The late Colin Rosenstiel on The Grafton Centre in The Kite, and the decline of Cambridge Conservatives. From 2001.


I stumbled across this exchange between the late Colin Rosenstiel in a discussion with a number of local figures at the time, including Mr Graham Stuart who has since gone on to become a high profile Conservative MP and who now holds ministerial office.

The redevelopment of The Kite was one of the most protracted of redevelopments in Cambridge’s history, one that led to huge protests from the local community, a number of whom lost their homes in the process.

The man behind that redevelopment was Cllr John Powley of Cambridge Conservatives, a Castle Ward councillor in the 1970s. IMG_8077

Above – From the Cambridgeshire Collection, an article by Chris Havergal then of the Cambridge News, on Mr Powley’s retirement from politics.

It was in the Cambridgeshire Collection that I spent much of today – avoiding the hottest day of the year at the peak of a 2 month long heatwave/drought. (We had our first rainfall for six weeks today. It lasted as many minutes…)

There’s a photoset showing the fallout of the arguments on how to redevelop The Kite by the Cambridge News here.

Note Colin’s viewpoint below is one from an opponent – he was a longstanding Liberal councillor in Cambridge and was one of the campaigners against the redevelopment. Therefore the comments from 2001 below should be seen in that context. The comments below are taken from this thread dating back to 2001.

Colin Rosenstiel on John Powley’s role in the redevelopment of The Kite. From 2001

“The City elections results part of my web site will tell you more. See

“However, in a nutshell, John Powley’s political career started in 1967
when he was elected unopposed as a City Councillor for Castle Ward. In
1973 the Tories, in a decision they must rue to this day, allowed him to
become their group leader. They were then in opposition with 11
councillors, their lowest number to date.

“In 1976, as much due to divisions within the Labour and Liberal parties as
for any other reason, the Tories gained control of the Council and decided
to proceed with the redevelopment of the Kite (the old Fitzroy Street
which continued East from its present end at the Grafton Centre entrance
all the way to East Road where the Working Mens Club is and Burleigh
Street). Shortly before the 1976 election an earlier scheme to redevelop
the area had collapsed and the developers had withdrawn.

“Due to a cock-up over Labour’s Community Land Act, the council lost its
compulsory purchase powers in the area but the new developers, Grosvenor
Estate, agreed to try to bring about the development, purchasing the
required land by “agreement”. This involved a fair amount of, shall we
say, arm-twisting.

“The community rose in strength against the development, with Kite
Community Action holding weekly campaign meetings. Alumni of the campaign
include Alan Rusbridger, Guardian editor, Prof Lisa Jardine and many

“Meanwhile squatters occupied and improved empty houses the council had
bricked up. John Powley personally attended the demolition of one property
while squatters were still in it, leading to much bitterness against him
personally. A contemporary graffiti “Kill Powley” appeared on a wall in
Covent Garden.

“A Tory councillor (Graham Edwards) elected in Market Ward in 1976 was
defeated by over 1000 votes by a Kite Community Independent candidate in

“Meanwhile I had moved out of the ward to Victoria Road and my house-mate
there had decided to start reviving the Liberals in Castle Ward (which had
elected Liberal councillors in the late 50s and early 60s).

“Being a barrister my house-mate couldn’t really be a councillor so he
handed over the reins to a new candidate for the 1979 council elections.
Like in 1997 they were held on the same day as the general election that
year and Liberals pressed voters, especially in Market and Castle wards,
to express a view against the Kite development independent of their votes
on the General election. Thousands did.

“I well recall a story related to me by a work colleague who lived in
Castle Ward and was canvassed personally by John Powley. In all innocence,
he asked what all this Kite business was about. Powley stormed off, saying
“if that’s all you want to talk about…” and slammed the gate behind him.
“My colleague wonder what on earth he’d said.

“At the same time some of Powley’s fellow Tory Councillors were wishing us
luck against him, little realising in some cases that their own seats were
next in line.

“At the same time John Powley was pursuing his parliamentary ambitions in
the previously safe Labour seat of Harlow. In the end the Liberals broke
through in Castle Ward with a majority of nearly 1000 over Powley who
nearly came third. Meanwhile in Harlow he lost by 1300. Castle Ward has
elected Liberal Democrats in all but two elections since then.

“John Powley was elected as MP for Norwich South in 1983 where he proved
less than popular. He lost his seat in 1987. It is said that the local
Tories failed to de-select him only by a narrow margin. He moved back to
the area to Soham and remained in political retirement until 1997. My then
boss was secretary of the local golf club and a bit dubious about him.

“During this period I met him one day in the Grafton Centre. As anyone
would say to someone one hadn’t seen for many years I said “Hello John,
what are you doing here?” Well, you would, wouldn’t you!

“His reply was “Why shouldn’t I be here? It’s *mine,* isn’t it?”

“Much to his surprise he was elected to the county council in 1997 when the
Labour County Councillor for Soham unexpectedly retired from the council
shortly before the election.

“In a move I described at the time as inspired, the County Tories, newly
returned to power, put him in charge of waste disposal. However, a year
later they made him Chairman of the Social Services Committee, a post he
holds today. He faces re-election in Soham on June 7th.

Colin Rosenstiel”


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