Creating a home for three of the world’s trillion-dollar companies - my CB1 journey
It has taken over 16 years to transform the 26 acres of land surrounding the Central Cambridge Station. A city constrained by its heritage and greenbelt that encircles and restricts it, has now cemented itself at the centre of global research activity.
My work with CB1 first began in 2005. Lord Richard Rodgers was brought in by developers to lead on the site’s master planning. Off to a rocky start, the initial planning was refused on a staggering 26 grounds. I was brought in to steer the project away from its initial, difficult position.
After three years of intensive consultation and collaborative design, we submitted a fresh planning application in the October of 2008. After a 9-hour committee meeting, the Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partner’s architectural master plan was approved. Then the recession struck, delaying the site’s progression. The S106 was not signed until April 2010.
But, the real strength of a genuine, mixed-use masterplan is its ability to deal with the everchanging market. Three factors primed the CB1 estate to become a trailblazing centre of technology and business innovation:
1. Central to the design of CB1 is a transport interchange. Through TIF funding, Cambridge County Council constructed a new junction and further access to the station for buses, taxis and crucially a 3000-space cycle park - the largest in the UK. Better transport links were a vital component of the station’s development, the upgraded listed station had to accommodate a huge increase in passenger numbers.
2. There was an overwhelming need for purpose-built student accommodation. A nomination agreement was struck with Anglia Ruskin University for student accommodation buildings totalling 600 bedrooms designed by TP Bennett architects. The remaining 500 student bedrooms were sold to Downing and were then constructed and occupied. The student development funded the substantial refurbishment and upgrade of the listed Station building to the tune of £4.5M.
3. The Cambridge office market reached a tipping point in 2010. Redevelopment wasn’t an option with the rents where they stood. However, Microsoft sought an office space in the city centre rather than at West Cambridge Campus. Their creatives didn’t want to be remote from city life – so a deal was struck and CB1’s first commercial building designed by Chetwood architects was pre-let and funded by the Tesco Pension fund.
The development of the CB1 estate accelerated quickly once the market returned. Hill Residential also acquired the residential elements of CB1, with the Ceres and Vesta developments designed by PTE architects. The residential apartments were constructed with 40% affordable housing.
As the estate began to bloom, the office market returned with fervour. The construction of One The Square, a Perkins and Will building, helped to attract funds to invest in other elements of the estate. Aviva funded 22 Station Road and Funders Tesco funded the new bustling station square and bought the airspace above the cycle park before leasing the new Formation architect designed Ibis floating hotel. The profits paid for the cycle park, with Cambridge’s cycling community loving the concept and the free facilities. A mad, only-in-Cambridge first for the UK.
No large scheme is without its controversy, and CB1 is no exception. A local hard-fought campaign sought to retain a Victorian terrace whose demolition had already been agreed in principle as part of the outline permission. The Grimshaw designed application for the new building was refused and appealed. Led by Christopher Katkowski QC the appeal was allowed. The building was speculatively funded by Aviva and was fully let before Practical Completion.
A formidable area of Cambridge, the CB1 estate now stands as home to three of the world’s four trillion-dollar companies. It was clear when Microsoft occupied one of the first up and built offices in 2012, that CB1 would become a sought-after space. Amazon (and Alexa) were next, taking 100,000 sq. ft. for a global research centre. Samsung’s CEO took one look at the top two floors of 50/60 Station Road and demanded a leasing deal was done in two weeks, which we managed to complete swiftly. 30, 20 and recently 10 Station Road have been funded speculatively and are now under construction. Apple will arrive next year, joining the other bright minds who call CB1 their home.
Finally, the completion of the original Richard Rogers designed public square will happen in 2022 funded by the Formation architect designed residential buildings. 3 and 4 Station Square were acquired by Weston Homes in 2019.
The estate has drastically shaken up the development industry and commercial business space across the city; rents have risen at an astonishing rate, sitting at £27.50 in 2010, they are now £48.50 in 2021 and rising.
CB1 is a place that inspires workers, residents, and investors to lead innovation, particularly within the science and technology sector across the Oxford-Cambridge Arc and Cambridge to Norwich Tech Corridor.
Having attracted some of the world’s most successful brands, the collaborative and striking offices are home to Amazon, Deloitte, Microsoft Research, Mott MacDonald and the estate also hosts a variety of retailers, restaurants, supermarkets and hotels.
Our planning strategy, teamed with Brookgate’s funding model, has changed the Cambridge city centre market for good and brought out the very best in Bidwells. I look forward to seeing CB1 flourish for years to come.
Success has a habit of repeating itself, I am now starting the same journey with Brookgate at Cambridge North (CB4) preparing an application for 1.5 million sq ft of mixed-use prepared by ACME/ MAKE architects for submission in early 2022.