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Cambridgeshire County Council

Historic Shire Hall Cambridge to become hotel if county council agree fresh bid

The site was relaunched onto the market on February 2

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Offered for sale with a guide price of up to £15m, Shire Hall Cambridge is set to become a hotel after a fresh offer was made to Cambridgeshire County Council. A previous deal agreed 5 years ago fell through after developers Brookgate pulled out despite having fended 30 other applicants to lease Shire Hall and its grounds for a 255-room hotel,

Now a fresh bidder has emerged, also with a view to turning the former council offices into a hotel, and a quick exchange of contracts is promised.

If contracts are not exchanged by 9th October 2024, unless there are reasonable grounds, the council says the council will look at other bids from 14 other interested parties.

Shire Hall, Cambridge, back on the market – cash sale preferred

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The new bid appeals to council officers as it is “unconditional on obtaining planning consent and proposes a short period to exchange and completion and represents the best consideration.

“The bid also offers good non-financial benefits”.

A shortlist of 4 bids will be put to councillors on the assets and procurement committee “following extensive due diligence work by officers”.

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One of the bids, a proposal for a new hotel, is recommended by officers”.

Prospective buyers are advised that Shire Hall site lies within the planning jurisdiction of Cambridge City Council and any proposals will need to have regard to conservation

Shire Hall Cambridge could be set to become a hotel, as councillors meet on Wednesday (17 July 2024) to review bids for the future of the Castle Hill site.

The site was relaunched onto the market on the 2nd of February 2024; previously the marketing exercise included the Castle Mound; the Civil War Earthworks (both Scheduled Ancient Monuments) and the Shire Hall lawn.

This time the Castle Mound, Civil War Earthworks, 42 Castle Street and Shire Hall lawn were excluded from the disposal.

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A report to the council assets and procurement committee next week says more than 160 individuals were given sales particulars and over 30 groups of bidders visited the Shire Hall site itself to carry out guided inspections.

Contact was made with Greater Cambridge Shared Planning who allocated a planning officer to deal with enquiries from bidders.

The closing date for proposals was 18th April 2024 and a total of 15 bids were received.

Auditors discovered an officer who was employed full-time at Cambridgeshire County Council also appeared to be working 30 hours a week with another local authority.

New Shire Hall at Alconbury

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The bids proposed a range of potential uses of the site including hotels and extended stay apartments, retirement living, student, co-living, residential apartments, offices, and business space, amongst other uses as well as a mixture of freehold and leasehold options.

The evaluation took into consideration:

1 The financial offer

2: Deposit

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3: Proposals

4: Conditional/unconditional offers

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5: Tenure

6: Funding

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7: Due diligence

8: Timescales.

9: Economic, social, and environmental impact.

An initial long list of seven bidders was taken forward to seek further clarification before a short list of five bidders was arrived at “with two bidders not making the shortlist again due to a significant difference in best consideration.

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“The five shortlisted bidders were invited to provide best and final bids and then attend an interview.

“One bidder withdrew during this process and the remaining four bidders were interviewed by county council officers and a representative from BNP Paribas Real Estate on the 16th and 17th of May 2024”.

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A report to the committee added; “However, in learning the lessons from previous proposals if this preferred bidder is approved by committee, it is proposed that a time limited exclusivity agreement will be entered into.

“During this period the council will only deal with that bidder, and they will be expected to carry out further due diligence during this limited time.

Opposition leader Steve Count on the future of Shire Hall, Cambridge: ““Cambridgeshire County Council is currently paying £95,000 a year to safeguard shire hall, until its handed over to developer. How long for?”

Shire Hall Cambridge could be set to become a hotel, as councillors meet on Wednesday (17 July 2024) to review bids for the future of the Castle Hill site.

“That may involve investigation of title, undertaking surveys, discussing with Greater Cambridge Shared Planning team what development is acceptable on the Shire Hall site, and negotiating legal terms with the county council.”

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Pinsent Masons, the council’s solicitors, have said they will take 1-3 weeks to prepare the legal pack for the successful bidder.

“However, we note that Greater Cambridge Shared Planning have said they would be unlikely to be able to consider a planning pre-app application before September,” says the report.

Shire Hall, the Octagon building, Castle Lodge registry offices and the Old Police Station – along with the surrounding car parking – was put up for sale in February. The county council’s HQ relocated to purpose-built offices at Alconbury Weald in 2021.

Cambridgeshire County Council yet to complete Shire Hall hotel deal

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Castle Mound and the Civil War Earthworks, both scheduled ancient monuments, and the Shire Hall Lawn are not included in the sale. 42 Castle Street will also be kept by the Council. Rights of Way across the site will remain open.

Bids were received for the site with a range of different uses across the various buildings on the site including hotels and extended stay apartments, retirement living, student, co-living, research, residential apartments, offices and business space. Bids include freehold and leasehold arrangements, with some proposals conditional on achieving planning permission.

Marketing of the site was carried out by BNP Paribas Real Estate.

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Shire Hall became vacant when the then Conservative controlled council opted to move to Alconbury Weald.

The savings promised – £39m over 30 years – remain fanciful as the council continues to pay £2,000 a week on security whilst Shire Hall remains empty.

 

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