Cambridge's iconic Shire Hall - home to Cambridgeshire County Council - could be hotel or student flats
PUBLISHED: 16:32 02 November 2018
The iconic city headquarters of Cambridgeshire County Council could soon be turned into a hotel or student flats, but doubts over the council's future are leading some to question whether now is the time for their move to a new base in Alconbury.
Cambridgeshire County Council’s headquarters at Shire Hall in Castle Street, Cambridge, are up for sale, with estate agents Strutt & Parker saying it’s the chance to “acquire an interest in a historic and unique piece of real estate” in the city centre.
The site will go on the market in the next few weeks and, according to the agents, could attract interest for a wide range of different uses, including as a hotel, or as student accommodation. The historic castle mount will continue to be protected and open to the public.
Iain Halls, director of Strutt & Parker in Cambridge, said: “This is an exceptional opportunity that could lend itself to occupiers such as hotel, student accommodation, office, retirement and residential. An opportunity of this nature, in such a prominent, prime location in Cambridge, is unique.
“We are expecting a good level of interest and we look forward to assisting the council with its relocation, and being part of the transformation of such a unique asset.”
Cambridgeshire County Council is expected to vacate the site when it moves to a new purpose-built headquarters in Alconbury in 2020.
Lucy Nethsingha, Lib Dem leader at Cambridgeshire County Council, said she would miss Shire Hall, and questioned whether this is the right time to be spending money on a new headquarters in Alconbury.
She suggested the county council might not last much longer, and a new base would be a “colossal” waste of money.
“It will certainly be sad for the county council to move out of Shire Hall,” said Cllr Nethsingha.
“But I am still not convinced it is the right thing to do.
“I am concerned about us spending huge amounts of time and money having a new headquarters when the county council has a limited life-span. It is a colossal waste of money. I don’t see how we can possibly continue having five levels of government in Cambridgeshire. We are already seeing how they crash into each other. It is counter-productive.”
Cllr Nethsingha said the council “should be moving to unitary authorities like Northants” instead of building a new HQ for the county. She also said there are “big concerns” about lack of public transport to Alconbury.
Steve Count, leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, said he did not know what form local government would take in the future, but noted that all the council staff, whatever banner they were under, would still need to be headquartered somewhere.
Cllr Count said the new premises in Alconbury would be a more efficient use of space and money.
Speaking about leaving Shire Hall, Cllr Count said the building is “absolutely gorgeous”, but he would not miss commuting into the centre of Cambridge for meetings.
County councillor Amanda Taylor accused the council of having the “wrong priorities” by looking to move to new premises “at the same time as making staff take unpaid leave at Christmas and closing children’s centres”.
Josh Schumann, chair of Commercial and Investments Committee, however, said moving out of Shire Hall would help the council save cash to support local services.
Cllr Schumann said: “As a council we want to do whatever we can to protect vital frontline services. This is a unique opportunity for the council to reduce the overall cost of its property portfolio whilst supporting local services to become more sustainable.
“The council will continue to have a presence in the city and provide services to Cambridge residents.
“We will be seeking offers for Shire Hall from organisations that recognise the special heritage importance that the site has not just on the city of Cambridge, but for the County as a whole. We are using this opportunity to invest in the future design of the services we provide – local services supporting local people.”
Chris Malyon, deputy chief executive of the council, said: “The county council has a long association with Shire Hall. However, the time is now right to look to the future.
“We are working with our partners so that we can deliver services as close as possible to the communities that we serve. As we take a step change toward agile working and a more community based approach, we no longer need a central administrative building the size of Shire Hall.
“Instead, we will operate from a smaller central hub while making better use of our assets, and utilising co-location opportunities with partners across the county.
“Given the financial challenges facing the council it is essential that we make the best use of the assets at our disposal. Moving to a smaller headquarters will help us protect key frontline services.”