The old Howard Mallett Centre on St Matthew’s Piece, renamed CityLife House, has been behind hoardings for many months now (blocking even the protected open space on one side of the site). We’ve been wondering what’s going on, as deadline after deadline seems to be missed in handing the building over to the Bodywork Company – something Stephen Chard, a Director of the owning Chard Robinson Group, made very clear was his personal priority for the site.
We knew there were plans forthcoming for student accommodation – but the planning application for that has still not appeared.
Instead, a very minor planning application was submitted in January – that’s common during building works – but it also suggested a change of use from “dance school/studio” to “general educational”.
It looks as if, in pursuit of more money (we assume), Chard Robinson have changed their mind, and plan to lease the site to the Cambridge Education Group – owner of CATS College and the Cambridge School of Visual and Performing Arts, as well as a language school.
Theresa Kerr, founder and principal of Bodywork, has sadly confirmed the story. It’s very sad for the company, who are currently on five sites and had hoped to consolidate under one roof and who had invested substantial time and money in the plans.
This is obviously the last thing we want to hear – Bodywork is local with strong community ties, so it seemed like a good end for the sad saga of the Howard Mallett Centre. The centre is built on land which was “given in perpetuity to local residents for rest and recreation” and which we believe should never have been sold to private ownership. This change means it would instead bring many more foreign students into the area, competing for accommodation with Anglia Ruskin, who are already causing massive local upset with their support for more student accommodation and removal of much needed nursery provision. In addition, Petersfield has only just lost yet another community site, the Sturton Street Methodist Chapel, to another college.
There’s no question this would be yet another blow to the local community in the most densely populated ward in Cambridge. It may well be the worst possible outcome.
You can at least object to the subtle change of use on the planning website – it looks as if this application is going to committee on May 4th. Try the link below, or google for the “Cambridge Planning Public Access” website, go to the “Online planning application system” and search for “Citylife”. The reference is 15/2372/FUL. There are provisions in the Cambridge Local Plan against new or expanded language schools and CEG operates a language school, so it looks as if there is room to object to the “general educational” use leaving the door open to uses which are against the local plan.