Seventy-nine members of Regent House, the University’s governing body, have protested against plans to install a lift in the University Combination Room over fears that it will ruin the architectural beauty of the building. The lift has been likened to BBC TV’s Doctor Who TARDIS, however opposition based on aesthetic grounds has been counterpoised by the practical considerations of improving accesibility.
Built in 1347, the Combination Room is one of the oldest structures in Cambridge. In their work, Architectural History, Willis and Clark deemed it “the most important room” in the University. It was initially part of the Divinity School, and was used as a lecture theatre. It was later renamed Regent House and was where the academic staff and members of the university decided on policy. Although it has not been used in this way since 1730 when meetings were moved to the neighbouring Senate House, the building has retained its name. It now has a largely social function for the academic staff, hence their particular concern at the lift proposal.
Criticism has also stemmed from the fact that the proposal can be put through without receiving a Grace: an official approval from Regent House. Attention has been drawn to Statute F2, which stipulates that “Approval by Grace of the Regent House shall be required for the erection of a new University building or for the demolition or substantial alteration of an existing University building.” However as the cost of the project is less than £1 million, it is technically ‘minor’ so it has been argued that a Grace is not necessary.
The decision to install the lift stems from a ten-year plan set out by the University’s Estate Management, in conjunction with the Joint Committee on Disability and the Resource Management Committee, for buildings across the University to meet the terms of the 2005 Disability Discrimination Act. It was concluded that disabled access in the Old Schools, where the Combination Room is located, needed improvement.
A study by local architects Freeland Ree Roberts established that a lift needed to be located in the Combination Room in order to provide full disabled access in the Old Schools, specifically providing access to the Vice-Chancellor’s office, the Syndicate Room and the East Room.
The proposal has obtained Listed Building consent, and has been approved by both the English Heritage and Cambridge City Council Officers. It is generally agreed to be adhering to accepted conservation principles.
John Harding, Centre Manager of the Disability Resource Centre has stated that “whilst sensitivity around any changes to this historic building is understandable, it is also important that issues of accessibility are considered”. He added that he hopes “the situation can be resolved to the satisfaction of all parties.”
Judith Welikala – News Reporter