People have slammed plans to renovate a popular shopping centre and are asking for them to be withdrawn – because they claim the proposals could increase Cambridge's "empty shop crisis".
Lion Yard in Saint Tibb's Row could be set for a new food and beverage quarter and Aberdeen Standard Investments, which is proposing the changes, said it is aiming to attract "smaller, independent artisan brands".
But residents, particularly from Christ's Lane, have been defiant at the prospect.
They want the company to work with charity Cambridge Past, Present and Future (CPPF), because the plan "may turn out" like the Christ's Lane development – which has reportedly been badly affected by the presence of drug takers and rough sleepers.
Christ's Lane has four empty shops which haven't been filled for more than a year.
'It's simply a disgrace'
A resident of Christ's Lane said: "What has been done in Christ's Lane is simply a disgrace. There has been a homelessness problem, we've had empty shops for more than a year.
"The plans were simply not thought out at all. And to top that off, we're in a retail crisis at the moment.
"We're seeing more and more empty shops in the area.
"Footfall also seems to be decreasing in the city year by year because of less shops, the expensive parking charges, and we're seeing more and more big brands – but less and less independent shops, because they simply can't afford the rent.
"Aberdeen Investments need to withdraw their application and work with CambridgePPF."
Another resident of Christ's Lane wrote a letter on behalf of others, which read: "The planning around the St Andrew's Church Area is to essentially create new retail units.
"It will take anywhere from six months to two years of construction works and will cause deep impacts on the Christ's Lane area.
"This is not us about being NIMBY ("not in my backyard") – but creating even more retail units when there have been four empty retail units on Christ's Lane is not only excessive but manifestly unhelpful.
"As you are no doubt aware these empty retail units on Christ's Lane have created excessively high rates of delinquency and vagrancy.
"Even more empty units, after an estimated two years of construction, will further impact the area."
Plans for the renovation of Lion Yard were submitted to Cambridge City Council in May.
Henry Webber, associate asset manager at Aberdeen Standard Investments, which is proposing the changes, said previously: "What we are proposing falls into three broad projects.
"The first of which is the piece round St Andrews Church. At the moment, there are rather small retail units that have been consistently challenging. They are a bit dated, and there are some structural issues.
"We are looking at taking these down and, in their place, we will be putting in more units which will sit with the architecture of the church. There will be the same stonework and themes. It will give the church more breathing space.
"We want it to be a space where people can meet and linger."
Mr Webber said they were hoping to get a larger space with restaurants and cafes, with something on offer at all times of the day.
He said there would be cafes and coffee shops offering breakfast and drinks, as well as places for lunch and more bars and restaurants to provide food and drink in the evenings. He said they were hoping to attract “smaller, independent artisan brands” rather than large chains to the area.
As well as the plans for the extended dining sector, Mr Webber said there were plans to relocate favourite Cambridge nightspot Ballare, a club which is currently located upstairs in old office space in the shopping centre.
Under the new proposals, the club will be relocated to the basement of the shopping centre.
"The basement is a concrete bunker," said Mr Webber. “It is essentially a sound-proof box. The ceiling is much much higher. It is a much bigger open space."
In the space vacated by the nightclub, Mr Webber said there were plans to put in a “mid-range hotel” over two floors on the street fronting onto Petty Cury aimed at people visiting Cambridge for a city break.
The hotel would not have a car park, and Mr Webber said cycle options were being looked at to encourage more people to use bikes to get around the city centre.
Is there a "retail crisis"?
Cambridge has suffered a steep decline in the number of shoppers as hundreds of stores across the region closed last year.
A total of 481 stores shut their doors across the region.
More than 37,500 retail workers are currently employed in Cambridgeshire.
The latest Cambridge BID report also paints a bleaker picture.
The report said: "Year-on-year, footfall in March decreased by 6 per cent, a substantial decline compared to the increase of 1.3 per cent seen for March 2017 and the steepest year on year fall since the end of 2010.
"The 12-month average stands at -1.4 per cent. There was no growth in footfall for any UK regions.
"The most notable declines (year-on-year) were seen in Greater London, -7.5 per cent, South East, -6.5 per cent, and in the East Midlands, -5.9 per cent."
The report added: "High Street showed declines across all regions, in particular: Greater London, -11.7 per cent, South East, -9.7 per cent, and the East, -8.8 per cent. "
Cambridge city saw an 11 per cent fall looking at the weekly average.
And Cambridge suffered more on the high street than in the region and nationally with one in 10 shoppers lost.
The report also gives a picture of how car parks fared as well as park and ride sites and the guided bus.
The report said: "High Street footfall, however, was 11 per cent down in March 2018 compared to March 2017 – this is comparable with 8.6 per cent down nationally and 8.8 per cent down in the eastern region.
"With regards to car park usage, the surface car parks were 11.1 per cent up on 2017 figures.
"We have included the spaces at Shire Hall for the first time this month; Shire Hall provides 52 parking bays and is open to the public 7 days a week.
"Multi-storey car park usage was down slightly, 1.3 per cent lower in March 2018 compared to March 2017.
"Park & Ride was 12.4 per cent down in March 2018 compared to 2017 – the inclement weather and Easter falling within March this year is likely to account for this."
Cambridge BID however added that the city was shown to be the top of the UK league table for having the smallest number of empty retail units at just eight per cent.
What are people asking for?
Since 1982, CambridgePPF has looked to influence the planning of new developments to make sure growth is sustainable.
As a response to the plans, the charity said it was "disappointed" at them and wants it to be withdrawn.
The letter reads: "In general, we are disappointed that the opportunities this development presented were not sufficiently taken advantage of and the result is a bland development lacking any ambition that fails to take cues from its context.
"We do not object to the demolition and redevelopment of retail provision around the historic listed church.
"However, this development could have become so much more – especially given its central location and the significance of the conservation area and adjacent heritage assets."
In and around Cambridge
The letter added questions, among changes which could affect the St Andrew the Great Church, around the shops.
"There are real challenges for retail these days and many existing units in the Lion Yard (and elsewhere) that are empty.
"We query the need/justification for parts of this proposal as a result.
"Reworking the existing units to accommodate what the owner and applicant is seeking may be a more successful approach."
What's happening to Christ's Lane?
The development was earmarked for new businesses to open in two of the four boarded-up shops.
Stuart Isaacs of MJ Mapp Limited revealed in April that it would "hopefully" have new retail outlets announced by the beginning of May.
But Cambridgeshire Live has followed up with the managing agents and the shops are still empty.
Four businesses shut up shop last year, including women's underwear store Triumph, restaurant Giraffe, Two Seasons outdoor wear and bathroom store Fired Earth.
The empty shops had their doorways boarded up in February to stop "unwanted attention and provide a safe environment for contractors".
What do the parties involved have to say?
Aberdeen Standard Investments were contacted for a comment, as were MJ Mapp Limited.
To view the plans for Lion Yard, click here.