Cambridgeshire County Council to sell the old Mill Road Library building

The news was confirmed by the Petersfield Area Community Trust, who were formally notified so as to enable them to put together a bid under Community Right to Bid

“We received notice on Wednesday of the intent of Cambridgeshire County Council to sell the Grade II listed former Mill Road Library building. Notice was given to PACT since we registered it as an “Asset of Community Value” under the Localism Act 2011. This gives PACT or other eligible community organizations the chance to assemble a bid to buy the building should it be sold.”

PACT Cambridge 12 Aug 2022
There is not much time to act – so if you are interested, please let the Petersfield Area Community Trust know!

[Updated to add]: To clarify

Any other local organisations willing/able to take the lead on a community bid? Sounds like it’s one for the local city councillors to deal with – you can contact them via

“Cambridge City Council manages this process for any community asset in Cambridge, so we or any eligible group have until Friday 16th September to advise them if a group would like to take this opportunity. Giving the City Council a notification of an intent to bid would cause a moratorium on the sale until Sunday 5th February 2023, in order to give the group the chance to assemble the bid, although this is still a tough goal in just six months”

I’m not going to go into the party political issues. I imagine this would have been a very tough negotiation between members of the Joint Administration. I can’t believe that Labour councillors would have wanted the building to be sold off if there wasn’t a hope of putting together a bid for community ownership. But ultimately the past 12 years of central government austerity has meant councils across the country have had to take similar decisions because ministers and Parliament have not given them powers to raise revenues through much wider means. (Feel free to explore New sources of local revenue from 1956 here)

When the future of the building came up as an issue under the Conservative-run council back in 2018, I put some questions to councillors:

Since then, the building has been properly renovated and restored – and won an award for it. (See here in March 2022). So nominally the building is back in use. (See here from October 2021).

The pride of John Pink – the founding father of Cambridge’s municipal libraries

“The scheme of branch libraries was an important development and Mr. Pink was particularly proud of the Mill Road Library, which he claimed to be one of the best branch libraries in England.”

John Pink – Cambridge’s first borough librarian 1933-1906

So noteworthy was the building that it stands out as a beacon compared to the buildings featured in Hideous Cambridge by Ellis & Hall in 2013.

You can read more about the Mill Road Library in Capturing Cambridge by the Museum of Cambridge. Which also reminds me – you can also join the Friends of the Museum of Cambridge here if you want to find out more on Cambridge’s town history.

A vision for the old library building?

The direction of travel in party politics has been to take assets out of local government ownership and into charitable and community trust ownership. In part that takes away some of the risks of buildings being sold off (as happened with the old Howard Mallett Centre in the same part of town – which has caused local residents nothing but grief from developers), but then there is also that little bit less financial security that comes with not being under council ownership.

“What should become of the old library?”

First of all that’s not up to me – that’s one for the residents locally. Secondly, two major housing developments in the area are near completion. I cycled past one of them – the Timberworks of Cromwell Road. Which has also quite literally put Cllr Clara Rackham and Dame Leah Manning – two of the Lost Cambridge Heroes, on the map. They are two of the women who made modern Cambridge.

Above – if you are fortunate or wealthy enough, you could live here!

Of the homes on the site, 118 will be council homes

Cambridge City Council has since acquired the nursery that was completed recently.

But what seems to be missing is a community building on that site. Turns out that the community centre being built on the other side of the railway line at Ironworks behind the Mill Road Library counts as the community centre, with the nursery having a community room. See the papers, slides and videos on the Mill Road Depot and Cromwell Road sites here.

“The new centre will provide much needed facilities and meeting spaces for the local community and will include: a 133 metre square hall with a sprung floor for sports and exercise and community events; a fully equipped community kitchen; a 30 metre square meeting room; a small 1:1 meeting room/office space; accessible toilets; and a courtyard garden.”

Cambridge Investment Partnership 25 July 2022

The main hall of the centre is smaller than Eddington. Which means I think it is too small.

But then I always do. Furthermore, people will point to St Barnabas as somewhere that already serves larger functions that’s almost opposite the entrance to the Ironworks/Mill Road development.

So, what do do with this space?

I have to say Donald Insall & Assocs did a good job on the face of it restoring the building.

What would I do? I’d do similar to what Centre St Paul’s did on Hills Road (between Station Road and Parker’s Piece). i.e. main hall aside, I’d divide up the ground floor into small flexible rooms for meetings, music rehearsals/lessons/practice, and have the top as a main hall.

Above – Centre St Paul’s Upper Hall. The building was once a complete traditional Anglican church. The institution is still there, but the building has since been divided up into rooms and hall space that can be hired out. And it is a very popular venue with community groups local businesses, and private colleges. Just look at how packed out their calendar is.

“Won’t it be a bit of a tight fit to do similar with the Mill Road Library?”


But having a main hall on the upper floor means the community can take advantage of the natural light that comes through at the top. And while the curved roof may make things a little awkward, cupboards and storage space can me installed on the long sides so as to reduce the risk of people hitting their heads on the wall or metal frames of the roof

Above – from Donald Insall & Assocs

With St Barnabas highlighted in the red balloon icon below on G-Maps (top left) you can see Eagle St being at the heart of the new Ironworks Development – with the library and new community centre being to the left of Headly Street.

For me, there’s a missing foot/cycle bridge. Where Calberley’s Brewery is should be a pedestrian bridge linking the Ironworks to the Timberworks site. And given the proposals for the Beehive Redevelopment I think there should be another one linking the housing developments from a previous era – Winstanley Court & Pym Court, to the current Asda supermarket and to whatever they ultimately build there. A talented architect could design a nice curved bridge/structure that could encompass both crossings.

But back to the Mill Road Library – where will the money come from?

If you or anyone else you know in Cambridge are willing/able to be involved in a community bid, the first people to get in touch with are your local councillors – but please do so quickly as there’s only a month left before they have to indicate if they want to bid for the building.

Secondly, those putting together a bid will need to come up with a compelling vision for the building that draws from its rich local history. Which the Mill Road History Society and the Museum of Cambridge have lots of.

Finally, the civic and political leaders from city, university, and county then need to approach the great and the good – and the business sectors that we are told continually are the jewels in the UK economy, to invite them to make substantial contributions. Otherwise, we have no right to call ourselves a city, let alone a great one (and the private sector has no right to market Cambridge as such), if the firms that want to and have located here are not prepared to support the residents of the city that brings them so much financial wealth in these desperately tough economic times.

If Cambridge is as good as it is marketed to be on the global stage, affluent business sectors got to prove it by pulling their weight. Here’s a golden opportunity for them to do so. Let’s not blow it.

If you enjoyed this article and are interested in the history of Cambridge the town and the people who made our modern city, please support my research in bringing their records of achievement to wider audiences. Click here if you would like to make a donation to support my ongoing work.

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