Here’s a statement that Cambridgeshire County Council has given to the press about access to the Shire Hall site following its forthcoming sale:
A Cambridgeshire County Council spokesperson said:
“From the outset, the Council have made it clear to the public and any potential bidders that the special historical importance of the Shire Hall site, is an integral part of our aspirations for the future, not just for the city, but the County as a whole.
“As part of the bidding process interested parties were asked to consider our Heritage brief, inviting them to address continued public access to the Castle Mound, and to lay out their plans to improve the presentation, accessibility and interpretation of the site – looking at ways of increasing its appeal while maintaining its historic integrity.
“The Council does not wish to restrict access nor create new rights where they don’t exist, and by issuing a Landowners Deposit we are taking steps to protect this and to ensure the existing permissive access rights remain.
“We are now in commercial negotiations, but from the bids received we are confident that our expectations will be met and that the importance of retaining and even enhancing the heritage value of the site has been understood.”
See my earlier article for more on the background to this. I have to say that I don’t see how the Landowner Deposit does anything to protect the existing public access to Castle Mound and the rest of the site as the Council claims. It is indeed possible for a Landowner Deposit to include a statement that the landowner agrees that there are existing rights of way on the land, but in this particular case, the Council’s document specifically excludes this, stating that no ways across the Shire Hall site have been dedicated as highways:
The whole point of the Landowner Deposit document is to specifically exclude the creation of any new rights of way. This doesn’t seem to me to be something that you would do if you were keen to ensure the right of continuing public access.
It’s good to hear that the Council is asking bidders to “address” continued public access to the Castle Mound, but my concern remains that there is nothing to stop a future owner from charging admission to the Castle Mound or even preventing public access altogether. We need to hear from the County Council how it is going to ensure that future generations of Cambridge residents will be guaranteed the right to freely enjoy this very special place in our city.