Cambridge for Shoppers

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Cambridge has two main shopping centres: the Grafton Centre and the City Centre, joined by the pedestrian path across New Square and Christ's Pieces and also by a shuttle bus. Some major retailers such as Boots and Superdrug feel they need to be in both places. Central parking is difficult and expensive, with long queues for car parks.

The third significant site is the Beehive site at Coldham's Lane, with ample parking and retailers such as Curry's & Sainsbury's Homebase. However that was sold in 1999 and may change radically in 2000.

It's claimed that national retailer chains are still keen to set up in Cambridge yet there always seems to be plenty of vacant retail property - generally smaller units admittedly. Surveys have identified Cambridge as the prime candidate for national retailers. Retailers claim that Cambridge has the 2nd highest retail income per sq.foot after the West End of London.

A survey in 1997 ranked it below Norwich, Peterborough and other regional centres but this was contradicted by a similar survey in 1998, based on factors such as the presence of high street multiples, unit vacancies and parking, which rated Cambridge just ahead of Peterborough and behind Norwich in the region.

For now Park-and-Ride is supposed to be the main answer for the access problems, in terms of what is actually happening.

Bar Hill Tesco's experiment with 33 hours of opening 23-24 December 1996 was a huge success - at midnight it was busier than a normal Saturday. So there's likely to be more late-night or all-night opening. Sainsbury's (Coldham's Lane) went all-night on Fridays in mid-1997.

Meanwhile Marks & Spencers abandoned Sunday opening as being unviable (it's a pity they didn't bother advertising it properly), whilst neighbours Woolworths found Sunday worthwhile. Eighteen months later M&S, along with many other CRACA members, decided to open on Sunday after all.

Cambridge Retail and Commercial Association

This initiative to revive the City centre was launched on 2-May-1996. About 250 retailers, council representatives and others were invited and over 85 attended.
(CEN 3-May-1996)

It aims to present a united face for retailers, especially over parking and access problems. Its first chairman was Steve Moody, then manager of Marks & Spencers, who was also chairman of the CCTV fund-raising committee.

Unsurprisingly the first meeting condemned the City and County Council's traffic initiatives and asked for a ring of car parks within 400 metres of the centre.

The Association has gone on to develop a jobs scheme for the long-term unemployed and the disabled, in partnership with the City Council, and works with the Police to improve handling of security alerts.

Out-of-town shopping

Until late 1995 it seemed inevitable that more and more giant out-of-town developments, with supposedly good road links, would be built outside Cambridge, Peteborough and so on.

The Government then announced a policy of discouraging such developments in favour of revitalising town centres.

Some years ago major retailers such as Mackays and Robert Sayles suggested they might move out to any such development. Tesco left in 1984 (having opened at what's now Mandela House in 1964) and Presto left in 1988 (having opened in the Grafton Centre in 1983). The last Co-Op in Central Cambridge closed in September 1996.

This leaves a single supermarket, Sainsbury, in the centre. Outside the central area there are Co-Ops, such as on Mill Road Broadway and there are convenience stores throughout the Centre, including franchised grocery stores such as VG which are smaller than the Burleigh St. Co-Op was. There is also the only other large supermarket in the city, the Co-Op Beehive (aka Pioneer/Leos) but that is supposedly due to close in early 2000.

The Market traders are suffering from the lack of trade, principally due to the poor access since the City Centre anti-cycle measures.

As Suzon Forscey-Moore says (CEN 5-Mar-1996), organic developments responding to real local needs should be encouraged at the expense of developers' profit-seeking developments (which have no regard for local need).

Out-of-town proposals

The Northern Fringe Joint Working Party (County, City & South Cambs) recommended no development of the northern fringe until someone pays for a third lane on the A14 between Girton (M11) and Quy (A10) (CEN 1-Jun-1996). The A14 is dangerously overloaded already. Consultations have included a series public meetings. It was announced that the Sainsbury's plan would be left out of the discussions: Coun. Dave Kelleway explained that's because no-one the Working Party believed the scheme was viable and so it would confuse people to include it (CEN 1-JUL-1996). However it was considered after all.

See also:

Rivalry with Peterborough

This surfaced again before Christmas 1995 as Peterborough's roads becamed clogged (partly due to roadworks) and Cambridge retailers took the opportunity to attract trade.

Steve Moody said (CEN 8-Dec-1995): "The only reason anybody would ever want to shop in Peterborough is ease of access and if that is now a problem, people should come here."

Martin Leech, assistant manager of the Queensgate shopping centre in Peterborough, said: "We are not worried at all - we will out-compete Cambridge every time. We have hundreds of people coming from Cambridge every weekend."

Lydia Bowman, Cambridge City Centre Traffic Manager, said the City could cope with the extra shoppers via the Cowley Road park-and-ride scheme, where buses leave every 15 minutes.

Steve Unwin (Impington) responded (CEN 18-Dec-1995) by pointing out how ridiculous it is "to get shoppers with arms full of Christmas shopping to crowd onto a bus, then take at least an hour to get back to their cars (that's if their cars are still there or in one piece when they return to the park-and-ride) and pay for the privilege." He went on to point out that if you want to go to Marks & Spencers, C & A and Debenhams you have to pay a lot to park in one of the car parks (after queueing for a long time) and then have a lot of walking to do outdoors. In comparison, parking in Peterborough is claimed to be convenient and cheap and all the shops are together and under cover. Also you can load your car as you shop.

The reality is that many people in villages around Cambridge find it far easier to shop in Peterborough, though it has a smaller range of shops - it is far more convenient for routine family shopping by car. However its parking isn't quite as good as claimed - there are sometimes big queues during Saturdays.

A survey by South Cambs District Council & the City Council of South Cambs residents showed that 1,000 of the 7,000 respondents preferred to do regular shopping in Peterborough.
(CEN 12-Jul-1996)

Burleigh St. Co-Op.

The Co-Op Stop-and-Shop in Burleigh Street closed in September 1996 - at least the Co-Op Chemist & Post Office next door is still open. After a year being vacant, the old premises were occupied by the expansion of QD from next door. Incidentally Grosvenor Developments bought the office space above the original QD.

The Co-Op was a vital service for the community, particularly the many elderly people in the area. There's no sign yet [May '99] that they'll find alternative premises.

The Cambridge Co-operative Society opened a large shop and offices at 62 Burleigh St. in 1900 (approx. where QD was). At that time it had smaller branches at Mill Road, Victoria Road, Sturton Street, Coronation Street and in Histon. The main store was refitted in 1973 (reopened by Radio 1 DJ Tony Blackburn), in spite of the planning blight then.

Home shopping

Cambridge City Council, Cambridge Cable and Online Media submitted a bid for 1.5M over 3 years towards home shopping development to the European Union, via the Home Office's Community Development Foundation. The grant would be matched by the partners.

The idea was to make information available at home on TV screens, with ordering and delivery available. It was hoped this will cut traffic congestion and help City retailers.
(CEN 7-May-1996)

Iceland has started a home delivery service and over Christmas 1997 Marks & Spencer operated a delivery service to the Newmarket Road Park & Ride site.

See also Interactive TV Trial.



In this context by supermarket I mean a store with all these characteristics: large, cheap, self-service, full range of food and non-food items needed regularly by households, fully stocked all day. Marks & Spencers food hall (for instance) doesn't match this.

Structure Plan - North Cambridge

County Councillor Neville Pritchard wrote in the CEN 15-Mar-1996 about the how this section of the Structure Plan was finalised. The upshot is that is says there could be two new large-scale shopping developments of 150,000 sq.ft. east and west of the northern fringe. However any development must include appropriate road and access improvements.