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No 6474

Wednesday 19 July 2017

Vol cxlvii No 40

pp. 757–768

Report of Discussion: Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

A Discussion was held in the Senate-House. Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Simon Franklin was presiding, with the Registrary’s deputy, the Deputy Junior Proctor, the Senior Pro-Proctor, and seven other persons present.

The following Reports were discussed:

First-stage Report of the Council, dated 26 June 2017, on the alteration and refurbishment of two buildings on the Old Addenbrooke’s site (Reporter, 6471, 2016–17, p. 765)

No remarks were made on this Report.

First-stage Report of the Council, dated 26 June 2017, on the construction of a new Shared Facilities Hub building in West Cambridge (Reporter, 6471, 2016–17, p. 765)

Professor R. J. Anderson (University Council, Computer Laboratory, and Churchill College):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I am a member of Council, and did not sign this Report. I am also a member of the Planning and Resources Committee (PRC), the Council of the School of Technology, and the Faculty of Computer Science and Technology. I make these remarks in a personal capacity.

I have four concerns: catering, parking, value for money, and governance.

The root cause of the problem appears to be governance – that West Cambridge is under the Board for the West and North West Cambridge Estates. West Cambridge’s inclusion in the troubled North West Cambridge project is a legacy of the empire-building by that ill-fated enterprise. It is time that West Cambridge was released from its deathly grasp.

The West Cambridge Masterplan must be developed by the Departments concerned, not by an organization that the University off-shored to avoid accountability and whose board members are now drawn from the building trade rather than from the University community. Indeed I have learned only today that the West Cambridge Site Development Board, which was supposed to safeguard academic interests, had its last meeting last month. Apparently there will be some kind of academic consultative committee that the Board can speak to if it feels so inclined.

So who is actually behind this project? The building design appears to have been driven by a ‘representative user group’ chaired by the University’s Catering Advisor and also including the Librarian from Engineering. The group has no representation from the Cavendish Laboratory, the Computer Laboratory, or the Veterinary School. Perhaps we should not be surprised that it is going to house a large engineering library, a large café, and a central catering facility.

As it happens, the issue that most exercises our students is catering. The West Cambridge site already has two sandwich outlets run by the Catering Service; students complain that the sandwiches available downtown, from commercial outlets, are both cheaper and tastier. They would like to see competition in West Cambridge too.

When the Old Schools consulted on this project, colleagues suggested a variety of food outlets. They have been ignored, just as when we wanted to put catering at the Computer Lab out to tender 18 years ago. I will not support this project unless it provides for at least three competing food vendors.

Next, people have to get to work, and most will cycle or drive. Others will talk about the shortage of cycle rack spaces, and the inappropriate routing of cycle paths – an issue that has been mismanaged in North West Cambridge too. So let me mention parking. Since work started on the civil engineering building, the car park at the Computer Lab is often full; if I come in after the rush hour I may have to park outside Materials Science and walk a quarter mile back to my lab. The Masterplan promises us a multi-storey car park in due course but I see no move on the PRC towards making that a reality. Given Cambridge house prices and University salaries, many of our new faculty hires and postdocs will live out of town and commute. It is not sufficient for the Report to give the bland assurance that ‘Site-wide car parking will be developed in accordance with the West Cambridge Site Masterplan’. Each new building in West Cambridge should have its own provision or else money must be set aside to build the needed capacity.

My final issue is value for money. Regents will recall that I investigated for the Council how our North West Cambridge project ran £80m over budget, and reported to this House in November 2015. We have since replaced several senior people and started to wrestle with building costs. Why is it that Cambridge University seems to be taken for a sucker by the building trade? This new building is half the size of the Computer Laboratory yet costs twice as much money, a mere 18 years on. We have also ended up spending money on a design with which many people are unhappy, and having the Discussion only now. In future we need to have the policy debate before we start throwing money at planners, architects, and builders. Perhaps we need to dispense with architects altogether and go for design-and-build contracts, as they’re usually cheaper.

In conclusion, we are building the wrong building, and for the wrong reasons. I invite my Council colleagues to remove West Cambridge from the Board’s dead hand, reconstitute a representative body to oversee the West Cambridge site, consult properly, and come back with a new plan that meets the needs of academic departments, staff, and students.

Dr D. R. Thomas (Computer Laboratory, Peterhouse, and the West Cambridge Active Travel group):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the Shared Facilities Hub is much anticipated and has the potential to finally deliver on promised improvements to the West Cambridge site that have been sought by site users for many years. It could have a transformative impact on the site and build a real community there. The proposals for an independently operated café/bar/pub that is open into the evening and an independently operated shop, in addition to the main catering facility, are particularly welcome. However, there are substantial problems with the present plans. I will focus on problems with transport and human architecture.

Presently the plans call for the arterial cycle route for the West Cambridge site to run from Clerk Maxwell Road, through the middle of the site and between the site’s main catering facility (the Shared Facilities Hub) and its outside seating. This is a change from the Site Masterplan and will cause substantial conflict between cyclists and pedestrians. No pedestrians want to dodge 15 mph cycles while carrying their lunch to the table; no cyclists want to dodge pedestrians. Instead a separate dedicated cycle path running along the north of JJ Thomson Gardens would avoid all this conflict. At the Hauser Forum designers mixed a major cycle route with a pedestrianized plaza, and then, when this caused conflict, tried to ban cyclists from using the best link from the Coton Path to JJ Thomson Avenue. Let us not repeat this mistake.

The plans call for 280 cycle parking spaces and for the building to have a capacity for 900 people. They also call for some of the cycle parking to be double stacking. Both of these are concerning as double stacking cycle parking can be discriminatory and having over one third of building users arrive by cycle is not implausible. Space and funding for additional cycle parking should be pre-allocated and pre-approved in case the planned parking proves insufficient. The cycle parking should also be covered by CCTV to help prevent the theft of cycles and cycle components (including brake cables) that have plagued other parts of the West Cambridge site.

If the Shared Facilities Hub is to be a success then the human architecture also needs to be planned before construction is completed. To build a community it should be overseen by the community, including both site residents and staff. To be successful the Shared Facilities Hub must be welcoming and rooms must be easy to book. There have been failures in the management of existing facilities on the site. Units for shops have been constructed in the past and then not let out, apparently because the rent charged by the University was too high. The café at the new Sports Centre stands derelict as the rent charged by the University made it unviable. These mistakes should not be repeated and the community management of the Shared Facilities Hub should be able to set rents that are attractive to tenants so that we do not end up with another derelict facility.

The Shared Facilities Hub is desperately needed but there are substantial problems with the current plans including poor transport planning and the lack of a community engagement plan that may mean that it fails to deliver. Better consultation might help avoid problems; please consult with members of the community who have already indicated their interest by joining together in the West Cambridge Active Travel group.

Dr M. R. Danish (Computer Laboratory and West Cambridge Active Travel group):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I am a Research Associate at the Computer Laboratory in the William Gates Building across the street from the proposed site of the Shared Facilities Hub. The Shared Facilities Hub could be a great addition to the West Cambridge site, offering some much needed amenities to that bare campus.

I will jump straight into my major concern with its operation: the University has signed exclusive agreements with dining providers in the past that make it nearly impossible for us to have diversity or variety in dining options on the West Cambridge site. The hub has promised some independent operators, but I fear that this will all fall apart so long as the University continues to sign monopolistic contracts for dining services.

What makes the city centre attractive is the variety and diversity of people and correspondingly the shops and market stalls that are available. It is very difficult to bring that kind of diversity into a sterile environment. It takes time, patience, a willingness to tolerate failure, and an openness to new ideas. This is usually accomplished by having a district composed of many different people, many different uses, many different owners, and a strong public realm with streets designed at human scale. We don’t have most of those advantages on the West Cambridge site so we will have to do our best without them, or to provide them.

On that cue, I would like to touch upon some of the aspects of the public realm being designed for this site. The outline planning application 16/1134/OUT calls the space in front of the Shared Facilities Hub a segment of ‘The Green’, which is a corridor that prioritizes walking and cycling in a verdant environment through the centre of the West Cambridge site. The design guidelines contain some quotes that I would like to read:

‘An uninterrupted cycle/pedestrian route must be provided between Clerk Maxwell Road and High Cross. This route forms part of the continuous pedestrian/cycle connection through The Green.’

‘Design [of the Green] must accommodate the main pedestrian path and cycle route.’

‘The Green, being a space where multiple routes converge, must be carefully designed to ensure that routes and desire lines are maintained and conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians are minimised.’

These are all sensible statements, and I have some printouts of these quotes from the planning application, in case you would like to see them, and the wonderful renderings that they have made.1 Other than the odd sharp corner at the bend in the path, it is quite clear where the cycle route is.

I went to the poster session about the Shared Facilities Hub last week. I looked at the renderings of the Shared Facilities Hub on the posters and the section of The Green that is adjacent to it. I cannot find any trace or evidence that there is an uninterrupted walking or cycling route in these new renderings. It has simply disappeared.

The people, the staff, the students, who will need to use this walking and cycling route aren’t going to disappear. It will just be a disorganized mess that suits nobody. This is our opportunity to fix the problem before it strikes.

The trouble is that we have learned the hard way that it is not enough to be satisfied with pretty statements in planning applications. The details must be checked, and monitored.

We know this from recent history. As my colleague outlined with the Hauser Forum, which was constructed with a similar type of pedestrianized plaza, one connecting the busy Coton Path with JJ Thomson Avenue. Naturally, this is a very busy walking and cycling route between the city centre and West Cambridge, and it was forced to go into a narrow section between two buildings by the architects who designed it. One day, without any consultation, the University decided to put up ‘Cyclists Dismount’ signs. Of course they were completely ignored by everyone because they made no sense. Why would you put ‘Cyclists Dismount’ signs on the major cycling route from the city centre to West Cambridge? My friend and former colleague Ollie Chick led the campaign to have them removed, which happened about a year ago.

But this whole drama could have been avoided with a proper design up-front. It should have been obvious that this would be a very busy cycling route and that it needed proper provision with a separated and attractive pathway for cycling, rather than a ‘shared-use muddle’. It seems that we are headed for another ‘shared-use muddle’ with the Shared Facilities Hub, and years of unnecessary conflict, if we don’t act now.

Another example is the Ridgeway, which was supposed to be a premier cycling route for North West Cambridge. And yet, now that it has been constructed, we can see that it has several completely avoidable flaws. For example, the pathway loses priority to a minor car park; there is loose gravel on its surface; and at the Storey’s Way end is a set of strange chicanes and gates that will clearly cause problems for novice riders, or for people using family-sized cycles, trailers, or for people with disabilities. I have brought a photo of it with me.1 There is no sensible reason for this to have been built this way, and it would not have happened if the University truly respected cycling as a mode of transportation, rather than considering it a nuisance that they grudgingly accommodate.

I have learned that the chicanes were not part of the original planning application, which instead had a sensible bollard design to protect the path from incursion by motor vehicles. The chicanes that we see today were tucked into last minute changes buried in a pile of documents presented to a harried Joint Development Control Committee. And even so, councillors at the time noticed it and objected to it, but their objections were overruled.

We shouldn’t have to spend all our free time digging through planning applications, attending every meeting, and following every committee hearing to ensure that the University builds decent infrastructure for people walking and cycling.

It should be obvious that the University of Cambridge would be providing world-class cycling provision on all of their sites. And yet, for some reason, it is a constant struggle to get the University to recognize and respect cycling as a legitimate and critically important mode of transportation when the shovels go in the ground. I would like to know why this is happening, and what we can do to fix this, so that all of the great plans going forward will be able to live up to their true potential, enabled by high-quality sustainable transportation for our community.

You may find this text and its accompanying images on the West Cambridge Active Travel wiki at under the Shared Facilities Hub page.

We encourage anyone at the University who is interested in better walking, cycling, and public transport to get in touch with us at West Cambridge Active Travel, either via the wiki or emailing one of us.


Mr G. E. T. Emerson (Computer Laboratory and Trinity College):

I work on the West Cambridge site, and I want the site to be further developed. I want to support this proposal, but I can’t support it the way that it currently stands.

What’s not clear to me is: Who is this building being built for? And what needs is the building supposed to address? The website for the Shared Facilities Hub says that it will provide teaching spaces, study spaces, and meeting rooms – but the website doesn’t say which departments, if any, actually have a need for such spaces. At best, there needs to be clearer communication about what needs the building is supposed to address. At worst, it’s being built without clear needs in mind.

Perhaps I could have asked these questions myself at the recent public consultation about the plans. However, I never received any information about the public consultation until after it had already happened. What is the point of a public consultation if it’s not advertised to the public?

Now, I can’t speak about whether some departments need more teaching spaces, or whether some people need more ‘contemplation spaces’ (whatever that’s supposed to mean), but I will speak about one topic, and that is food.

At the moment, there are very few options to buy lunch on the West Cambridge site, there are no pubs or restaurants open in the evenings, and there are no supermarkets or corner shops. The website for the Shared Facilities Hub acknowledges this, and says, I quote, ‘people would welcome the opportunity to take guests for lunch or dinner on site. The new Shared Facilities Hub is seeking to fill this gap.’

Now, I am happy to see any movement at all on this front. However, the current plans are lacking. Firstly, the proposed cafeteria is not an addition at all, because the Cavendish lab already has a cafeteria, which is already open to other departments. Since the new hub is planned to be built along with the new Cavendish III, this is a plan simply to replace one cafeteria with another.

So that leaves the new building as providing a combined café/bar, and a small shop. As I mentioned, I would welcome such additions, but if this is all that is being proposed, this is not nearly enough. Compare this to the foodPark that comes to the West Cambridge site every Wednesday lunchtime. Around half a dozen food trucks come to the site, and have been doing so for many months now, and I can tell you that they are extremely popular. It is clear there is demand for a much wider range of food choices, it is clear there are enough people on the site to support a range of businesses, and it is clear there are plenty of local businesses interested in serving the site.

Now, of course, someone might say that we can build other buildings for other restaurants and cafés, and I definitely think we should. However, it would also be easy for this proposed building to include more than one additional café. I quote the First-Stage Report:

the brief for the SFH Building includes the provision of an alternative location for the University’s Central Production Kitchen (CPK), which is currently located in the University Centre at Granta Place. As well as supporting the requirements of the catering operations in the University Centre, the CPK produces food products for sale in catering outlets and event catering across the University estate.

But, in the words of the Shared Facilities Hub website, this is a building ‘located at the heart of the West Cambridge site’. The University’s Central Production Kitchen could be placed anywhere. Why put it at the heart of the West Cambridge site? Why not use that space to serve the people who work there every day?

I urge the Council not to approve this building, until it is clear what needs it is supposed to fill, and until it is clear that there has been real and meaningful consultation with those of us who work on the site.

Professor C. J. Young (Deputy Head of the School of Arts and Humanities, and Pembroke College), read by the Deputy Junior Proctor:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I make the following remarks as Chair of the Shared Facilities Hub Project Board. I am very supportive of this project which will provide welcome investment in the infrastructure and amenity for staff, students, and visitors at West Cambridge. The project has been developed over the past two years with input from a cross section of staff and students from departments currently at West Cambridge, those planning to move to West Cambridge, and the wider University population. The scheme which has emerged will provide a variety of attractive spaces for teaching and learning, research and study, meeting and collaboration, as well as eating, drinking, and socializing. Much of the accommodation in the building is flexible and could be re-configured to meet different needs in the future. This project has great potential to improve the facilities and services for staff, students, and local residents at West / North West Cambridge. It is very encouraging that the University is prepared to invest in it as part of the next major phase of development at West Cambridge.

Report of the Council, dated 26 June 2017, on a new geological collections building for the Department of Earth Sciences (Reporter, 6471, 2016–17, p. 768)

No remarks were made on this Report.