All eyes on the plaza at the Leisure Park


In the latest example of “Quick ? there’s a space ? let’s build on it!”, competing parties have their eyes on the plaza in the centre of the Leisure Park. First out of the blocks, in the black corner, are the owners of the site, X-Leisure (themselves owned by Land Securities), who want to build a new restaurant building between the Travelodge and The Light Cinema. In the white corner is the management of the Cambridge Junction, who have had to bring forward ideas they’ve had about expanding the arts and entertainment venue, something I suspect more residents would support. Anyone living at that end of Cherry Hinton Road has something like 25 places to buy food and drink within a five-minute walk, so more arts facilities might be considered a priority.

But wait: according to the Cambridge News report, the rebuild of the Cambridge Junction will be a massive eight storeys, with facilities for music, creative, cultural and tech companies and keeping the theatre and rehearsal space. It’s hardly an insignificant development itself. And I know that there are many families who like the idea of a TGI Friday’s restaurant coming to the area. So maybe things aren’t so black and white.


The huge paved area in the centre of the Leisure Park is unquestionably poor. I’m sure the planting arrangements for the site were never fully realised, a bit like at the Marque opposite. However, it’s being claimed by those who were there that the scale and density of the buildings at Cambridge Leisure were permitted only because of the open space of the plaza. So filling it in with yet another restaurant, preventing the Cambridge Junction from expanding, is not at all palatable either.

As an objector on the council’s planning website has already written: “Yes, the Square could be better. But improve it, do not build over it. If Land Securities do not have the imagination of skills to do this then it is time to place the square in the hands of those who can.”

You can read the public comments about the restaurant proposal here and see the documents associated with that application here. The Cambridge Junction development does not seem to have been put forward as a formal application yet.

I have re-published Cambridge Junction’s extensive response to the restaurant application in full below. Details of their proposal are here.

What do you think?

3 Replies to “All eyes on the plaza at the Leisure Park”

  1. Here’s Cambridge Junction’s response in full:


    Cambridge Junction OBJECTS to the proposed development.

    X-Leisure’s application should be rejected because it:
    – Will result in a loss of open space (Policy 3/4 of the Cambridge Local Plan 2006);
    – Is a Protected Open Space as identified in the Cambridge Draft Submission Policies Map of the Draft Submission Cambridge Local Plan 2014 (Policy 67).
    – Fails to meaningfully enhance and improve the places in which people live their lives (Policy 3/7); and
    – Is not a sustainable development (Policy 3/12).

    These key issues, and others, are addressed in more detail in our response.

    About Cambridge Junction
    Cambridge Junction is not a ‘nightclub’ as characterised by the applicant (Mountford Pigott Design and Access Statement (MP) 3.7; MP 3.11; and Carter Jonas Planning Statement (CJ) 2.3). The reality is that Cambridge Junction is an arts centre and a valuable community cultural venue where audiences and artists experience and are inspired by art, entertainment and learning. Around 100,000 people enjoy our venue each year. Cambridge Junction is the only performing arts venue in Cambridge to be a National Portfolio Organisation of Arts Council England and is therefore an important national cultural asset of Cambridge.

    The built and social contexts of Cambridge Junction are relevant to this application and should inform Council’s decision in relation to this application. Cambridge City Council should seek to protect the community provision which Cambridge Junction makes to the city and its residents.

    Development of the Cambridge Junction site
    The original Junction building was opened in 1990 and pre-dates the Cambridge Leisure development. The development was ‘built around’ The Junction and it is our understanding that it was Cambridge City Council’s intention that our buildings and community focus would always be central to the identity of Cambridge Leisure and the plaza.

    Building on this history and being mindful of the future, Cambridge Junction has a vision for our venue as a centre of community engagement and as a champion of the creative economy. We have been working towards a redevelopment of our buildings since 2013. We propose to:
    – Retain existing provision of the J2 theatre and J3 rehearsal/workshop space (including support spaces).
    – Redevelop J1 as the premiere mid-scale popular music venue in Cambridge and increase the flexibility of the space.
    – Create two new spaces the size of J3 (120 sq m), one for community engagement and one for creative learning.
    – Introduce a unifying foyer and facade across the buildings, which helps to articulate our vision of one programme/organisation, rationalises our box-office services and contributes to a sense of place at Cambridge Leisure.
    – Create eight floors (4,300 sq m) of workspace for creative, cultural and tech companies.

    The development:
    – Enables Cambridge Junction to more actively engage local communities and broaden the arts offer for Cambridge’s growing and increasingly diverse population.
    – Will make a substantial contribution to place making and community building in the local neighbourhood and within the Leisure Park.
    – Responds to recognised shortages in creative spaces in Cambridge for rehearsal, practice and production, identified in Cambridge City Council’s Audit and Needs Analysis of the Arts Infrastructure in the City of Cambridge (2013).
    – Addresses the identified shortage of workspace for the creative tech industries and provides services which enhance quality of life for the city’s growing population.

    We have discussed our proposal with staff of the Communities, Property, Housing and Planning Departments of Cambridge City Council. Advice from the Planning Department has been consistent: to ensure our proposal is in line with the new local plan (Draft Submission Cambridge Local Plan 2014 to replace the existing plan, 2006). We have followed this advice but have not proceeded to pre-planning advice and our proposal is therefore not formally in the ‘planning system’.

    We note with interest the effect The Marque development has had on the plaza. While much has been written about the quality of the development we note that the height and scale of the development has had a positive effect on the plaza because it has helped to form an ‘end’. Cambridge Junction’s proposal is to create a building of similar scale which will also help enclose and define the edge of the plaza, and contribute to strengthening the nature of the built environment.

    A summary of the Cambridge Junction proposal can be viewed at

    Ownership of the Cambridge Junction site
    Cambridge City Council owns the Cambridge Junction site and Cambridge Junction has a lease until 2030. The lease between Cambridge City Council and Junction CDC Ltd in dated May 2005 (The Lease). The relationship between X-Leisure and Cambridge Junction is defined in the Service Charge Deed of Covenant of June 2003 (Service Agreement). Site plans are attached to both documents and clearly show the Cambridge Junction leasehold land to extend 10 metres in front of the fa?ade of J1. The land extending 10 metres from the J1 fa?ade is defined as the “Junction Expansion Land” (Service Agreement).

    The use of the term ‘Junction Expansion Land’ clearly indicates an understanding between Cambridge Junction and X-Leisure that the land is intended for the development of the Cambridge Junction buildings.

    Cambridge Junction’s buildings face the Cambridge Leisure plaza. We therefore contend that we have the right of ‘frontage’ to the plaza and that the frontage should be defined along the line of the Junction Expansion Land.

    The boundary of the Junction Leasehold Land (including the Junction Expansion Land) has not been acknowledged/indicated in X-Leisure’s application.

    Because part of X-Leisure proposal is on Cambridge Junction leasehold land X-Leisure was obliged to provide 21 days’ notice of the planning application to Cambridge Junction (in line with the Certificate of Ownership – Certificate B Town and County Planning (Development Management Procedure) (England)) X-Leisure failed to do this. After this oversight was pointed out to X-Leisure it served notice to Cambridge Junction on 25 April 2016, well after the prescribed date.

    Community involvement
    Cambridge Junction is an anchor tenant at Cambridge Leisure and an important cultural venue in Cambridge. We are surprised and disappointed that X-Leisure did not consulted with us or local residents about this development application before submitting the application.

    Cambridge Leisure is located on the site of the former cattle market (CJ 2.1). The historic significance of the site is important to the local built and social identity. It is disappointing that the applicant fails to address this in a meaningful way in the proposal and thereby misses the opportunity to contribute to the unique character of the local built environment.

    It is our understanding that the existing cobbles are intended to reflect the history of the site as a cattle market. This proposal will significantly reduce the amount of cobbles and thereby further decrease the links with the historic nature of the site.

    Policy 3/4 of the Cambridge Local Plan 2006 requires all developments in the City to show that they have responded to their site context, and have drawn inspiration from their surroundings to create distinctive places. In diminishing the connection to the cattle market, X-Leisure has responded to this policy poorly.

    There are a number of trees in the plaza. These are indicated on the MP Existing Site Plan (although the number of trees is incorrect). However, in Question 15 of the planning application, X-Leisure indicate that there are no trees. The plaza is a bare site and all natural landscaping makes an important contribution to the enjoyment of the site. The loss of trees on the site is therefore a reason to reject this application.

    The MP design drawings (page 6) show trees located on the Junction Expansion Land close to the J1 building. This is fanciful. The trees do not exist and X-Leisure has not consulted with Cambridge Junction or sought our permission for this landscaping. We believe trees in this location will not be compatible with our development plans and/or the management and health and safety of audiences.

    We understand that lines of sight are not a determining issue for planning. However, X-Leisure claim that their proposal will “help mask that building (Cambridge Junction), which is beneficial to the visual amenity of the space” (CJ 6.11). We are disappointed and frustrated that X-Leisure seek to block visual access to our buildings. Their proposal deliberately hides our frontage and signage and has been positioned in such a way as to diminish our business.

    X-Leisure contends that the plaza is “currently underutilised as a public space.” (CJ 6.15). We agree with this but do not believe the underutisation is because of the poor built environment but rather because of unimaginative site management. We have seen little evidence of X-Leisure trying to enhance the community activity in the plaza. In considering the planning application we believe it is relevant to consider the track-record of space utilisation, which we believe to be disappointing. We can imagine the space vibrant with markets but have seen little evidence of the site managers thinking creatively about using the plaza.

    X-Leisure describe the site as “vacant” (CJ 3.14). We would argue that the site is not ‘vacant’ but a significant plaza which is public open space. Policy 3/4 of the Cambridge Local Plan 2006 outlines that development will not be permitted which would be harmful to the character of, or lead to the loss of, open space of environmental and/or recreational importance. It is clear therefore that the application should be rejected because of the considerable loss of open space of recreational importance.

    We note with interest Peter Studdert’s comments about the site in the Cambridge News (29 April 2016). Peter was director of planning at Cambridge City Council at the time the Leisure Park was permitted. He notes that “the square was a hard-won public benefit secured from the developer.” It is our understanding that the scale and density of the buildings were permitted only because of the open space of the plaza. We believe it is important not to succumb to planning amnesia and/or sacrifice this ‘hard-won’ community space.

    Proposed development
    X-Leisure’s proposed development of a restaurant will take up around a third of the Cambridge Leisure Plaza. The plaza is an important open space in the city and the encroachment on the open space goes against Policy 3/4 of the Cambridge Local Plan 2006.

    The roof of the proposed development will be located within 1 metre of the Junction Expansion Land and the walls will be within 2 metres. This boundary is our frontage and should be afforded clear access. Evidently the development does not seek to create a successful place and therefore does not meet Policy 3/7 of the Cambridge Local Plan 2006.

    The proposed site layout (page 21 CJ) shows an indication of the ‘sunpath’. Assuming the Cambridge Junction development is sited on the Junction Expansion Land, it is clear that the proposed X-Leisure development will result in overshadowing and loss of light.

    X-Leisure state that “the scheme is designed to ensure that there is no back of house to the development” (CJ 6.12). This is clearly untrue and contradicted by the architects who state that “refuse will be collected … from the rear doors of the building” (MP 3.11). We note that “the LPA also identified the need to ensure that the scheme, which was visible on all sides had no obvious back of house area” (CJ 5.1). We share Council’s concerns and do not believe the submitted design adequately addresses these concerns.

    We believe this approach of placing the back doors of the building adjacent to our frontage does not create a successful built environment and therefore does not meet Policy 3/7 of the Cambridge Local Plan 2006. We note that in the design there is no internal storage areas for refuse and we therefore must assume that the restaurant waste will regularly be left in the plaza. Inadequate refuse collection means that the design is not sustainable and therefore does not adequately address Policy 3/12 (design of new building) of the Cambridge Local Plan 2006.

    Council planning advice to Cambridge Junction has been consistent: to work within the new local plan (Draft Submission Cambridge Local Plan 2014 to replace the existing plan, 2006) and we must assume that X-Leisure were also advised of this.

    Policy 67 of Draft Submission Cambridge Local Plan 2014 states that: “Open spaces, regardless of ownership, make a significant contribution to the character of Cambridge. These areas are also valuable in terms of supporting a range of city-wide strategies, such as supporting health and well-being, flood risk mitigation and climate change strategies. It is therefore essential that these spaces be protected while allowing improvements to their recreational capacity and/or environmental value. Open spaces protected under this policy are: areas designated protected open space (POS) on the policies map…” The Cambridge Draft Submission Policies Map, identifies the plaza as Protected Open Space (POS) and therefore the site is covered by Policy 67.

    Amazingly X-Leisure’s submission fails to mention Policy 67 even though the Carter Jonas document has both a section on The Draft Submission Local Plan 2014 (3.49 & 3.50) and a chapter on open space (6.16 – 6.24). In CJ 3.50 the applicant states that the Draft Submission Local Plan 2014 is “some way from being found sound and from formal adoption, however in accordance with planning guidance, legislation and policy a limited degree of weight can be attached to the plan.” However, it is our understanding that the delayed adoption of the Plan is due largely to a re-examination of the green belt and housing. Any changes are therefore unlikely to effect the designation of the Cambridge Leisure Park as Protected Open Space. Therefore Policy 67 of the Draft Submission Local Plan 2014 (and the Policies Map) should be given considerable weight in this case.

    We understand that Cambridge Leisure is designated a Cumulative Alcohol Impact Zone. We also see from the submitted plans that a bar is central to the restaurant development. We are disappointed that the application fails to address alcohol usage in the vicinity of the plaza as we would expect responsible site managers to address this (even if alcohol licensing is not part of the current application).

    X-Leisure’s application foregrounds the inclusion of a performance area and children’s play area, however, we find these to be window dressing for a commercial development rather than a genuine interest or commitment to creating a community-focused space.

    There is no information provided about the demographics of the site users. However, it is our experience that the site is largely used by young people (teenagers) and adults. We hold very successful family theatre and craft events every second weekend but ultimately the use of the plaza by children is limited. We welcome considerations of how to activate the plaza but we think this idea is poorly thought through and will lead to site management issues, with young people (teenagers) rather than children occupying the play area. Furthermore the site of the play area is cold and windy and unlikely to be a positive space for play.

    The performance space is poorly conceived. X-Leisure’s proposal provides no indication of how it will be used or managed. The illustration showing a ballet dancer ‘en pointe’ may be artistic license (CJ 6.24) but it also reflects the lack of understanding of the sorts of events which are appropriate for such a proposal. X-Leisure has not convinced in the application that it has the capability to effectively manage this asset. Without information about usage it is not really possible to comment beyond saying that a performance space has the potential to cause a noise nuisance.

    Our interpretation of the design of the performance space is that it is not fully accessible and we question whether it meets the standards of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).

    X-Leisure propose that “service vehicles are to park on a new layby to be created by amending the large area of pavement adjacent to the bus layby between the main leisure building and The Junction nightclub (sic).” (MP 3.11) This proposal fails to acknowledge and/or take into consideration that The Lease grants Cambridge Junction right-of-way at the site of the proposed layby and the layby is therefore not feasible.

    We believe without reasonable access X-Leisure’s proposal is not viable or sustainable. We note that all other buildings in the Leisure Park have rear access enabling service access directly from the road. Without road access the proposal fails to meet Policy 3/12 of the Cambridge Local Plan 2006 which requires the proposal to address all ancillary elements including service access.

    We note that City Council expressed concerns “regarding the provision of any new build form within the open area” (CJ 5.1). We share the Council’s concerns and do not believe that the proposal addresses the considerable challenge of access and services relating to placing a building centrally in the plaza. Challenges of access will result in the open space becoming a site of constant delivery and servicing. Not only will this considerably disrupt existing businesses but it is also not compatible with the recreational use of the open space.

    X-Leisure propose to retain the existing number of cycle stands (CJ 7.9 – 7.11). However the CJ drawings show that a number of these are located on the Junction Expansion Land. X-Leisure has not consulted Cambridge Junction or sought our permission for relocating the cycle stands in this area. We believe locating cycle stands in this location will not be compatible with our development plans and/or the management of audiences. We know from our regular emergency evacuation drills that maintaining a clear site outside our venue is an important health and safety consideration. Without the space, evacuation is not possible.

    Acoustically, the Cambridge Leisure Plaza already presents an interesting soundscape. Each restaurant pipes its own music into the Plaza creating an aural cacophony. We note that the addition of a further restaurant with an aspect facing the other restaurants will contribute further to this noise mish-mash. On top of this, X-Leisure proposes a performance space! We note and share concerns of residents as to the potential for the performance space to be a noise nuisance. We believe this proposal has the potential to generate noise pollution and therefore is not in the spirit of Policy 3/7 of the Cambridge Local Plan 2006, which promotes the creation of successful places.

    X-Leisure’s application should be rejected because of the combined considerations of:
    – Loss of open space as defined in both the old and new Local Plans;
    – The challenges of sustainability of a building sited in the middle of an open space with no street access (and thereby facing challenges of delivery, refuse collection, etc); and
    – Encroachment on the frontage of Cambridge Junction.

    Furthermore, these issues are so insurmountable, Cambridge City Council should actively discourage X-Leisure from resubmitting this development proposal or any similar proposal.

  2. My preference would be for a more modest expansion of the Junction (a great local venue), with improved design of the open space (fountain, anyone?).
    That’s despite my kids’ preference for *another* food outlet – we need to protect them from themselves and improve, not trash, our built environment!

  3. I agree a more modest expansion of the junction, the Marque is too tall and overbearing to have another tall building opposite. If allowed to go to 8 stories, what next for the other existing structures? The square needs more planting, shrubs, trees etc. The area is harsh and uninviting it needs needs an injection of nature.

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