“For them to indulge themselves on such a level beggars belief”: Isle of Ely Rowing Club - which operates out of three run down huts- hits out at new £5 million Cambridge University Boat Club boathouse

Cambridge University Boat Club officially opened their new boat house in Ely last weekend. Picture:

Cambridge University Boat Club officially opened their new boat house in Ely last weekend. Picture: Mike Rouse - Credit: Archant

Opening of the £5 million Cambridge University Boat Club has gone ahead without a deal being struck with the impoverished Isle of Ely Rowing Club to share facilities.

The Isle of Ely Rowing Club's current clubhouse - which members say is "beyond repair."

The Isle of Ely Rowing Club's current clubhouse - which members say is "beyond repair." - Credit: Archant

Both may use the same stretch of river but if the Cambridge boat club is the prince then the Isle of Ely club is the pauper.

With the Ely club only one fifth of the way towards raising £10,000 to replace its three dilapidated portable buildings, generous alumni (one gave £750,000) supported the Cambridge appeal. Half of the £5 million was spent on buying the 12 acre site at Fore Mill Wash to house three Cambridge clubs.

But the original plan outlined by architects Jeremy Bailey to allow the Isle of Ely club to locate to an adjacent site never materialised. One Isle club member said: “Those involved with the club are not expecting to get anything out of the university.

“They are not concerned about the community and I think their 19th century attitude is unbelievable.


You may also want to watch:


“To indulge themselves on such a level simply beggar’s belief.”

The new boathouse was initially billed as a ‘community centre of excellence’ when planning was approved in 2013 and the Isle of Ely club was included as part of the university’s plans, but, three years later – after negotiations to share land and then the boathouse broke down – the local club is still operating at the same base it has been at since 2004, which some members think is “no longer fit for human habitation.”

Most Read

Another member said: “Its facilities are poor. The boats are stored on racks outside and other equipment is stored in a ship’s container.

“This leaves two very small prefab huts, both in a poor state of repair, for the use of club members.

“When it was first realised that a new boathouse was being built on the opposite bank it was hoped that the Isle of Ely Club would be able to use these facilities.

“However, my understanding is that they were told eventually by Cambridge that they would have to pay an exorbitant rent to use the facilities - a price that the club was never going to be able to afford.”

Those claims have been refuted by the clubhouse’s project leader, Ewan Pearson, who says the new facility was only built to compete with Oxford University – not other local clubs.

“We worked with the Isle of Ely quite closely up to the planning stage,” he said.

“We offered them a one-acre space on our land so they could build a new club house, but they withdrew as they believed it would be more economical to build it on their own land.

“I want to be clear that we never tried to bankrupt the Isle of Ely Rowing Club – we wanted to make a deal that would work for the both of us – but a figure was never discussed.

“We did not build the club house with any room to spare and we built the new facility to get parity with Oxford University.

“They have a palace in comparison and building the new facility was, in no way, an effort to compete with any of the local clubs.

“We hope that many of the young rowers at the Isle of Ely come across the river to row with us in years to come and we hope that the boat house can be a centre of excellence for the area.”

When permission was given for the new Cambridge boat house, East Cambs Council considered a massive response that included 63 letters of support and 187 objections.

Planning officer Sue Finlayson noted the new site “has raised considerable objections regarding its location and impact on wildlife”.

The Cambridge club was forced to move when their lease from King’s Ely expired.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter