All systems go for Cambridge Union redevelopment

11 January 2018

Renovation plans for the Cambridge Union to redevelop its home off Bridge Street were yesterday approved by the Cambridge City Council, after years of continuing uncertainties over the construction costs.

The renovation plans for the world famous Cambridge Union Society, which has offered Cambridge students the opportunity to meet the likes of Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt and the current Dalai Lama, include the construction of a new building with shops, a restaurant and public spaces offering a new public quarter.

The home of the Cambridge Union Society off Bridge Street was partially destroyed by the Luftwaffe in World War Two, and it is hoped that the redevelopment will also restore some of the dormer windows damaged by air raids.

The plans, which were put forward by the Cambridge Union Society and Trinity College who will benefit from student accommodation on the site, were cast into doubt last year after the Cambridge Union debating society pulled out over cost concerns. Following a union fundraising campaign and “simplification” of the designs, the renovation will now finally go ahead and is expected to be complete by 2020.

While it is hoped that the new public spaces that are part of the development will attract more people to the area, concern has been expressed over the millions required to repair the old union buildings, as well as their proposed height and massing. The removal of the 1930s facade at the grade two listed Cambridge Union Society on the corner of Park Street and Round Church Street, and the demolition of ”architecturally significant” but not listed townhouses, will be necessary to make way for the new building.

The plans to revamp the Union were met with enthusiasm by the city council’s planning committee. Cllr Kevin Blencower, executive councillor for planning, told the Cambridge News that the design would give part of the city "a big lift" and improve the "poor frontage and view from the street at the moment".

Speaking to TCS, President of The Cambridge Union Jonah Surkes said: "We are very excited that the Union’s planning application was approved. The development plans will allow the Union to shape a building capable of holding our growing membership and larger-scale events, without losing our proud history. Now that we have the crucial planning permission, it’s all-systems-go to deliver an outstanding project that our members, and all of Cambridge, can be proud of."