this Grace not be passed, it shall wait in vain. Meanwhile, the Combination Room lift stands redolent in the stink of the Council’s misconduct as proud testament to its casual disregard for the authority of the Regent House and the procedures of government of this University. The Council persists in its arrogant viewing of the entire matter as a nuisance and an inconvenience, rather than a serious and legitimate challenge to its abuses, and considers merely that “the level of interest is such that it would be appropriate for the Grace now to be voted upon”, although presumably in the view of the 25-member Council, the level of interest signified by the 79 signatories of the Grace could rightly suffer ignorance before. How many members of the Regent House does the Council believe are required to challenge its misguided decisions? The Statutes are clear that the number is 50. This Council must be brought sharply to heel lest the creeping insidiousness of its erosion of our ancient customs devours all that distinguishes this University.

Addressing the practical matters:

Cost: The cost of the minor remedial works required to undo the Council’s hasty vandalism is insignificant, unworthy of the barest consideration by the Regent House. For the Council to suggest otherwise at this stage is two-faced.

Practicability: Thankfully, as required when desecrating an historic building, consideration has been given to the reversibility of the works. It is therefore eminently feasible for the University Combination Room to be returned to its former state (and, one can only hope, function).

Aesthetics: If, like the members of the Council, individual members of the Regent House lack the aesthetic sensibility to make a judgment on the appropriateness of the installation to its surroundings, they can seek advice (as a self-indulgent Council declined to do) from more pre-eminent sources. Private Eye reported publicly (issue 1256, p. 14) in regard to this installation that ‘the bureaucratic mind can do damage in even the most august and beautiful of places’, describing the works as a ‘mutilation of a venerable historic building’ and the finished article as a ‘wretched thing’. Of course, no plans were ever presented to the Regent House to allow this judgment to be made by anyone of any competence prior to the unfortunate completion of the works, or to enable any discussion upon it. The assessment of the plans by the City Conservation Officer, however, noted that it constituted an ‘intrusion into what is a very fine … space’, and was ‘extremely unfortunate’.

Access: The proposed Grace includes provision for the selection of an alternative, less offensive, site for the provision of such access to The Old Schools as may be required. More appropriate venues and smaller scale installations appear readily available, and a little consideration will no doubt yield a solution agreeable to all, arrived at in the correct manner.

To curb the Council’s escalating disregard for the processes of government in this University and to firmly condemn its megalomaniacal manoeuvrings, it is imperative that a resounding placet be given to this Grace. Restore the primacy of the Regent House. Reject the Council’s bid to assume authority, both directly (through attempting to defy this Grace) and through deceit (by completion of the project prior to hearing out the objection). If it is not forced to think twice before ever again acting so rashly and with so little forethought, then who is to say how important the issue it blunders next time may be?

Simon Conway Morris

P. T. Johnstone

Stephen J. Thompson

A. J. B. Galy

P. A. Linehan

R. P. Tombs

Sophie Harrington

I. N. McCave

Stuart Wimbush

H. L. A. Johnston



Grace 4 of 19 May 2010

It is time for the University to put this unfortunate episode behind it and the best way to do this is to approve the Grace (‘placet’).

The non-placet flysheets contain two arguments, that the cost of implementing the Grace is unacceptable ‘in the midst of a public spending crisis’ and that the location of the lift is the best of six considered.

1. Everyone is concerned about the financial future, but the Grace does not set a time limit for the removal of the lift. The decision to remove it can lie on the table until the second part of the Grace has been implemented requiring the Council to Report with fresh proposals. When the Regent House has considered these, and their associated costs in the light of the contemporary financial situation, it will be free to reverse its decision if it so wishes. As one of the flysheets remarks ‘In due course there may be finance available for the University to rethink the changes to the Combination Room’.

2. In the matter of location, the Council has never commented on the alternatives mentioned in the first Discussion that seem so obvious, in particular a lift in the stairwell of the SE staircase that would serve the different levels of the Council Room (for the Dome Room) and the East Room (for the Combination Room) as well as the second floor offices of the Finance Committee. Nor is it clear why ‘A stair-lift would not be an adequate alternative’.

By contrast, to reject the Grace (‘non-placet’) would be to leave a large number of people (even if not a majority) who care deeply about the University’s heritage feeling that their timely warnings had been unfairly handled and that an unreasonable delay in the vote had prejudiced the result. A hollow victory with the disputed lift as a perpetual reminder.

Please vote placet.

David Abulafia

C. F. Forsyth

W. Y. Liang

J. E. J. Altham

Peter Hutchinson

David J. Riches

Paul Binski

Frank H. King

M. C. Smith

A. J. Counter

E. S. Leedham-Green

Noël Sugimura