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No 6367

Wednesday 3 December 2014

Vol cxlv No 11

pp. 186–223

Report of Discussion

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

A Discussion was held in the Senate-House. Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Graham Virgo was presiding, with the Registrary’s Deputy, the Senior Pro-Proctor, the Deputy Senior Proctor, and four other persons present.

The following Reports were discussed:

First-stage Report of the Council, dated 31 October 2014, on the North Range of buildings on the New Museums site (Reporter, 6363, 2014–15, p. 119).

Dr S. J. Cowley (Chair of the Faculty of Mathematics, and University Council):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I am a member of both the University Council and the Planning and Resources Committee (PRC). I did not sign this Report.

Over the past few years the University, under the leadership of the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Planning and Resources, has developed a Capital Plan. The University has, of course, always had capital projects, but a more coherent long-term plan was urged on us by, inter alios, one of our first external members of Council, Lord Simon. The current Capital Plan has at least £750m in the green zone, with more to come as plans for the move of Engineering to West Cambridge develop. There are ambitious plans for the redevelopment of the Cavendish Laboratories, a possible move of the Chemistry Laboratories to West Cambridge, and re-development of both the Old Press/Mill Lane and New Museums sites. All of this is desirable, indeed highly desirable. However, funds are limited, and we cannot always do everything we want; we have to be willing to identify priorities. Indeed, as well as building priorities, like the £150m for Biofacilities requiring Home Office licences, there are non-building priorities, e.g. equipment and other facilities, and might I suggest staff wages and pensions (and not just the wages and pensions of the 250 or so earning more than £100k per annum).

This Report concerns the North Range of buildings on the New Museums site (NMS). As someone who regularly lectures on the New Museums site, there is no question that the site needs redevelopment. Indeed, I have offered to swing the demolition ball at the Cockcroft lecture theatre (which is far from the ideal place to lecture first-year mathematicians). The question is whether the time is ripe to proceed with the North Range development; I am not convinced.

This redevelopment is related to Phase 2 of the UAS Strategic Estate Plan. This, as Paper 1537, was due to be considered at the meeting of the PRC on 26 March 2014. There was an outline paper and four Annexes. In particular, a total cash-flow projection was included as Annex C with a somewhat more detailed breakdown as Annex D. I was looking forward to discussing these Annexes because I had had difficulty making sense of some of the sums and assumptions. The headline was good:

'this analysis shows that in broad terms the series of moves will generate sufficient cost savings over 20 years to produce a net cash inflow of £6.6m',

although the qualification less so:

'the key assumption made in the cash-flow projection is that the Student Services Centre is a University strategic project in the green zone of the Capital Plan and is to be funded by the Capital Fund'.

The cost of the Student Services Centre as given in the current Report is £32.7m (i.e. £39.2m minus £6.5m for demolition, public realm, and infrastructure works that are necessary for the redevelopment of the NMS).

However, returning to my main point, Paper 1537 was not discussed because of the amount of business at the meeting on 26 March. Neither was it considered, as promised, at the meeting of 23 April, while the PRC meeting of 21 May was cancelled. The UAS Strategic Estate Plan was discussed at the meeting of 25 June, but the Annexes were not re-circulated (and I unfortunately failed to ask them to be so). However, my reading of the Annexes is that, even if you accept the calculations included there (and I am not convinced), the cost recovery from the rationalization of the buildings used by the UAS will make only a small dent in the required Capital Expenditure. Further, when the Student Services Centre was discussed at the PRC on 15 October, the Minutes record that:

'A detailed cost/benefit analysis for the Student Services Centre was not possible due to commercially-sensitive information in relation to the Old Press/Mill Lane site. The Committee were reminded that the redevelopment of the Old Press/Mill Lane site was not the only driver for developing the New Museums site. Raising the quality of the University’s estate was essential if the University was to maintain its status as a leading provider of higher education.'

I can understand the commercially-sensitive information not being released to the Regent House, but the Regent House also need to understand that the information is not being released to the elected members of the Council on the relevant committee. As such, in my judgement this project looks like a call on the University’s funds that is one step too far at the moment. I do not believe that the Student Services Centre is a sufficient priority, when compared to the other calls on the University funds I have outlined above. As to the argument regarding raising the quality of the University’s estate if the University is to maintain its status as a leading provider of higher education, that could be applied to many other projects, e.g. Biofacilities, Land Economy, Physics, Geography, Medicine, as well as Student Services. All have legitimate claims on the Capital Fund.

Yes, there is a need to vacate the Old Press/Mill Lane site at some point, but for a comprehensive redevelopment of that site it needs to be emptied. At the meeting of the PRC on 15 October, I asked whether the construction of the Student Services Centre would achieve this. As far as I can recall the answer was no (but the reply was not minuted). It may be that the proceeds from the Old Press/Mill Lane site will pay for the Student Services Centre, and that there may even be additional funds to spare for other priorities; but at the moment I, and other members of the Council, do not know. Further, suppose that the proceeds will not pay for the Student Services Centre, then is the University convinced that the priority for £30m or so, is a centrally located Student Services building, in an age when more and more administration is being done electronically and remotely, and when the building does not include accommodation for CUSU and the GU (and there is a proposal, the last I heard, that CUSU moves, at least temporally, to the Old Press/Mill Lane site)?

Yes, there has been much work on the Student Services Centre and the redevelopment of the NMS, yes, in a perfect world with unlimited resources it makes sense, but in the real world of austerity and make do, I think that this Report should be put on hold until there are, at least, firm plans for the full release of the Old Press/Mill Lane site, and the funding in place to make that possible. To me insufficient ducks are lined up, and surely one of the motivations for the Capital Plan was to ensure that they were. We should ensure that we have the correctly prioritized funds before embarking on the journey.

Report of the General Board, dated 5 November 2014, on the establishment or re-establishment of certain Professorships (Reporter, 6364, 2014–15, p. 140).

No remarks were made on this Report.