An estate agent would clearly agree it’s spacious (not your average two-bed semi or terrace) and in a sought-after location (expect to pay a bit more). And for a guide price of up to £15m the chance to buy what has been the seat of Government in Cambridge for 100 years.
Shire Hall is back on the market with Cambridgeshire County Council, hopeful of a quick sale.
“Preference will be for full payment on completion, although deferred consideration will be considered, subject to appropriate security,” says BNP Paribas Real Estate who have been instructed by the council to find a buyer.
Last year Michael Hudson, the council’s finance chief, was tasked with formulating thoughts on how Shire Hall could be sold.
“A freehold sale is the outright sale of the site to a third party for them to develop or use the site as they deem appropriate,” he explained.
“This would produce a capital receipt, likely to be in the range of £10m to £15m but will end the council’s involvement in the site.”
However, the council says if the right offer is on the table they will consider the “lease or sale of part of the Shire Hall site in Cambridge, after the previous preferred bidder was unable to continue their interest”.
That previous bidder was Brookgate who five years ago fended off 30 other applicants to secure agreement to lease Shire Hall and its grounds for a 255-room hotel.
But when they pulled the plug, the county council was faced with the dilemma of what to do with the site which became empty 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.
BNP Paribas say in their sales blurb that “both unconditional and conditional offers are invited, with certainty of delivery and timescales for removal of any conditions an important consideration”.
Previously the site of two medieval castles, the current building was the county council’s administrative centre from its completion in 1933 until 2022, when the council relocated to Alconbury in 2022.
BNP Paribas Real Estate is offering Shire Hall for sale and also the Octagon, the Old Police Station, Castle Lodge, and public car parking.
Offers will be considered by the assets and procurement committee in June.
“Councillors will review not only the financial bid made but whether the offer delivers environmental and social benefits,” said a council spokesperson.
“We expect strong interest from commercial bidders, with the building’s prime position in Cambridge making it highly suitable for different uses.
“Due to the historic importance of the site all proposals will require full planning, listed building consents to ensure protection of the assets on site.
The council has applied to give part of the lawn between the front of Shire Hall and the Mound the legal protection of ‘Town Green’ status and has also invested in new interpretation boards and increased litter bins and maintenance to improve the visitor experience although these areas are not included in the disposal.
John Macmillian, head of assets at Cambridgeshire County Council, said: “Shire Hall is a unique and historic site in Cambridge city centre – opportunities to acquire a site of just over three acres in this central location do not come around very often.
“Sitting prominently on Castle Hill, Shire Hall has real character and massive potential for an exciting development.”
Cllr Lucy Nethsingha, leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, said: “Since bids were originally invited for Shire Hall in 2018, we have lived through the international COVID-19 pandemic and we’re still feeling the effects of a national cost-of-living crisis.
“Even against these challenging conditions the city of Cambridge has continued to experience unprecedented growth.
“Acquiring this central Cambridge site, which had been a seat of local government since Norman times, remains a really exciting opportunity for investment and development.
“I’m looking forward to selecting a commercial partner that’s right for this historic location, right for Cambridge residents and right for our county’s taxpayers.”
More information on the premises can be found here
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, and the setting of any listed buildings as well as adjoining Castle Mound and Civil War Earthworks scheduled ancient monuments.
The Castle Mound and site frontages are also designated as protected open space in the local plan.
The Old Police Station is a Grade II listed building and Shire Hall has been designated as a building of local interest.
So, what are the potential uses for Shire Hall?
BNP Paribas offers a few suggested uses:
Described as one of the fastest growing sectors in the UK, Cambridge is home to over 17,000 individuals aged 65 and over, equivalent to 12.3% of the total population.
“Senior living is able to attract significant premiums when compared to residential values,” says the company.
“Despite this large elderly population and high levels of wealth, there is currently a lack of high-end retirement schemes within Cambridge, together with a restricted development pipeline to satisfy the ageing demographic.
“The Shire Hall site potentially offers an opportunity for a high-end retirement developer / operator to deliver a landmark senior living scheme in a highly sought after location.”
The University of Cambridge colleges are only able to house less than half of all undergraduates, which when combined with Anglia Ruskin University and the city’s numerous other educational establishments, results in a large undersupply.
The Shire Hall site also offers potential for a well-designed and highly amenitised build to rent development “on the back of the dynamic recent shift in tenure choice amongst millennials, with many now opting to rent rather than buy as a result of high housing costs and the desire for flexibility”.
With a growing number of returning tourists driving the room rate and excellent demand metrics, the rationale for more hotel beds in the city remains strong.
“There are currently no luxury hotel offerings to the north of the River Cam, with Shire Hall offering an unprecedented potential opportunity to repurpose the current building behind the existing facades,” says Paribas.
“Demand for aparthotels has also increased in the city over recent years, with Staycity part of the previous development proposal for the Shire Hall site which was subsequently withdrawn because of market conditions.”
The availability of premium office space continues to fall, partly due to the repurposing of offices (and other uses) to laboratory space feeding the growth of life sciences. Cambridge’s life science and healthcare businesses have seen an astonishing growth in turnover over the last three years, with the city having the highest level of occupier requirements for lab space in the south east
“With low vacancy rates and high occupier demand, Cambridge has seen strong competition for best space, resulting in significant levels of rental growth for offices and laboratory space, both in the city centre and on science & business parks,” says Paribas.