New student and commercial block at Mitcham’s Corner

This article was published in 2013, in Newsletter 107.

Staples, corner of Chesterton Road/Croftholme Lane.
Image as described adjacent

Cambridge residents have heard of Mitcham’s Corner, even if they don’t know that it takes its name from a long-departed department store (on the corner of Victoria Avenue and Chesterton Road), and many know the Staples office stationery store, a rather undistinguished triangular two-storey block, curiously bisected by a ramp leading to a rooftop car park. The store is surrounded by roads which form the one-way (gyratory) road system giving access to Victoria Road, Milton Road, Chesterton Road and Victoria Avenue. The system encompasses an untidy mess of shared-use paths and pedestrian crossings. The scene will soon change if planning approval is given for the application prepared by Pegasus Planning Group on behalf of Pan Albion LLP (the landowner) and Bellerbys College. Bellerbys College wishes to reduce the number of students living in ‘home-stays’ and transfer them to purpose-built accommodation. The 16 to 18-year-old students (mostly from overseas) are taught in premises on Bateman Street and at the Manor (Arbury Road) campus.

The application (13/0036/FUL) involves the demolition of existing buildings (including the rather charming small Lloyds TSB Bank branch) and the construction of a new building of 3-4 storeys plus a basement. There would be commercial floorspace at ground-floor level (for the Staples store and the bank) and student accommodation above of 172 rooms. In the basement there would be 149 cycle parking spaces for use by students and staff and 41 car parking spaces for use by the customers of the retail units. At ground level there would be 54 cycle parking spaces on the Chesterton Road frontage for use by customers of the retail units. The application also includes two servicing lay-bys.

The Campaign submitted a planning objection, not to the principle of the erection of the new building but based on our concern that any development here should not compromise our strongly-held objective of removing the gyratory system which remains a hostile barrier to cycling and walking.

Figure 20 (Cycle and Bus routes around Mitcham’s Corner) in the Design and Access Statement ably demonstrates the complexity of the current messy transport arrangements which surround the site. We feel strongly that the current application should be radically improved to facilitate these aims, and that it should be judged accordingly.

Lloyds TSB, corner of Victoria Road/Chesterton Road.
Image as described adjacent

The Planning Statement said that the city council and the Friends of Mitcham’s Corner wanted the application to be subject to ensuring that funds secured by the S106 Agreement are appropriately spent to secure local highway improvements, in line with the principles of the designs undertaken by the two student groups at the Department of Engineering. [See previous article for further information.] We fully support this view. In addition, we believe that funds must be allocated either to carry out a feasibility study on major changes to the way traffic flows around or through the area and/or to (part)fund such changes.

We noted that the developer states that the width of the footway would be increased to improve its existing use as a shared-use footway. In an area such as this, with high levels of pedestrian and cycle movement, entrenchment of shared-use is not acceptable. However, the developer’s proposal for widening the footway and creating shared-use would be acceptable as a short-term measure if the aim were to facilitate the creation of space for proper, 2.1m cycleways on both sides of the inner ring road in this area as part of the wider change to the area that we propose above. For that to happen, as the Highway Authority noted in its comments, it is important that the land is designated as public highway.

As for the cycle parking, we are disappointed that, yet again, a developer is proposing predominantly basement provision rather than ground-level provision within the site. Our desire is to see new developments making cycle parking very accessible and near to the entrance/exit of the building. (We do however welcome the innovation of making some of the cycle parking part of the landscaped area.)

We believe that the number of cycle parking spaces does comply with the requirements of the Cycle Parking Standards to the Local Plan. However, we cannot see any details of the distance between stands. Too many recent developments have proposed cycle parking that cannot be fitted into the space required, so we would like to see confirmation that sufficient space has been provided. Neither the Design and Access Statement nor the Basement plan seems to show this. Certainly, the previous plans that we were asked to comment on for this site did not provide enough space.

Accordingly, we endorsed the comments of the Highway Authority that ‘[t]he applicant must show the dimensions for the proposed cycle parking layout.’ and that ‘[c]ycle parking for atypical pedal cycles and accoutrements must be provided within the mix of provision.’

In summary, we asked the city council to ensure that any approved proposals here will enable renewal of the public realm of this area, and hope that the developer is able to implement changes towards this and provide ring-fenced contributions for that objective.

Shirley Fieldhouse