Updated 1st Dec 2015
After our successful community bid to buy the Sturton Street Methodist Chapel and Hall, we are devastated by the proceeding sale of the Sturton Street Chapel & Hall to a specialist educational institution, Cambridge Islamic College.
This area of Cambridge is completely lacking in community facilities and we had hoped to acquire the Chapel and Hall as the community centre which the local community desperately needs - for nursery space, toddler groups, services for older people and many family activities to bring the whole community together. The bid was based on huge local support, with the social investment of 450 local individuals and families, as well as strong City Council backing. This location is in the middle of a dense residential area with narrow car access, and nothing could be more inappropriate than Cambridge Islamic College's plans.
The toddler group, dance school and other popular activities previously held here will now be lost, as will the opportunity to host so many more activities for which there is no local space.
The key problem in Petersfield is the lack of any centre where community uses are the priority - as it was on this hall previously, much like the similarly lost Howard Mallett Youth Centre at the other end of the same street, back in 1998. This was our best chance in 17 years to turn the situation around, to found a centre from which noone would feel excluded, a centre which would bring everyone together, of whatever religion or background.
The new Cambridge City Local Plan restricts new specialist educational institutions in the city. Since this site is already in “D1” use (for community use as well as non-residential education), Cambridge Islamic College (CIC) sidesteps the incoming restrictions, against City Council policy. This is particularly detrimental on Sturton Street, the middle a dense residential area of narrow Victorian streets which is already home to Anglia Ruskin University and where pressure on accommodation, parking, and so on, is intense. This contrasts to the relocation of the Bodywork dance school to the old Howard Mallett Centre at the other end of the (very long) Sturton Street. That site is much more accessible, but the move has still gone through a complete impact analysis and paid for road improvements as part of planning consent.
This is made worse by the recent changes to the fund raising appeal by CIC, which now specifies that the site will also serve as a mosque (when there is already another just across Mill Road). The additional traffic impact is of great concern to local residents. Since this is a conservation area and the two high-ceilinged spaces are inappropriate for classroom use, is seems inevitable that CIC's plans will require further planning permission and this will open their use to further challenge - which we will pursue in order to get proper review of the impact of this use. Similar applications are commonly refused.
Members of our SOS campaign did meet on two occasions with representatives of CIC as a possible partner and joint investor, but their vision and needs for the site were not well suited to the site and incompatible with community needs (in simple use of space and due to long hours). At the time, we were told they were not planning their own bid.
We are saddened that the sealed & confidential bidding processes used by the Methodist Church did not offer the community bid the same generous timescale and flexible arrangements that CIC benefitted from, since CIC had its own money and so was able to take a major risk which the community bid was not able to take.
We remain happy to talk to anyone about community provision.
The Petersfield Area Community Trust is a registered charity for the benefit of the community in and around the Petersfield ward of Cambridge, founded in 1998 with the dual aims of founding a new community centre, and supporting the local community in the absence of one.
See updates on planned winter event and other news at www.pactCambridge.org