Grafton Centre Nightclub

The 1996 Leisure survey identified the long-known need for a proper, adult nightclub (as opposed to another youth dance venue).

Plans were submitted by Chilthorne Properties (146 High St., Newmarket) for a 1M 1,800-people nightclub, open 9pm-2am, on the old Royal Mail vehicle depot between Newmarket Road and the Grafton Centre, provisionally to be called The Depot (except that's the name of a restaurant in Regent St.). Of course the NIMBY residents' objections rolled in. It was planned to be about twice the size of existing nightspots, which are music or dancing venues for young people, whereas this would (it's claimed) have broader appeal - a true nightclub. This would be the only nightclub with proper, well-thought-out disabled facilities (not just token concessions to the disabled) - most others are either up or down stairs.

The businessman behind the scheme, Terry Lake, found Council officials and the police to be very helpful and positive. Local politicians have a very poor record with such decisions. They begun by deciding they had no grounds to reject the scheme completely but asked the developer to fund a late-night bus service.

The developer put in an identical application in October 1996 to get round procedural problems (the first submission had gone to appeal with the Department of the Environment as the Council hadn't made a decision) and in January 1997 the Planning Subcommittee gave planning consent. The developer agreed to provide free parking and a late-night bus service.

The objectors considered an appeal to the Local Government Ombudsman and successfully objected when the club applied to the City Council for an entertainments licence, on the grounds it's in a residential area. The developers lodged an appeal with the local Magistrates for September 1997 and meanwhile they applied again. It was rejected again, even though there were 1,895 representations supporting it and 56 against (though it seems 10 were from the same person). The appeal to Magistrates was also turned down.

The developer submitted another application in early 1998 but withdrew it just before it was to be considered and has submitted another application for a more pub-like and smaller-capacity venue closing at midnight.

In 1999 it became a health club (The Atrium).

Whatever the pros & cons of the proposed development, it's a familiar Cambridge story and another missed opportunity for decent entertainment facilities.

Some people suggested the former ABC Cinema would have been a good spot for a nightclub - it would be better for the community overall than a giant J.D. Wetherspoon's pub.

The Carioca Club was about 100 yards away from the P.O. depot, where Duke House now is, in what's left of Sun Street. It was a nightclub for many years till it burned down about 1986. The objectors claim there was a nuisance from people leaving in the early morning. So how come it got and kept its licence?

The only residents within about 200 yards are the landlords' family in the Bird-in-Hand, opposite the Newmarket Road side of the site, and the small row of houses in Severn Place, by the Grafton Centre car park entrance/exit and the Working Men's Club. Certainly within half a mile there are many hundreds or even thousands of residents (perhaps the claimed 3,500 households) but that's true of almost any accessible City site.

There was no corresponding fuss about the building of the Warner Cinema, which people leave around 1:30-2:00am after late-night films. [The residents of the Staffordshire Street flats on the opposite side of East Road did complain and they were offered free double glazing to cut down noise.] From East Road you can't hear any noise from the eight screens - the cinema is built to modern standards. Presumably the nightclub would have been too. The main objection seemed to be about people leaving the club.

It seems that Cambridge will get a new nightclub at last, in the old Job Centre.

(CEN 9-May-1996, 5-Jun & 12-Sep, 4-Jan-1997, 10-Jan, 24-Jan, 27-Feb, 25-Apr, 1-May, 4-Jul)