Abbey Labour City Councillors have called on Cambridgeshire County Council to provide the necessary assurances that plans to build a new community centre on Newmarket Road, at the site of the existing East Barnwell Centre, will be subject to no further delays and provide the facilities promised when the project began several years ago.

The County Council originally were to proceed with a stand-alone centre, library and nursery at a cost of £2.25m but scrapped it in July 2015 following pressure on Conservative councillors by UKIP members, who then held the balance of power at the authority – all representing areas outside Cambridge – to make a larger financial return on investment by making it a mixed-use project with housing.

City councillors are not opposed to housing on the site, but it’s clear that since scrapping the stand-alone project six years ago, the County Council have found it challenging to deliver the new centre with their desire to generate an income stream from non-centre activity. Negotiations about a joint project with land from the neighbouring church unfortunately fell through. 

In 2014, the Labour-run City Council contributed £255,000 of developer contributions towards additional community space, dedicated for young people. This space is deemed to be very important, especially as the Abbey ward has high needs. With this in mind the City Council have tried to ensure that contributions put aside for the project do not fully lapse as a result of the lack of progress with the scheme.

County Council officials told councillors recently that sufficient progress has now been made with their appointed architects to bring forward a ‘statement of principles’ (i.e., what the building will contain, what sustainability features it will have, etc.) to the planning authority for the new centre, prior to finally submitting a full planning application in the summer. 

While the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the timeline of the project’s development over the last year is acknowledged, it does not excuse the fact that there sadly has been little concrete progress made with the project since 2015.

Abbey city councillors say that the local community is running out of patience as a result and there cannot be further delays. 

Cllr Richard Johnson said: 

“We all badly want to see this new centre for the community. It will also be vital for the long-term future aspirations the City Council has for regeneration of East Barnwell. Integrating the existing Barnwell Road library into the centre could unlock land for homes for local residents. A new, modern nursery facility will be of tremendous benefit for families.

“We need an assurance from the County Council that there will be no further delays at their end in delivering this project. We hope the planning application is submitted in the summer. In addition, we need confirmation that the centre will provide office space for local organisations who work in the area and additional community space required to meet the needs of young people.” 

Cllr Haf Davies added: 

“Abbey residents have been waiting for the new community centre for far too long. The County Council should bring forward concrete plans for the new community centre and facilities in East Barnwell at the earliest opportunity. There should be no more delays.”

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