Cambridgeshire County Council has agreed a buyer for a Grade 11 listed building in Cambridge following a successful court battle to evict the previous tenants, the Indian Community and Culture Association (ICCA).
The building, a former library in Mill Road, was offered for sale by the council last year at a guide price “in excess of £700,000 for the freehold interest”.
The council has not released the price paid for it by Centre 33 who will use it to expand their work supporting vulnerable young people.
The not-for-profit group was chosen as the preferred bidder; the council had promised that “consideration will be given to offers that deliver environmental and social outcomes as well as a financial receipt”.
Building was built in 1892
Sale of the building – built in 1892 – draws a line under with its long association with ICCA who were taken to court by the county council after their failure to undertake a “significant backlog” of repairs.
ICCA had enjoyed a rent-free occupancy since 1999 but the tenancy agreement made them responsible for repairs and maintenance: the council argued they had not kept their side of the bargain.
However, the ICCA claimed it had spent up to £250,000 on repairs over the years and had hoped for an agreement for other work to be carried out over a period of time.
No agreement could be reached, and the building was repossessed in January 2020 after an application to the county court.
The county council says it was forced to bring the building back into good repair by the city council conservation officer.
Repair bill of £500,000
Donald Insall Associates, conservation architects, were appointed to specify and oversee the work required which was completed in 2021 at a cost of almost £500,000.
The building was let to Hill Residential in July 2022 as a site office to serve the Mill Road Depot redevelopment by Cambridge Housing Investment Partnership.
This allowed the building to be heated and to dry out, and to reduce the county council’s liability for the property holding costs.
A report to councillors said: “The former Mill Road Library has not been in functional use as a county council operated asset for more than a quarter of a century.
“Future needs and uses for the building were considered according to the council’s procedures for surplus assets and its disposal policy. This confirmed there was no present or foreseen council service or operational need for the building, partly the result of its condition, format, location, and accessibility.”
The site was offered to the council’s development arm, This Land Ltd, and Cambridge City Council but both declined.
Councillors were advised against finding a new tenant since as a “historic listed building the property is costly to maintain and operate.
“The county council’s previous experience of leasing out the building saw its condition seriously deteriorate, and it cost considerable public funds to put it back into good repair.
“Officers believe that the extra time and cost in managing and potentially maintaining the building would not warrant holding the building to take advantage of a potential increase in the value, if any.”
Tenders for the building closed on the 12th of January with 142 enquiries and 68 viewings over 9 days and 8 bids received.
During the marketing period, there were two legal challenges about the ownership of the property and the county council’s ability to sell it.
Free to dispose of the property
“Legal advice received is that the county council is the freehold owner of the property and is free to dispose of the property without restriction,” councillors were told.
“Both challenges asserted that the council held the property on a charitable trust. The second challenge asserted that this was the council’s intention (to hold the property on trust) when it acquired it in 1892.
“No evidence has been found that this was the case either at the time or in the manner that the property has been held and managed in the 130 years since.”
A council spokesperson said: “Centre 33’s offer is subject to planning permission and feasibilities being agreed and progressed, with a final decision expected later this year.
“Until that time its offer is not being disclosed.”
The spokesperson added: “Should the next stage be progressed, this will see the Grade II listed building converted, with support from The Evelyn Trust, into a Youth Early Support Hub to offer young people open-access support with their emotional wellbeing and practical needs.”
Centre 33 already operates five hubs, including in Cambridge, Ely, Wisbech, Huntingdon and from a Grade II listed building in Peterborough.
It offers free and confidential support to young people up to the age of 25 with a range of issues including mental health and caring responsibilities.
It also offers information on issues including housing, finance and sexual health and will be sharing space with community groups where possible.
Cllr Lucy Nethsingha, leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, and chair of the council’s Strategy & Resources Committee, said: “We received some great offers for the former library, but Centre 33 really impressed us with its plans for the building.
“It already has a superb reputation in the county for the support it offers young people going back 40 years and we’re really excited with its ambition to increase that offer.”
Sympathetic ‘fit out’ planned
Beth Green, CEO at Centre 33, said: “We are very pleased to be given the opportunity by the county council to progress the next stage of a move into the former Mill Road Library.
“We will be taking the time to fully develop plans for the building and working closely with experts and planners to ensure a sympathetic fit out is possible that allows us to deliver our work and protect this wonderful building.
“We will look forward to hopefully letting the young people of Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire know about our plans to support their wellbeing at a new venue and will be holding events to talk more about our work closer to the time.
“We’re particularly grateful to The Evelyn Trust for their funding support.”
Cllr Richard Howitt, local member for Petersfield, the area which includes the library, said: “I am grateful to everyone from the local community who expressed an interest in the future of Mill Road old library and encourage Centre 33 to dialogue with local residents about the plans within their bid to maintain public access to the building.
“I know they are a very worthwhile organisation and hope to work with them to ensure they are a good custodian of what is a much-valued building in our local community.”
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