Grand Arcade Cambridge - Site Unseen

Grand Arcade Cambridge is an example of how a commercially aware, design-led architectural practice was able to identify a site that others had been unable to bring to the market successfully. This success was achieved by understanding existing shopping patterns, current retail demand for modern space and how to formulate a commercially viable proposition for a particular site.

The identification of a suitable site started with a city-wide study of Cambridge for the local authority. It became a real project leading to a successful planning permission on a highly sensitive site, with completion in 2008.

Despite the site being fully occupied by the main city centre car park, the magistrates court, the main department store, and an eight storey office block, Grand Arcade was made possible by understanding the huge potential uplift in value achievable by creating a successful city centre shopping centre. Cambridge city centre had been studied for 20 years and, until this site discovery, no one had been able to unlock its true potential. The site was introduced by Jim Duffy to a developer, John Lewis department store and a pension fund. Full planning permission was successfully achieved in 2000, despite the fact that the site was surrounded by Grade 1 listed college buildings. In the process Jim Duffy acted as a key witness in a planning enquiry to help resist - a proposed out-of-town shopping centre. Alongside the local authority, he was able to demonstrate how a city centre scheme was preferable and possible. The result was that the out-of-town scheme was rejected and the City Centre scheme was allowed to progress.

To facilitate initial development, John Lewis consented to temporarily move off the site and a new store of over 200,000 sq ft was built for them. Today the new Cambridge store is one of their most successful. The rest of the Centre, making up a further 300,000 sq ft, was opened in 2008.

The ability to unlock difficult sites in city centres is one the specialisms of Add Architects.